This is a piece of journalism, as is indicated by the source; and some of what is written here is erroneous. Read it with this in mind.


Reprinted by kind permission of the " Eastern Province Herald."

Not only to the people of Port Elizabeth, but to numbers from other parts of the country is the Orchid House in St. George's Park the centre of attraction throughout the year, but especially perhaps during the November-December season, for then this exotic flower is seen in the full glory of form and colour.
There are not many, however, who know anything of the process of growing the plant from seed upwards, and in fact it is only in the last few years that the Parks Department here has carried out experiments in the cross-pollination of orchids. It is, too, one of the few places in South Africa where such experiments have taken place.
The Superintendent of Parks, Mr. F. J. Cook, and his then hothouse expert, Mr. W. J. Burbridge, between them have so far successfully raised some hundreds of tiny plants from the seeds they have collected and prepared. And those seeds — so minute that in their glass tubes they look like powder — require a great deal of meticulous care, both in the preparation and in the handling. Everything connected with them has to be sterilised — even the seed pod.
As soon as the pod shows signs of splitting it is taken off, scrubbed with a pad of cotton wool steeped in methylated spirit, the split part is cut off with a sharp sterilised knife and the seeds from the other half of the pod shaken into a test tube, also sterilised. The tube is then sealed with a thick wad of cotton wool which has been passed over the flame of a Bunsen burner, and then sent up to Pretoria for the next stage in their treatment.
Dr. G. van Son. who is the Entomologist at the Transvaal Museum and one of probably only two men in South Africa to understand the germination of this microscopic seed, undertakes this work in his own time, purely from the interest he takes in it and to help the Parks Department.

When the germinated seed comes back here it is in a closely sealed flask, and looks like a thick green mat, or at an earlier stage like very small blades of fine grass. The sides of the flasks are dim with moisture, this moisture forming part of the nourishment of the young plants. Most of the ingredients making up this moisture are secret, but two of them are known, and those are agar-agar jelly mixed with cane sugar. The agar-agar perspires, precipitating the moisture on to the seedlings — warmth again draws it up and it is again precipitated, ensuring a constant supply of food.
Unlike other seedlings, which must have air, in the first stage of the life of the orchid all air must be rigorously excluded, until, in fact, they are sufficiently grown to be pricked out. This pricking out, too, is delicate work, as the seedlings are still minute — too small to be planted out in the tiny pots which is the next stage. So a cushion is made of Osmunda fibre covered with hessian and into the holes of the hessian the young plants are pushed with the help of a sharpened match (see photograph).

In the Park hothouse at the moment are about 200 of these seedlings potted out in pots so small that the space taken up is little more than a yard square. Other agar-agar flasks contain thousands of choice orchid seedling hybrids which have yet to be pricked out.
St. George's Park can boast of having one of the largest and most varied collections of orchids in the sub-continent, and Mr. Cook and Mr. Burbridge aim at increasing it by about 2,000 with the plants grown from their own seed so successfully germinated by Dr. van Son.
The whole process, from first to last, is a lengthy one. It was three years ago that the venture in pollination was started. Cross pollination was continued for five and a half months with specially selected types chosen for beauty and period of flowering, and as a result of that hybridising, in twelve months' time the seed began to ripen, the ripening process continuing until the end of January, 1945.
As all these new plants are hybrids there is no knowing what strange and beautiful blooms will in future delight orchid-breeders. Growth, however, is very slow — a two-years-old plant is not more than two inches high — and it is tantalising for those responsible for their existence to know that they will have to wait seven years before they see the new varieties that will result from their work.
Here are some of the results:—

Top plant: CATTLEYA VELUTINA X C. FABIA, pollinated 16.2.45, flowered 8.2.51.
Sepals: light claret with a light brown tinge.
Petals: ditto, but lighter with faint venation
of delicate mauve.
Labellum: moderate cristation, undulating, magenta with deep maroon veining, golden throat.
Column: cream, dark maroon tip, scented.
Bottom Plant: CATTLEYA PETERSII X C. LABIATA X LAELIA/CAT "SUNBURST," pollinated February, 1945, flowered 9.2.51.
Sepals: buff with faint venation of mauve.
Petals: ditto, but clearer.
Labellum; bright purple with heavy venation of dark purple, gold bar at throat, unfortunately narrow.
Column: purple.
A most striking fragrance.

Parents: CATTLEYA VELUTINA X C. FABIA Pollinated 16.2.45, flowered 7.2.51
Plant on left:
Sepals and Petals: greenish yellow shade with faint purple venations.
Lip: pale yellow background with deep purple venations, throat orange.
Plant on right:
Sepals and Petals: light claret with brownish tinge.
Lip: deep purple with deeper venations fairly undulating and cristate with golden throat.
Both are highly perfumed.

Photos by " Evening Post," Port Elizabeth.

These are only four hybrids raised and flowered in South Africa. Dr. van Son and Mr. F. J. Cook have hundreds more, many of which are most impressive.
(It is hoped that Dr. van Son will relate his side of this fascinating story in our next issue. — Ed.)

Cattleya Fabia x Cattleya velutina was registered by Sander in 1911 as Cattleya Vivicans.
The CATTLEYA PETERSII X C. LABIATA X LAELIA/CAT "SUNBURST," is more difficult to decypher. The one parent Laeliocattleya Sunburst is a 1927 Charlesworth hybrid (Lc. Carmencita x Cattleya (dowiana) aurea) and was present in the Port Elizabeth Orchid collection, as they used it to make the hybrid Lc. Pink Moonlight. Cattleya Peetersii (note the double "e") x C. labiata made a hybrid called Cattleya Peter registered by Black & Flory in 1919 and sparingly used in further breeding.
This hybrid is thus likely to be Cattleya Peter (C. Peetersii X C. labiata) X Laeliocattleya Sunburst and is unregistered.
Greig Russell.