Phragmipediums have been known to botanists for hundreds of years, but, in comparison to Paphs, have been largely ignored until quite recently. With the discovery of the bright orange and red Phrag besseae in 1981, Phrag hybridization found a new life. Most of the popular hybrids today get their bright red color from a besseae in their background.

Besseae is not the only nicely colored Phrag, however. In the 19th Century, Phrag schlimii, a smaller pink species, was very popular, and was used in making several pink hybrids. The recently discovered Phrag. fischeri (discovered in 1996) is a wonderful purple or dark pink species, intermediate in size between besseae and schlimii.

In 2002, a new Phrag species was discovered that promises to begin a whole new line of Phrag breeding: Phrag kovachii. Kovachii is a larger, purple Phrag, with a small dorsal sepal and petals that bring to mind moth wings. Kovachii and its hybrids are just becoming available on the market in the USA.

There are, in addition, many less colorful Phrag species that are interesting in their own right. Many have long, dangling petals, and others, large, spoon-like lips. These Phrags will be bred and made available through our Phrag page in the near future.

This long petaled bloom (left) belongs to a hybrid registered as Phrag Chuck Acker. Chuck Acker is one of the luminaries of Phrag breeding in the United States. He has registered numerous Phrag hybrids, and continues to do so from his family's business in Wisconsin.
For species specific info, check www.phragweb.info, slipperorchids.info, or other sites on the Links page.

Light

Similar to the strap leaved Paphs, Phrags typically enjoy bright, indirect light. Some will tolerate direct sunlight in the morning and late afternoon, as long as there is sufficient humidity and air movement.

Phrags can be grown under lights successfully. I grow them about 6 inches under standard cool-white fluorescent bulbs, which I leave on for 14 hours per day. They would almost certainly do better under natural light in a greenhouse, though I've been pleased with the results inside.

Water

Phrags have a reputation for being finicky about water quality. In the wild, most phrags are terrestrial, growing near or on top of sources of running water. It is common for phrag roots to grow down into the running water, providing a constant supply of water, and keeping the roots cool. This water is typically acidic from decaying organic material. Other phrags, such as caudatum, are frequently epiphytes and prefer a dryer mix, and will rot in a running water environment.

In culture, this means that Phrags typically like lots of pure water. Some municipal water supplies are low enough in mineral content that they are prefectly safe for Phrags, but the only way to be sure is to have the water professionally tested. My water here in CO typically only has 40-50 parts per million of disolved solids, which would be acceptable for most hybrids. Reverse Osmosis or rain water is ideal.

Some will suggest growing them in a tray of standing water, or using special pots with reservoirs of standing water (usually with inorganic clay media), and there is evidence that these methods work well with some Phrags. I use a different method. Instead, I use a flood tray, which simulates the effects of running water at the plant's feet. I simply hook up a small fountain pump (60-100 GPH) to a tray which drains into the pump reservoir. My setup can support 20-30 flowering size plants, and cost about $15 to build - certainly worth the cost for making my plants happy. My plans can be found on the Quasi-hyro page.

Temperature

Phrags grow in South America, which is host to a wide variety of climates. Like Paphs, Phrags enjoy moisture and humidity. Temperature, however, is slightly more tricky. Many species prefer intermediate temperatures, but others, especially those that grow in the mountains, are cool growing instead. Phrag besseae, for example, is a cool growing species, and doesn't do well at all in temperatures much above 80 F.

Indeed, Phrag besseae and most besseae hybrids bloom best during the colder months, although they also bloom during the summer. My Phrag Chuck Acker first bloomed in March and produced beautiful blooms, and then bloomed again three months later in June and produced blooms of a disappointing color intensity. If you're growing a Phrag species, check on it's specific habitat info before deciding on it's placement in your growing area.

Medium and pH

Since they grow in or near running water so frequently, Phrags are less likely to fall to root rot than Paphs. They can tolerate a moister mix, but they still prefer good drainage and an open mix. In most phrag mixes, peat or spagnum moss is added in order to increase the acidity of the medium, and many fertilizers will help acheive the same goal.

Keep in mind, though, that not all species grow in acidic conditions. Phrag fischeri, Phrag kovachii, and the so called "Mexipedium" xerophyticum all grow in pH basic mixes. Chuck Acker has said, however, that pH plays a minimal role in Phrag growth and development, and that most phrags can be grown in the same potting mix.