When we talk about orchids, we usually think about tropical rainforests, rich and exquisite Cattleya flowers, butterfly-like Phalaenopsis, exotic beauty of Masdevalias, but nearly nobody thinks about the plant with a crocus habit and orchid flowers. Pleione are unique orchids – they are terrestrial and occasionally epiphytic and lithophytic plants from Asia.
They look almost exactly like crocus, so they are called Orchid Crocus, Himalayan Crocus, Glory of the East, Peacock Orchid and Windowsill Orchid. Although they are close relatives of Coelogyne orchids, they bear no similarity to them (and to other sympodial orchids). They usually have one, almost spherical pseudobulb with narrowed apex, resembling Crocus corms (since the name Crocus Orchid), the pseudobulb is annual and after one year gives birth to new ones as the new growth cycle begins. Dormant pseudobulb without leaves awakes in spring, giving birth to a new growth. Mountain, cool and cold species have growth cycle like this – in spring pseudobulb blooms with big, showy flowers simultaneously with new leaves and pseudobulb formation, meanwhile, from Himalaya Mountain, there are some exceptionally beautiful alba clones. Pleione formosana has big (but not fragrant) flowers, petals and sepals are lavender and lips are white with yellow markings, this species is also of a Himalayan origin. Pleione bulbocodioides has smaller three inch wide, intense purple flowers and it comes from lowland China. Pleione albiflora has exceptionally beautiful and fragrant 5 inch wide white flowers. Pleione limprichtii has single pink or reddish flowers with spotted lip.
Even though Pleione orchids are quite unusual, they are particularly easy to grow and are quite popular vernal flowers, they have even similar growth habits with crocus. They need dry (except Pleione scopulorum) and cold winter dormancy without frost; you can use a refrigerator with temperature 35-45 F to provide them with such conditions. Pleione maculate, P. praecox and their hybrids require warmer conditions in winter – minimum 50 F. In the spring, as new growth is formed, pot pseudobulbs into a mixture for terrestrial orchids – it should contain fine bark, sphagnum, cocoa chips. Water it regularly and soon it will bloom – in spring if it is a mountain species and in fall if it is a lowland one. Light should be bright, summer temperatures should not be higher than 77 F. In a subtropical area without frost you can grow Pleione orchids just outside in your garden, similarly as croci.