I've seen Pleiones go through some huge changes since I first saw a pan of Pleione formosana in my school's greenhouse.
Changes in the identification of wild plants, the number of species available, the palette of flower colours and shapes, and in the genus' fortunes in cultivation.
Some of these threads come together in the case of the Shantung hybrids in the 70s. Before then there were a few Pleiones common in cultivation, generally pink or white and the hybrids were also generally pink or white. There was a yellow species "Pleione forrestii" but that was rare and generally regarded as difficult to grow. Dr Haberd crossed "Pleione forrestii" with Pleione formosana. The work proved that "Pleione forrestii" was in fact a hybrid between the true P. Forrestii and an unknown species. It also introduced a range of yellow, apricot and peach coloured hybrids into general cultivation.
Pleione Shantung Ducat, one of Dr Haberd's finest selections.
A decade or so later Dr Haberd alerted the Pleione growing community to the problem of Brevipalpus oncidii, a tiny mite that lives on Pleiones and injects a poison into the plant. The result of a steady and slow decline of the collection over the years. What was worse was that there was no real treatment available to non professional growers. Several growers and breeders experienced this problem, I even had one of the original “creator” of a variety contact me as he had lost all his plants and couldn’t find it elsewhere.
Then it seemed that this problem sort of went away, people grew Pleiones happily for the next few decades.
One of the main champions of Pleiones was Paul Cumbleton, previously of Kew. He has an excellent site Pleione.info. In 2017 he announced he was stopping the breeding and growing of Pleiones as his collection was being affected by virus. So we now have a new bogeyman, the virus. There is no cure so once you get it in a collection, that's it!
Time will tell if Pleiones will weather this particular storm. There are a number of breeders either working on established breeding lines or including some of the more recently introduced species into the mix. There are plenty of people still growing them and enjoying them.
Pleione Irazu "Cheryl" did really well for me for a few years, then declined and disappeared.
I first grew Pleiones back in the 70s. There weren’t many generally available and I really didn’t know how to grow them so they were soon lost. Then in the early 90s I tried a few more and had some success. My collection had generally declined in the mid 2000s but even so some plants did well – or did well for a while, then declined, then picked up again and so on. Never figured out why and was never all the plants at one time, so one year (or five) one plant will do well and another poorly. All were grown together and get the same treatment
In 2017 I decided to give Pleiones another go. And interestingly since 2017 things have improved, new plants have done well and old stocks are recovering. It could be down to a slight change in the compost, that we have had (relatively) hot summers or cold spells in the winter. Or something else…
Pleione Quizapu "Peregrine"
One thing you may notice is that the colours in pictures for the same clone may look subtly or not so subtly different. Usually it's the same plant but different temperatures result in different colours especially for those that have both pink and yellow parents.
The other thing to understand is the naming. When you hybridise Pleiones you give them a name, and under current rules it can’t be a latin one. So you have Pleione Shantung, Pleione Krakatoa and so on. These are called “Grex” . If someone performs the same cross, whether it involves species or other hybrids then they must be given the same name. So any cross between Pleione yunnanensis and Pleione forrestii is called Pleione Krakatoa. And because orchids tend to have a lot of variability in their genes the results of these crosses are likely to result in a wide range of seedlings. They will vary in colour, flower shape and vigour. Breeders select the “best” and then will give that selection a clonal name, so you have Pleione Krakatoa “Wheatear”, Pleione Krakatoa “Painted Lady”, Pleione Krakatoa “Dorset Cream” and so on.
In Pleione Shantung "Ridgway" the colour of the flowers depend on temperature.
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