All orchids seem exotic, but zygopetalum looks downright otherworldly. The upper petals are usually tiger-striped green and maroon, and the lower lips patterned with violet lines on white: the Nicolas Cage of the orchid world--slightly menacing-looking, perhaps, but that's part of the appeal. Growing requirements are similar to those of standard cymbidiums, but plants are slightly more sensitive to cold. All are pleasantly fragrant. BLOOM TIME: Most varieties are fall and winter bloomers. LIGHT: Full morning sun or bright shade all day outdoors; while indoors, try a south- or west-facing window. TEMPERATURE: 60°–75° (day), 50°–55° (night) is ideal, but can take higher summer daytime temperatures if sheltered. POTTING MIX: Commercial orchid mix or medium-grade bark with perlite added. WATERING: Keep the potting mix moist most of the year, but let it dry out slightly for two to three weeks at the end of summer. FEEDING: Feed with high-nitrogen fertilizer monthly for the first six months after bloom; use low-nitrogen fertilizer for the next six months.
Winter-flowering orchids are widely available at nurseries, florists, and supermarkets. You can also mail-order directly from Rod McLellan Co. (800/467-2443).