Brassavola is a small genus in the Cattleya alliance that consists of exotic looking orchids that are easy to grow. These orchids are native to the lowlands and tropical areas in Latin America, and the Caribbean where they are commonly grown as houseplants or outdoor plants. Robert Brown named this genus Brassavola in the early 1800’s in honor of Antonio Musa Brassavola, a famous Italian botanist and nobleman of 16th century Venice.
Brassavolas are widely crossed by professional hybridizers with other genera to create a vast array of flower colors and fragrance combinations. Many exotic hybrids count Brassavola orchids as parents. Brassavola species that were heavily crossed with Cattleyas and Laelias to produce hybrids known as Brasso-cattleyas and Brassolaeliocattleyas (now reclassified as Rhyncholaelia.) Today, there are about 20 recognized species under the Brassavola genus.
The leaves of Brassavolas are succulent, long, slender and pencil-like. These orchids typically bloom during summer and fall. The flowers are slender, often times spidery, and may take on white or lime-green colors, or a combination of both. They also frequently come with sweet, permeating evening scents that dissipate by morning. One particular species, the Brassavola flagellaris, which smells like hot chocolate, produces one of the most pleasing and intense fragrances among all orchids.
But the most well-known and easily cultivated species in this genus is the Brassavola nodosa, more commonly known as Lady of the Night. This orchid that hails from Mexico is named as such because of its delightful clove evening scent that can easily fill a large greenhouse. This particular species has made it to the lists of the 10 easiest orchids to grow, thus making it highly popular among amateur growers. Additionally, the Lady of the Night is an important orchid among expert and professional growers because it frequently passes on its ease of blooming, compact habit and fragrance to its offspring. In fact, this species has produced highly awarded hybrids like the Yellow Bird, Apache Sunrise, Carnival Kids, and Morning Glory. The Lady of the Night can also produce a stunning display of flowers, especially when it is not divided and is allowed to grow into a large plant.
These orchids are fairly easy to grow and they are only particular when it comes to lighting. They need a lot of bright light. They can be grown in a greenhouse, on a windowsill, or under lights, as long as the light they receive falls within 2400 to 3600 foot candles.
Brassavolas can tolerate humidity levels as low as 40%. However, for the best flowering results, increase the humidity during active growth by misting the plants or using pebble trays. During active growth, they require copious amount of water, but must drain well. After new growths have developed, watering and the humidity level can be reduced, but take care not to allow the leaves to shrivel during this period.
Brassavolas thrive in intermediate (55°F to 60°F or 12.8°C to 15.6°C) to warm (65°F or 18.3°C higher) temperatures. They can be potted or placed in a hanging basket with a good potting mix for epiphytic orchids. They will also grow on a bark mount outdoors in mild climates. They can be fertilized regularly with diluted concentrations, or every 2 weeks during active growth and once a month during the rest period.