The genus of Cattleya is perhaps the most widely cultivated and hybridized genus of Amazonian orchids. Around 60 species are described from Central and South America. Specimens within the genus are sometimes difficult to classify precisely and even experienced growers can have problems assigning species status. One reason for the difficulty is that cattleyas readily hybridize with other genera, notably Laelia and Epidendrum. Most species are epiphytic, growing high in the forest canopy. Each plant produces a few but spectacular flowers, that are generally large and colorful. Many species are fragrant. (Photos are of cultivated specimens.)
The species shown is Cattleya maxima. This is the national flower of Peru. Another specimen of C. maxima is shown below.
A single flower of clearly shows dark veins leading to a yellow trackway. If viewed in ultraviolet light this route would be even more distinctive. As insect vision is sensitive to these wavelengths, the orchid provides easy navigation to assist the insect in finding the right way. (Think of runway navigation lights.)
This cultivated orchid is a complex hybrid of Cattleya (possibly C. dowiana), it may be the result of crosses with two other genera: Laelia and Sophronitis. The parent species is from the Andes foothills in Ecuador.