The Orchidaceae family contains more than 20,000 species distributed around the world (Molgo and De Dijn, 2007), ≈1200 of which are found in México (Espejo-Serna and López-Ferrari, 1998; Soto, 1998), including 11 species of Laelia Lindl. Laelia anceps Lindl. is an epiphytic orchid that naturally occurs in the oak forests of the central and southern regions of the country. In the fall and winter, L. anceps produce flower stalks bearing white or pink flowers (8 to 10 cm in diameter) of exceptional beauty and fragrance. When in season, large numbers of L. anceps flower stalks and those of other Laelia species are harvested from the wild for a variety of festivals, including weddings and other religious ceremonies (Ávila-Díaz and Oyama, 2007). Over time, collection/harvesting of flowers and plants from the wild has threatened the sustainability of L. anceps to the point of near extinction in certain regions. Ortega-Loeza et al. (2011) reported that L. speciosa (H.B.K.) Schltr. is threatened as a result of overcollection and loss of natural habitat through deforestation. Environmental agencies in México have been, with limited success, trying to protect L. anceps and other orchid species against illegal collection/harvesting (Ávila-Díaz et al., 2009). Unfortunately, harvesting of flowers and plants from natural populations continues in certain regions.
In México, the domestication of wild orchids for commercial production, a relatively new endeavor, may represent a sustainable alternative to the collection/harvest of these flowers from natural populations. However, commercial cultivation of newly introduced orchids can be tricky and requires sound management practices to attain economic success. The interaction between nutrients in the media solution and the physical and chemical properties of the growing media may affect the response of plants to a specific substrate and nutrient solution formulation.
Tree bark is a traditionally used media for orchid cultivation in México as well as in the United States (Wang and Konow, 2002). However, when bark is mixed with other substrate components of higher water-holding capacity, for example peat and vermiculite, better growth and flower quality are attained (Wang, 1998). In addition, the nutrient requirements of orchids were thought to be relatively low because they respond slowly to fertilization. However, studies have demonstrated that Phalaenopsis Blume and Dendrobium Sw. respond well to fertilization as indicated by increased growth rate and plant quality (Wang, 1995, 1996; Wang and Konow, 2002). Thus, nutrition and growing media selection are critical factors for commercial production of orchids. Unfortunately, information on fertilization and substrate preparation for the cultivation of orchids is limited and not necessarily supported by the literature (Wang and Konow, 2002).
The objective of the present study was to investigate the response of L. anceps to media composition (charcoal, volcanic rock, and peat) and nutrient solution concentration (in terms of ψS) to serve as a basis for the commercial production of this threatened species.
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