In the wild Cymbidium goeringii is most commonly seen as a green flowered plant with a white lip. On rare occasions flowers with brownish-orange flushing in the sepals and petals, or dirty yellow color can be found. Only very rarely is a pure red, orange, or yellow flowered plant discovered. All of these special forms are coveted by shunran growers, and high quality flowering clones command equally high prices.
I first was introduced to these lovely plants at a Japanese orchid show soon after arriving in Kyushu nearly ten years ago. I was floored by the intense red forms in particular, but then I saw a lemon yellow one at a sales bench that was so pure I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. My eagerness to buy the plant was muted the minute I saw the price tag – 30,000 yen or about $300 US at the time.
In the intervening years I have seen literally thousands of special forms of Cymbidium goeringii on display and for sale at both small and large orchid shows. One thing I’ve come to understand is that not all of them are lovely things, in fact only a very few select ones are truly beautiful. Having said that, when you see a good clone in full flower it takes your breath away. The following shunran are some of the more lovely red, orange, and yellow ones I’ve seen. The lips of all types are white, some pure white while others are marked with purple spots here and there.
One of the better known red to deep orange forms is ‘Mebina’. The following photos show two different plants with different colors with the pure red form being more typical of this type, at least in ones I’ve seen. Another lovely red flower is ‘Benitemari’. Flowers with this rich a color are highly sought after and are very expensive. Perhaps a single lead division might run anywhere from $100-$300, or even more.
No less lovely are good orange forms. The first shown here is ‘Fukunohikari’, a plant I bought years ago in flower. I have yet to get it to flower as nicely unfortunately. I’ve talked to growers about this form and many agree it is a tough one to flower well. Too bad since it is lovely.
Another very pretty red to orange form is ‘Benitaiko’. As you can see, the flower retains a fair amount of green in the petals and at the base of the sepals. Its name is translated as “red queen” (off with their heads!).
Perhaps even more startling are the yellow flowered plants, especially those that are pure yellow. The first shown here, Kohakuden, fits that description well. Very few plants have such clean and bright color. Its name is fitting, meaning “amber palace”. The second yellow flowered plant pictured is Kihou (“yellow treasure”), a flower that retains quite a bit of red color.
Most of these forms were collected from the wild in the past, but as time goes on fewer and fewer colorful forms remain in nature. That has lead to breeding new forms. Still, you hear stories of a yellow or orange flowered plant being found and sold for hundreds of dollars to the highest bidder. The truth of such stories remains in question – such is the nature of collecting rare orchids that command high prices.
While blooming the more common green flowered forms is straightforward, the colored varieties of shunran tend to be a bit more tricky. One reason is that once the flower buds are set in the fall, it is necessary to cover them with a hood to keep out light over winter. This is done so that the resting flower bud doesn’t develop chlorophyll, thus muddying the red, orange, and yellow color of the flower later on. Buds that remain uncovered will have much more green in them, thus clouding their beauty. The process is very much like making white asparagus by covering it with hay. This hood can be made of any material that works – a breathable opaque fabric would be ideal, but many folks simply make them from tin foil.
Another trick to getting them to bud well in the fall is to dry them out a bit in late summer – not bone dry of course. Also around mid summer you should stop fertilizing since continued feeding will only produce more leaves and few if any flower buds. The flower buds need to be protected during cold weather as well – from dry winds and frost in particular. The ideal winter temperature is around 5-8 C. Plants should be protected from the elements – wind, rain, snow, and frost. Once the buds begin to elongate in late winter or early spring, the hood should be removed.
Lovely, yet expensive and illusive to most western growers, the colored forms of Cymbidium goeringii remain a tantalizing prospect for most. As with many highly collectable plants in Japan, access to them outside their native lands is so far very limited.