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The Cephalanthera genus includes about a dozen species of orchids, mostly terricolous, originating mainly from Europe, there are some Asian species and a single American species, C. austiniae. They have long creeping rhizomes, from which thick stems rise, 20-50 cm high, which carry a rosette of leaves at the base and therefore alternate leaves that diminish in size going up along the stem; they are bright green and, depending on the species, are ribbon-like, lanceolate or oval, as in C. damasonium. Between the end of spring and the beginning of summer, at the apex of the stems, numerous quite large flowers bloom, 7-10 cm in diameter, of pure white or cream, sometimes pink; C. rubra has purple-purple flowers. These orchids are also present in Italy, some species are easily found in beech or chestnut woods.
The cephalantheras grow preferably in the undergrowth, in the hills or mountains, up to 1400-1600 meters of altitude; therefore they prefer shady places, with cool summers; do not fear the cold of winter. They should be placed in cool places and sheltered from direct sunlight, especially in the hot period, to prevent sun rays from causing burns on the leaves. They can be grown at home even if they prefer open places, choosing a sheltered place not too exposed to sunlight. They grow better in environments with good ventilation and in winter they should not be placed near radiators.
As for the water supply, the Cephalanthera needs regular watering, but with the foresight to check that the soil does not remain soaked. It is essential to check that the substrate remains moist without the possibility of presenting dangerous water stagnations.
In hot weather it is good to intervene by vaporizing water on the leaf apparatus to increase the degree of environmental humidity.
These orchids are generally found in calcareous soils, with the presence of decomposed leaves.
Generally Cephalanthera orchids prefer well-drained but moist soils, as is usually the case in our forests. A good substrate should be composed of sphagnum and shredded barks, to provide adequate support to the roots and to recreate the conditions in which orchids grow in nature.
It is essential to check that the soil does not allow the formation of water stagnations, a factor that can quickly cause the onset of dangerous radical rot.
To obtain new Cephalanthera orchids it is possible to proceed with the division of the rhizomes in the spring season; these should be planted in a compound suitable for orchids, keeping the new plants in a cool and sheltered place to facilitate the germination process.
Cephalanthera: Pests and diseases
The orchids of this type can present problems linked to unfavorable environmental conditions or to the attack of pests that can compromise their beauty, such as scale insects that deposit on the leaves; in this case, to eliminate the problem, it may be sufficient to intervene with the use of a cotton swab with alcohol to pass on the leaves to manually eliminate the parasites. Another problem is that of root rot, due to an excess of water in the soil.