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Hardy Orchid Species Part II: Calanthe Orchids

Calanthe is a large genus with over 150 species. They are widely distributed from tropical Africa to tropical and subtropical Asia, the Pacific islands and Australia. Only 6 species are used in temperate gardens. Calanthe flowers encompass flowers the colors of red, orange, brown, yellow, and cream.

They are considered to be easy to grow. The evergreen plants bloom in the early spring with a spectacular display of 1.5″ flowers on 1′ tall spikes. In the wild they grow in lightly shaded, well drained forest edges. They are normally hardy to USDA zones 7-9 but will grow in zones 5 with winter protection consisting of a 10″ pile leaves on top of the plants. Their growth requirements are similar to Bletilla…morning sun, afternoon light shade, and consistent moisture. The genus name Calanthe is derived from the Greek kalos (beautiful) and anthos (flower). They make excellent cut flowers. The first recorded man-made orchid cross of any kind was made in this genus. John Dominiyi, the father of modern orchid breeding, crossed Calanthe masuca and Calanthe furcata to create the grex Calanthe Dominiyi in 1856.

Calanthe aristulifera (Mt. Kirishima Hardy Orchid) One of the rarest of the Japanese endemic species, from the mountains of Japan’s Kyushu island. Calanthe aristulifera forms an 18″ wide clump of pleated, evergreen leaves, topped in mid-spring with 15″ tall flower spikes, lined with small light pink flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7-9)

Calanthe discolor (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid, Ebine, Shrimp Root) Emerges from the pseudobulb with 2-3 heavily pleated 6″ long by 2″ wide leaves. As the bulb offsets, the clumps can get quite thick. The foliage, which is evergreen to 15 degrees F, is topped in mid-spring with 10″ stalks of tiny mahogany flowers with pure white lower lips…a very easy-to-grow addition to that special spot in the woodland garden. (Hardiness Zone 6b-9)

Calanthe discolor ‘Eco Rose’ (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid, Ebine, Shrimp Root) Rose colored petals and a pinkish white lip.

Calanthe discolor ‘Eco White’ (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid, Ebine, Shrimp Root) Many years ago, we obtained this superb Asian orchid from Don Jacobs of Eco Gardens. Don purchased the plant in Japan back in the early 1980’s. What thrilled us is that this hardy orchid has been the fastest multiplying of the Calanthe in our garden. Calanthe ‘Eco White’ is either a selection or hybrid of the Japanese native Calanthe discolor. In late spring, the pleated green leaves lay flat to form a nice background for the spikes of white lipped flowers backed with chartreuse green petals. (Hardiness Zone 7-9)

Calanthe kawakamiense (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid) The evergreen ground-hugging, olive-green foliage gives rise in early spring to 3′ tall flower spikes of large, fragrant, bright yellow flowers.

Calanthe nipponica (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid, Golden Spiritual Orchid) A rare, high-altitude, Japanese species from the mountains on Hokkaido and Kyushu. The flower 10″ tall spike produces 4-5 pale yellow and green flowers.

Calanthe reflexa (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid, Natsu-ebine, Summer Shrimp Root) Unlike many of the other hardy Calanthe, this one is a summer bloomer. The narrow-pleated, evergreen leaves lie outward, making a 15″ wide rosette. In mid-to-late summer, the clumps are topped with lightly fragrant, two-toned, pink-and-white flowers (Hardiness Zone 7-9)

Calanthe sieboldii (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid, Ki-ebine, Yellow Shrimp Root) (syn.Calanthe striata) This hard-to-find Japanese native terrestrial orchid has been a superb performer and one of our favorite Calanthe. The evergreen foliage (except below 10 degrees F) composes a vigorous 15″ tall by 15″ wide clump of deeply pleated leaves. In spring, the bloom stalks rise from the ground to reach 15″. Along the scape are dozens of small pansy-like flowers of bright yellow. (Hardiness Zone 7-9, possibly colder)

Calanthe tricarinata (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid, Monkey Orchid) An early spring-flowering orchid with wonderful 15″ tall spikes of stunning yellow flowers with reddish-brown lips. The foliage is evergreen in mild winters but may become deciduous when temperatures approach 10 degrees F. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)

Calanthe Hybrids

Calanthe Hizen Hybrids (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid) This new series of hardy orchid hybrids from Japan (Calanthe discolor Calanthe aristulifera) form basal rosettes of heavily pleated olive-green leaves. The 8″ flower spike emerges in early spring and contains up to a dozen flowers, each creamy-to-light pink with a darker pink/purple lip. (Hardiness Zone 7-9)

Calanthe sieboldii Takane Hybrids (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid, Ki-ebine, Yellow Shrimp Root) Imagine an easy-to-grow, beautiful, yellow-flowered orchid that would be hardy in your woodland garden! These Asian hybrids from Calanthe sieboldii make a tropical-looking clump of 8″ long by 2″ wide pleated green leaves. In spring, the clumps are topped with 8″ long stalks of brilliant yellow flowers! (Hardiness Zone 7-9a)

Calanthe Kozu Spice (Hardy Terrestrial Orchid) Hybridized for flower shows in Japan, these hardy terrestrial orchids (Calanthe discolor Calanthe izu-insularis) are now available in the US. Perfect candidates for the woodland garden, the evergreen, pleated leaves mature in the fall and remain during most winters. In spring, the 1′ flower stalks emerge, then become clothed in flowers with a wonderful clove-like scent. The flower color may include bicolor combinations of white and red, yellow and red, pink and red, etc. (Hardiness Zone 7-9, possibly colder)

Other than Bletilla, Calanthe is the easiest hardy orchid for gardeners to grow.

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