JARS v48n4 - Vireyas Are Not Rhododendrons

Vireyas Are Not Rhododendrons
Richard W. Chaikin
Falmouth, Massachusetts

Several incidents have occurred recently to cause me to undertake the project of reclassifying the section of tropical vireyas. Recently, a group of rooted cuttings were sent to some Cape Cod Vireya customers who immediately threw out the enclosed potting mix, that being a fast draining one of bark and pumice and perlite, and substituted their own compost / peat mix. One person wanted the cuttings shipped wrapped up in wet newspaper covered with foil, tightly sealed. It was their contention that they had bought many plants from around the world and that was the way all the other rhododendrons were packed. They wanted vireyas to be treated like ordinary rhododendrons! On the contrary, vireyas can not, and should not, be treated as though they were rhododendrons.

Simply stated, more vireya deaths are from too much water, or water retention, than from disease and pests combined, and by a very large percentage. That means that they should not be watered every two to three days like other houseplants may be watered. They should not be planted in peat in concentrations of more the 15 percent. They should not be planted in compost, or compost/peat combinations. Most of all, they should not be in any water retentive environment, nor in any boggy condition.

On the other hand, vireyas should have fast drainage. They could even have water draining out at the bottom of the pot just as fast as it is being watered in at the top. You would not plant orchids in a peat mix. Therefore, you must not plant vireyas in a peat mix. It is that simple. They must be planted in the same way as orchids are planted.

Somehow, that message may be ignored. People buy vireyas and do not follow instructions that are plainly stated either in a catalog or in the directions that may accompany the plants. Plants that must have faster and more complete drainage than even pure sand should not be placed in compost. As a matter of fact, the 40 percent bark in our mixture has to be changed periodically, as the bark breaks down, composts, and then the drainage becomes reduced.

Vireyas may look like rhododendrons, and the real botanists may classify them as rhododendrons, but they are really orchids, culturally speaking. In the wild, vireyas can be found within the crotch of tree fern branches that are later shed. As a result, they can then be found in the wild, and in our nursery, growing on the trunks of a tree fern.

Culturally speaking, vireyas act like orchids, they can even be planted in an orchid mix, and they sometimes even have "crippled flowers" which the orchidists have now started calling "florally disadvantaged" blossoms. However you look at them, the novice should not conclude that vireyas can be grown in the same fashion as other rhododendrons.

Richard Chaikin, owner of Cape Cod Vireyas, is a member of the Cape Cod Chapter and a frequent contributor to the Journal.