Sobralia Songbird

( macrantha x Mirabilis)

Hybrid registered in March 2004

Edited 12 February 2008

Sobralia Songbird 'First Note'

This cross was made by New Zealander Peter Elfleet and registered with the RHS in March 2004. The first of the cross to flower was 'First Note' and it was the first Sobralia ever awarded by the Orchid Council New Zealand (OCNZ), 27 January 2007. The photo at right was taken by NZOC judge Mr. Chris Hubbert, and provided by Peter Elfleet.

Award details: HCC/OCNZ 77.5 points
Dimensions (cm):
Natural spread across the petals 11.5 cm
Natural spread across the vertical 12.0 cm
Dorsal sepal 2.2cm wide 7.0 cm long
Lateral sepals 2.1cm wide 6.8 cm long
Petals 3.5cm wide 6.5 cm long
Lip 6.0cm wide 7.0 cm long
Over all cane height 32.0 cm

Description: One single flower and one bud on each of the two flowering canes. Petals and sepals of the flower are purple violet in color with a crystalline finish. Petals reflex slightly at the tips and have a central darker colored stripe. The flowers column is pure white with a white pollen cap. This is enclosed within the tube of the lip which flares outwards like a disc that unfolds on flower opening, this shows the fold creases on the lip that are typical of the genus Sobralia. The lip tube is white at the entrance but is bright yellow inside with a gold central stripe. The lip edge is heavily frilled and colored dark magenta.

According to the International Orchid Register, the seed parent was the Mexican and Central American species Sobralia macrantha and the pollen parent was the hybrid Sobralia Mirabilis.

Peter Elfleet wrote the following on the Life History of Sobralia Songbird. [posted 4 May 2006]

The cross of Sobralia Songbird (macrantha X Mirabilis) was made in February 1991. The seed capsule was removed from the pod parent Sobralia macrantha after 220 days of development. The seed was removed from the green seed pod and sown into a mother flask containing a modified Wimbars flasking media. Sowing your seed in this way means that fertility of the pod may be reduced slightly but it means that you donít have to sterilize the seed before placing in the flask and risk chemical seed burn.

The seedling plants developed for approximately a year in the mother flask. The seedlings were not re-plated at all. Iíll explain the process, the first flasks that are sown with orchid seed are called the mother flasks there can be any number of these. Then comes the re-plate flask. Small plants can be removed from the mother flask and re-planted into additional flasks to give the plants extra growing room. This can be done several times it all depends on the size you want your plants when you pot them up.

Note the flasks are worked on in sterile conditions so that the flasking media does not grow molds and bacteria instead of your orchid plants. The Sobralia Songbird seedlings developed into a large, tangled clump so the above process could not happen and the seedling were potted out from the mother flask. As this was the first time I had any real success with making a Sobralia hybrid, I had to let them grow as much as possible before I attempted to deflask the seedling plants. This was to get them over the transplant shock. But the root tangle problem had not got any better over time.

I found on trying to remove the flasking media from the seedling roots that the roots were very fragile and broke very easily much more so than anything other orchid I had to deflask before. The plants were in a tight mass and I could not separate even a single plant off the clump without what I considered severe damage at that time.

I had heard that Orchids will grow apart over time from other growers so I elected to try this and planted the clump in a single pot. Several years passed and the clump of Sobralia seedlings did not do much growth and there was not much evidence of the plants growing apart. I don't think this method works with Sobralias. So I began to split plants off the clump. It broke a lot of the fleshy roots and I had potted them into straight pine bark, ľ inch (6 mm) chunks. The plants did not like that too much and for a few more years they sat there, but at least they started to put on some growth and signs of improving. In essence they were quite tough plants and they did not die despite the past treatment I had given them.
Then around the year 1999/2000, I decided to do an experiment and I added 30% peat to the pine bark like my other terrestrial orchids (Phaius and Calanthe). This retained more moisture in the potting media and the Songbirds responded and started to put on some real growth. The first one flowered in 2003 and that was a very shapely straight pink in color; quite a rare flower color so far. In 2004, the second plant flowered and that had a similar color to the pollen parent Sobralia Mirabilis.
Sobralia Songbird 'C Major' photo by Peter Elfleet, 2006

Sobralia Songbird was registered with the RHS on 8th of March 2004. Sobralia Songbird 'C Major,' pictured at right, flowered for the first time in Feb 2006.

Key points

1. During the early days of Sobralia hybridizing the breeder would not have used a sterile flask so the numbers of plants resulting from any cross would be limited to a very small number and would not of had my problem.

2. Information on Sobralia culture was very limited in orchid publications back in the 1990ís. Now Sobralia growers have their own website a great plus.

3. Growing your seedling Sobralias as a straight epiphytical Orchids is growing your plants with the brakes on. In New Zealand we generally grow our Sobralias in a shade house alongside our Cymbidium orchids. Cymbidiums have large storage bulbs so like most of us you water your plants at the same time I have learned that my Sobralias need more water than the other plants like Cymbidiums sitting on the same bench hence the added peat to the potting media.

The History of the parents
My clone of Sobralia macrantha has been grown in orchid collections around New Zealand for the past 50 years approximately. My family obtained a division of the plant from a family friend in mid 1980ís. Other Sobralia species and hybrids plants have been in short supply for years and still are.

In 1991, Ron Maunder of Paradise Orchids in NZ gave me an open flower from his Sobralia Mirabilis and I made the cross with it. Ron cannot trace the origin of his Mirabilis with any certainty. But take it from me it is an excellent clone the flower has a good shape with good substance and texture and it has past this trait on to Sobralia Songbird.

On the surface 13 years to flower an Orchid is a very long time. I have since remade Sobralia Veitchii (macrantha x xantholeuca) The seedling plants I have are now approaching Flowering size and Iím hoping to flower them in the next 2 flowering seasons. Which will hopefully give me a Sobralia development time of 5 years from the day I made the pollination. When you have your growing conditions just right these plants will grow really quick and when you have a large plant with a lot of canes you donít really notice how fast the new canes grow. But you see it in the new ones!

Seedling Growing Tips
Some things on growing new seedlings plants learned over the past 15 years:
1. On deflasking separate your plants out and remove all flasking media even if you break a few roots you may have to be a bit brutal and snap them apart. (This stage will sort out the good strong plants and it will save growing time)
2. If you grow you Sobralias in some form of tree bark add something that will retain the moisture in the potting media this is really important on the very small seedlings.
3. Never allow your Seedling plants to become too pot bound this stops the roots and stalls the seedlings development pot them on at regular intervals take care as much as possible to minimize root damage.

All best and good Sobralia Growing donít be put off with this history. These plants are the best and well worth the effort!

[Thank you, Peter, for some wonderful information! - Nina]


The International Orchid Register (RHS hybrid database)

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