Cymbidium tracyanum is an ubiquitous orchid in outdoor and cool-growing collections in central California, but rather uncommon in other parts of the US and world. When I have posted photographs on Twitter, this species often draws attention as many orchid growers have not seen a plant in-person.
And this is an impressive orchid species to behold. Not only are the flowers strikingly colored, but Cymbidium tracyanum are very large and very fragrant. The relatively small plant photographed below, in a two gallon container, is easily over three feet (1 meter) wide and produces flower spikes that are the thickness of small tree branches. The grower described this sale division as coming from a “humongous” plant, which he split into nine divisions the previous year. Even larger, I have heard of an enormous Cymbidium tracyanum specimen, with 25-30 flower spikes, that required multiple people to even move the plant.
Cymbidium tracyanum flowers in a range of shades of brown, with some very dark and others much paler or greenish. The cultivar below is mid-range in coloration, a very common form.
We are also very fortunate to grow an album form of Cymbidium tracyanum, which is presented in another orchid portrait.
As you may guess by its size, Cymbidium tracyanum is commonly grown outdoors where winter temperatures are mild enough. We grow ours outside year-round, though sometimes we bring our plants indoors, or into the garage, when nights will be below freezing during late bud development. Although Cymbidium tracyanum is known as an autumn blooming Cymbidium species, ours have always flowered in mid-winter. This seems common in our area, as we usually see a few blooming Cymbidium tracyanum at one of the local orchid society shows in late January.
Cymbidium tracyanum is native to Myanmar, Thailand, and China. It is a cool to cold grower at 1200-1900m elevations, and well suited to coastal California growing, with adequate freeze protection. I have seen reference to successful flowering at 600-1000m elevations in Hawaii, but lower elevation growing results in bud drop there.
While we grow many Cymbidium species and hybrids outdoors, and they are generally regarded as cold tolerant to 28F (-2C), the plants do seem more fond of conditions consistently above freezing. I have observed a notable difference when we have had more mild winters, in both spike development and subsequent spring growth. Mild winters are easier on us too — it is quite a project to transport a hundred (large-ish) outdoor orchids (Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Laelia) into the garage when there is a serious cold spell (mid 20s, -3C or below) forecast
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My vision to create orchid portraits emerged from my appreciation for the “whole orchid.” So many photographs of orchids focus only on the flower. But orchids are not flowers: they are entire plants and living beings. Connect more deeply with the many dimensions of orchids …