When one becomes interested in the blue Cattleyas, the lack of written and plant material becomes quite apparent. Though the first blue breeding was done at the turn of the century, it has not developed much past that point. Therefore, both the layman and breeder must start, literally, from the beginning.
The blue color in Cattleyas is not one which remains constant. The same clone will vary considerably from year to year, even within areas, from near lavender to dear blue. This color is a shade of lavender, but quite distinct. Some color will usually show in the new growth of lavender-flowered plants, while in those blues lacking any lavender area, no color is apparent. Trying to code the color would be very difficult and colored film does not readily distinguish this shade.
What does one consider a blue Cattleya or Laelia? Must it have blue in all its segments? Generally, a flower haying blue sepals or a blue lip is included with those being blue through out. Occasionally, there may be little, if any, blue color apparent, except in combination with an underlying color. These unique colors signify the presence of the blue color in the flower. (The case concerned here is when blue-veining overlays orange but does not extend past the orange area. An unusual maroon occurs from this combination.)
The blue Laelias make up one group which is here included under the term "blue Cattleyas" and provide perhaps the darkest of this color section.
The white-tepaled, dark blue-lipped Laelia purpurata var. Werkhauserii was first discovered in 1902. Numerous clones are now cultivated. Selfings have also increased the population. They are graded by color, the best being No. 1, next No. 2, and last, those having no designation. Some have received distinct form or subvariety titles. Two of these, 'Divine' and superba, vie for the distinction of being the finest. Both have very dark blue-veined lips. The former has the better shape, but lacks the fullness of the lip of the latter.
The solitary flower of L. pumila is even more striking when blue, whether it is the blue-tepaled form, "Orchidglade," or the white, occasionally blushed blue-tepaled form,'Werkhauserii." Both have solid dark blue lips. Though not common, it is easily grown.
The white with solid blue lip of L. perrinii var. coerulea 'Leonildo Regado' offers a challenge to the breeder. What to do with it? It is not easily grown and, typical of the species, lacks a good shape. It is rare in cultivation, especially in this country.
Laelia anceps var. veitchiana has a lovely blue-lavender lip. The sepals are white, occasionally blushed with blue. It is easily grown and available at reasonable cost, as are the selfed seedlings. For any collection, it is a worthy addition.
The main emphasis is of course on the Cattleyas. This group is continually coming up with newly discovered blue varieties and occasionally a blue variety in a species previously lacking one. Such is the case for C. percivaliana 'Ondina'. It was first collected in 1962. The description given here is of a single flower which opened this February, a year after the two-bulbed division was received. The eye markings are gold and extend down into the forelobe of the lip. The veining is a medium dark blue which is maroon where it overlays the gold. Though the sepals are only blushed, this trait is often a sign of instability. (By being unstable or lacking stability is meant that the sepal color is white or blushed when the plants are grown warm but is usually a medium blue when grown cool.) After it has become stronger and bloomed a few more times, a more complete analysis can be made.
Cattleya warscewiczii (syn. C. gigas) 'Helena de Ospina' is another of the recent discoveries. Here, the sepals are white. The full lip is veined a medium dark blue. The disc is lavender. Its possibilities in breeding are numerous.
Cattleya mossiae has many blue varieties. The one most common in breeding circles is variety 'Reineckiana, Blue Lip'(commonly shortened to 'R.B.L.'), which is also know as 'Blue' and 'McPeak's'. The lip markings are very similar to those of C. percivaliana 'Ondina', but the lip is much fuller. Tepal coloration also lacks stability. When the sepals are well-colored, they are a fine, clear medium blue. The growths show no evidence of lavender.
There are many clones referred to as C. labiata var. coerulea.
Some have blue sepals, stable or otherwise, while others are white tepaled. The lip is veined a medium dark blue. Well known as one of the parents of C. Portia coerulea, it is not widely cultivated in this country.
Perhaps the easiest to grow and bloom of the blue Cattleyas is C. warneri var. coerulea. The sepal coloration is very stable medium blue. The lip is nearly solid and of fairly dark blue. No lavender is apparent in the flower or growth. There are numerous selfed seedlings of this plant in Brazil, but the variety is not well known here.
Cattleya gaskelliana 'Blue Dragon' has unstable sepal coloration, also. It has bloomed with blue sepals but usually they are white. The lip is a medium dark blue having a lavender disc in the throat. The midrib of the lip is a darker blue. The few plants are widely dispersed, with a predominance of them on the West Coast.
The shape of C. trianae 'Blue Bird' is fine, the sepals are a lovely medium blue, but the lip is lavender. Variety azul has white sepals with a medium dark blue lip and a lavender disc in the throat. Though the former variety has received considerable publicity, both are fairly rare in cultivation.
Some of the bifoliates have blue coloration, also. Cattleya intermedia var. amethystina and var. coerulea are the most common of this group. The white tepaled flowers have the forelobe of the lips colored a medium dark blue. They are easily grown and inexpensive.
Cattleya bowringiana has several blue or bluish varieties. Variety concoloris a pale medium blue throughout. Selected selfings of the bluish clones have medium blue color with a disc in the throat of dark blue-lavender.
A few blue C. amethystoglossa varieties resulting from a selfing have blue forelobes and pin dots on the sepals. The disc area is lavender. The basic sepal color is off-white. Not well-known, it is a good grower but is very susceptible to smog and similar conditions which cause the flowers to drop before opening.
The coerulescens varieties of C. schilleriana are also a result of a selfing. The sepals are greenish brown spotted with maroon. The lip is veined medium dark blue. There are about three plants of this variety in this country.
Cattleya walkeriana var. coerulea and Cattleya nobilior var. coerulea have lovely medium blue sepals and lips. The latter has a lemon-yellow disc on the lip. Both varieties are rare. Problems of setting blooms are overcome by keeping the plants fairly dry after fall growth has matured. Watering is resumed after the spring growth has begun.
One natural hybrid of importance should be mentioned. This is Laeliocattleya elegans 'Werkhauserii', a cross of L. purpurata (probably var. Werkhauserii) and C. Ieopoldii (guttata). The sepals are an off-white shaded toward muddy green. The forelobe is veined a fairly dark blue which diffuses into a frosty blue color. The throat is disked with lavender.
Before continuing, an important fact should be noted. In general, blues have a strong tendency to be sterile, usually carrying the pod only a short time, or yielding very little, if any, viable seed when the pod is able to mature. This trait may, in part, explain why little has been done in this line. The current practice of embryo culturing, especially all pods of the blue hybrids, has made it possible to obtain a considerable amount of viable "seed", and thus many seedlings.
The first artificial blue hybrids were made by Sir Jeremiah Coleman. Though known mostly for his primary hybrids, he did produce a third generation blue, Brassolaeliocattleya Victoria coerulea (C. Portia coerulea x Blc. Antoinette). The most popular of his hybrids is C. Portia coerulea (C. bowringiana var. violacea x C. labiata var. coerulea), of which there are numerous clones. Color is usually a medium blue with a darker lip crossed by a lavender disc.
Cattleya Ariel coerulea (C. bowringiana var. lilacina x C. gaskelliana var. coerulescens) has proven to be the most important of Coleman's hybrids. Color is similar to C. Portia coerulea, as is shape, though generally a little better. There are only a few clones of this hybrid in existence, and they are well distributed.
The last of Coleman's hybrids to be discussed is Lc. Parysatis coerulea (C. bowringiana var. lilacina x L. praestans [pumila]'Gatton Park'). The color is a medium blue, darker than average. The lip is a dark blue-lavender with a lavender disc. It is known to be widely distributed, but fairly rare in collections.
Though Coleman's work took place in the first quarter or so of this century, little had been done thereafter until a hybrid of Lc. elegans 'Werkhauserii' and C. Ariel coerulea 'Bodnant's' made its appearance in 1959. It was registered by B. O. Bracey as Lc. Blue Boy and has brought a great deal of publicity and popularity to the blues. The color is darker and clearer, and the shape better than the C. Ariel coerulea parent.
Since then, several hybrids have been made, among them two primaries. Cattleya Undine (C. mossiae 'Reineckiana, Blue Lip' x C. intermedia var. coerulea) was bred in hopes of getting more blue into the sepals. The results have been sepals which are white or off-white shaded toward blue. The lip is veined a medium dark blue.
There have been several strains of Lc. Schilleriana (L. purpurata x C. intermedia) made, using blue parents. A couple have been quite successful. In these, the flowers are open, with white sepals and blue veined lip. The blue varies in shade and most have a lavender disc in the throat.
Laelia purpurata var. Werkhauserii has been popular as a parent. It has been used with C. Ariel coerulea to give Lc. Mariner, with C. Portia coerulea to yield Lc. Poor Paul. In the former hybrid, the results are much like Lc. Blue Boy, but are not colored as nicely. Tepal coloration varies from light to medium blue, and occasionally a lavender will appear. The latter hybrid has given lavenders on the order of Lc. Blue Boy in size and shape, but those having larger flowers have sepals off-white to light blue and a darker blue veined lip very reminiscent of L. purpurata.
The seedlings of Lc. Blue Boy x self have been giving results similar in color to the parents. Shape varies considerably, while size is about the same.
The hybrid Epilaeliocattleya Emerald Bay (Epidendrum mariae x Lc. Blue Boy) is one of interest. The Epidendrum parent generally is somewhat neutral from the lavender standpoint but has the characteristics of adding green to the sepals and throat and washing out color throughout. The progeny of this cross vary considerably in size, shape and color. Dark lavenders, pastels, and blues are present. The blues normally turn lavender after the flowers have been open several days.
Currently, several new hybrids have appeared and additions are being made every few months. These seedlings have, in general, better promise than those of the immediate "post-Blue Boy days." Most are limited to Lc. Blue Boy parents on one side.
The future is bright. With the breeding material becoming less scarce, more and more breeding is being done. Many of the species have been selfed. The six possible combinations of the "big four," the blue varieties of C. gaskelliana, C. labiata, C. mossiae, and C. warneri, have all been made and are in various stages of growth. The many variables of size, shape, sepal color, and lip markings, will give a wide range of choice in this color breeding. It is but a few years until they will be appearing.
To discuss these forthcoming hybrids, which are upward of one hundred, would entail more space than afforded here. But, a few comments based on the results of the near past may be apropos. Cattleya Ariel coerulea hybrids seem to have the greatest potential for shape, color, vigor, and uniform good quality, although size will be about the size of this parent. The Lc. Blue Boy hybrids are also worthy of mention because of the finer color of this parent, but the progeny have a much wider variation in the quality of the flower. Cattleya mossiae 'Reineckiana, Blue Lip' has good clear color and will help increase size and improve shape slightly.
A few short notes on the blue color are worth passing on. It has been noted that the greenish color of Lc. elegans 'Werkhauserii' had an enhancing effect on the blue in Lc. Blue Boy and the Epidendrum parent had in Elc. Emerald Bay. Lemon-yellow also enhances in another way, turning the blue to blue-black. Orange or gold tones combine with blue to make maroon. No doubt these are examples of copigmentation. In breeding, however, it must be remembered that the blue color is very recessive - with the possible exception of some of the Laelia blue.
As noted earlier, environment can have a tremendous effect on the blue color. When the plants are grown on the warm side, the flowers are generally washed out and nearly lavender. Grown cool, the blue reaches its potential! Also, shading as the buds emerge helps the color to develop.
In summary, we have just scratched the surface in this line of breeding. More plant material is becoming available to add its characteristics and variations to the hybrids. More hybrids having a high probability for giving blue are, and will be, offered. Improvement in color will come about through progressive breeding and careful analysis of the results. Size and shape, although secondary at this point, will develop within the specific lines desired by the breeder.
(The Orchid Digest, Vol., 32, No. 4, May, 1968, pp. 102-106.)