I will be devoting a post to a different spring flower each day this week, and they don’t come much more special than Pleione formosana. I had always presumed these to be tricky customers, reserved for the kind of gardeners that keep pristine alpine houses, but after picking up three plants for a song at a car boot sale in Cornwall, I resolved to see if I could make them happy.
As it turns out, Pleione formosana, somewhat oddly dubbed the ‘windowsill orchid’, is simplicity itself to cultivate. Mine are planted in a shallow terracotta pan in a very loose homemade compost made from decomposing bark and leaves. When not in flower the pot sits beneath a garden bench in cool shade and stayed outside all winter. This was a risky move as pleiones are supposed not to like frost: I would not recommend you follow my lead. Once I’d built my little unheated grow house in February I moved them inside, covered by a mound of dry magnolia leaves. The flowers began to form about three weeks ago and are now in full bloom. They are like exotic moths with fringed mouths projecting out beneath lilac-pink, wing-like petals, every inch as beautiful as the rest of the orchid family. The number of flowers has tripled year-on-year, creating quite a display. Each time I go outside I can’t resist looking in on them through the glass.
After flowering come foot-long, creased leaves which project outwards from the tiny pseudobulbs that fuel the plant. These remain, looking rather aspidistra-like, until late autumn. In their native China and Taiwan they can be found growing on the forest floor in cool mountain habitats. Consequently they appreciate dappled sunlight, humidity and lots of organic matter. Given too much sun and warmth they may not thrive – hence they are better suited to a very well ventilated, frost free greenhouse than a windowsill indoors.
I am utterly besotted by these lovely little orchids and am trying a primrose-yellow variety called ‘Shantung’ this year (yet to flower). Next spring I have a yearning for a pure white cultivar …. or maybe a darker pink. Oh dear, I can feel a new addiction coming on! If, like me, you are interested to learn more about pleiones, then I have a discovered a very informative website, imaginatively named The Pleione Website, which offers excellent advice. Meanwhile, I hope I shall enjoy a fortnight or more with these charming orchids.
Categories: Beautiful Strangers, Bulbs, Container gardening, Daily Flower Candy, Flowers, Foliage, Perennials, Photography, Plants
10 comments On "Spring Flower Candy: Pleione formosana"
A delightful story of garden risk-taking. Thank you.
I must add these beauties to my greenhouse. I hope there availab
These are beautiful orchids and not difficult if you follow the instructions. You have obviously got it spot on.
Well, I don’t know about that. It’s sink or swim in my garden! I am, however, quite proud that I got them to grow and will be very protective of them now.
I remember the first time I saw a display of these at a show. I thought someone had cut the heads of a lot of flowers and stuck them straight into the soil! Doh! They are very beautiful.
It is amazing that such pretty flowers appear from such insignificant little bulbs without so much as a leaf to begin with. They do appear slightly unnatural.
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If you ever want to browse the leading pleione breeders offerings in the UK do a search for Ian Butterfield. He has no web presence but a thriving mail order business!
The shantung grex is very vigorous , the best yellow is the clone ‘Ducat’.
Thank you for the tip David. I will look Ian up when I am ready to start collecting again.