E n c y c l i a   t a m p e n s i s

When I first came to South Florida in 1969 my father was growing a dozen or so orchids on the patio. That year while visiting a local orchid nursery to find him a Christmas present, I was astounded by the diversity of this family of plants and began photographing flowers for the grower in exchange for plants. So began my orchid collection.

My dad had heard of an orchid that grew west of town on the cypress trees, Epidendrum tampense as it was then known. We went out looking and had no trouble at all finding the "butterfly orchid". They were plentiful on small cypress trees growing in open bogs. Even large specimens could be found at eye-level on the 20' tall trees. This particular area (Pinehurst Drive & Forest Hill) where we first went to find this orchid was suburban, housing developments were within a mile or so and the Florida Turnpike was within earshot. I was thrilled at having a real orchid-in-the-wild so accessible and over the next few years would go back to this locale for recreation and relaxation.

Encyclia tampensis, as this orchid is now correctly known, can be found as far north as Orlando and ranges into the Bahamas and Cuba. Frank C. Craighead in his 1963 book, Orchids and Other Air Plants of the Everglades National Park states, "This distinctive, attractive and abundant orchid is the most common and widely distributed in the area...it seems to thrive everywhere" ( observed over thirty-five years ago). This is an extremely variable orchid in addition to being a highly adaptable one. One authority has suggested that this might not represent a valid species but a hybrid swarm between two other taxons. This concept would help explain the variation in the plants and flowers. Pseudobulbs can be marble-sized and bear one 4" leaf or the size of a small onion and have two or three leaves each a foot long. Plants growing in dense shade often have long, deep green leaves and pseudobulbs while those found in bright light, even full sun, have short, thick leaves and are deeply stained with reddish-purple anthocyanin. Flowers too, may be variable, with the typical example being tan to olive in color. The mid lobe of the lip is white and has a distinctive magenta spot in the middle. Alba and semi-alba forms featuring clear apple-green sepals and petals are rare and coveted and often used in breeding. The inflorescence may be short and have just a few flowers or a foot or two long and have 20 or more flowers. Except in immature specimens, they are almost always branched. The 1 to 1½" flowers have a sweet, honey-like fragrance from morning to mid-afternoon. Although the orchid is not especially fussy and will grow on oak, buttonwood and pond apple, the preferred host by far is cypress.

Encyclia tampensis is indeed attractive. This is a real orchid folks, not some microscopic botanical curiosity. So real, in fact, that to date the RHS hybrid registry lists more than 130 crosses involving E. tampensis. Crosses with large, showy cattleyas like C. guttata and C. mossiae have produced noteworthy hybrids such as Catyclia. Joseph Beckenbach and Cty. El Hatillo. First generation hybrids usually have smallish flowers in the 2-2½" range but can produce a higher flower count due to the tampensis influence. tampensis and its hybrids are generally easy-growing orchids with the only caution being to keep an eye out for scale between the closely packed pseudobulbs. This suggestion applies to all encyclias.

tampense portrait
Encyclia tampensis 'Perfect Circle'