Laelia, abbreviated L in horticultural trade, is a small genus of eleven species from the orchid family (Orchidaceae). This is one of the most important and popular orchid genera, because of the beautiful flowers, their genetic properties and because they are fairly easy in culture. It is probably named after Laelia, one of the Vestal Virgins. Another possibility is the name borne by female members of the Roman patrician family of Laelius.
They are found in the subtropical or temperate climate of Central America, but mostly in Mexico. Laelia speciosa is a high-elevation plant, preferring sunny, dry and cool conditions. The others grow in the rainforest with a warm, humid summer and a dry cool winter. The species L. albida, L. anceps and L. autumnalis prefer higher and cooler altitudes.
Most are epiphytes, but a few are lithophytes, such as Laelia anceps. They are closely related to Cattleya with only the number of pollinia differing. Stems are usually short, however the stem of Laelia anceps can be more than 1 m long. The ovate pseudobulbs are clearly separate. These are about 6 - 30 cm long. One or two waxy, leathery leaves develop from each pseudobulb. This leaf can be up to 20 cm long. The inflorescence is a raceme, which can be 30 cm long, with up to eight flowers, growing from the top of the pseudobulb. These flowers can be pink to purple, with a beautifully colored purple lip becoming white close to the column . They bloom in spring or autumn. Albino varieties are rare and therefore prized. Due to high demand for such a rare mutations, many horticultural labs use modern tissue culture or mericloning techniques to increase their availability.
Members of this genus tend to be fairly easy in culture, and some plants are surprisingly drought-tolerant. Culture is highly dependent upon the natural habitat of the species in question, although many do well as mounted (plaqued) specimens so that the roots receive plenty of air circulation and a sharp wet-and-dry cycle.
Many species from South America, which used to belong to Laelia, are now classified under Sophronitis (van den Berg and Chase Lindleyana 15 (2), page 115, June 2000). The taxonomic status of some of these species is somewhat in doubt as they were moved there on the basis of molecular phylogeny. It seems likely that some growers and taxonomists will reject these changes, and continue to accept these "Sophronitis" species as laelias.
Laelia species readily form hybrids within the genus, and with other genera, including Cattleya (x Laeliocattleya, more than 2,000 greges), Brassavola, Rhyncholaelia, and Sophronitis. The majority of orchid hybrids belong to this category, i.e. x Sophrolaeliocattleya, x Brassolaeliocattleya and a number of other variations.
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