José Alberto de Senna

Industrial chemist, graduated by the Federal Fluminense University (State of Rio de Janeiro), nowadays is a director of an industry of chemical products.
Associated to many orchids societies such as OrquidaRIO, ACW (Associação Cattleya Walkeriana), AOS (American Orchids Society), OSSEA (Orchids Society Southeast Asia, he is a skilled grower of Vandaceous(*).
His plants has been awarding the first prize in the shows he participates since 2002. Here he tells a little about his secrets.

ON: Why did you start to cultivate orchids? Which was the magic moment of attraction?

Senna: I always loved plants, I used to visit the Botanical Garden but just when I built my house, in Angra dos Reis, I started to get involved with cultivation.
The fact of feeling very well when I am in the woods or even in small parks has quite influenced me, besides Nelli, my wife, who loves plants and "tolerated" 30 orchids on the dinner table, in our apartment, for five months.
  Ascocentrum guaraii

ON: How long do you cultivate orchids?

Senna: I have been cultivating since 1995. I started in the dinner room of my apartment.

ON: How many plants do you have, approximately?

Senna: At about 500 plants. Vandaceous in the most part.
V. Claudia Pedrahita

ON: Why Vandaceous?

Senna: First, because I love Vandaceous, but also because the climate conditions where I cultivate are really suitable for them. This is a very important point in the choice of the orchids I should cultivate.

Vanda tesselata
Ascda Doroth Bennett
Vanda sanderiana

Rynchostylis retusa

  Robiquetia pantherina  
ON: Do you have a favorite plant? Do you prefer hybrids or species?

Senna: I don't have a favorite one, however I should confess that I give more attention to some plants of my collection: Vanda, Renanthera, Arachnis, Ascocentrum "species". They are as the nature created them, there is no interference of human kind.
However, it is hard to get them in Brazil, so, in general, I prefer hybrids.
  Ascocentrum guaraii

ON: Do you cultivate all of your plants in Angra dos Reis?

Senna: I have plants in three different places: in Rio, in Angra dos Reis and in Niterói. Here in Rio, in Barra da Tijuca, I have some of them, mainly, Phalaenopsis, in a balcony of my apartment which is turn to west. I have aluminum staging and put the pots on trays with stones and water in order to increase the humidity around the plants. I chose this genus because the luminosity conditions are not very good but enough to Phalaenopsis. The other plants, I bring to Rio when they are blooming.

ON: Which are the climate conditions in Angra dos Reis?

Senna: My house is closer to the mountains than to the sea (Pico do Frade) and is protected from the winds by the mountains, which provide good conditions of humidity. The only one disadvantage is the constant worry about the fungus mainly Colletotricum responsible for the Antracnose. There, I have Vandaceous and Cattleya, species and hybrids. All plants are cultivated at lowlands, in semitropical climate with very good luminosity and environmental humidity.
Just for curiosity, Chiang Mai, town in the north of Thailand, considered as an excellent place to cultivate Vandaceous, has almost the same climate conditions as Angra dos Reis. The difference is that Chiang Mai is placed at 300 m altitude, consequently the temperature is cooler than in Angra.

  Blc Hawaiian SatifactionAscda Ng Hee Deng " Fuchs Sunset"
  V. denisonianaBlc. Chunyea
  ON: And in Niteroi?

Senna: There I have just a few plants with my friend Nelson Bittencourt, who takes care of them. I have, mainly, Cattleyas hybrids, which don't like as much humidity as we have in Angra dos Reis. As the structure is covered and high, I bring the Vandaceous which are too big and don't fit in my greenhouse in Angra. The greenhouse, which is placed at 100 m altitude, has 240 m² and is covered in the central part with 70% shade-cloth with plastic. The sun illumination is excellent mainly considering the number of hours/day. Good natural ventilation due to the height (4,5m) and without obstacles to the wind. The plants are cultivated in staging except for Vandas and Renantheras. I don't take part in the daily cultivation, I just visit once a week to change opinions about the cultivation and to verify the results.
  V. " Best in Show " ON: Your plants are always considered by the quality of the cultivation and have been receiving first prize in the shows since 2002, which is the secret ?

Senna: The big tip is to take to know well the orchid you like and want cultivate. Look for information about the habitat, compare the environmental conditions in your place, read books and articles about other growers' plants. I spend long time reading books and magazines about orchids besides to be associated to many different societies such as: OrquidaRIO, ACW (Associação Cattleya Walkeriana), AOS (American Orchids Society), OSSEA (Orchids Society Southeast Asia).

ON: Besides this one, is there another tip you can share with us?

Senna: I don't if it is a tip but during the hotter months, if possible, water your plants (Vandaceous) after 10 h and until, no later, 14 h. This is period in which the relative humidity is lower and the temperature is higher.
In general, Vandas lose water to the environment when the relative humidity is lower than 45 - 40%. Watering in the drier period, the plants don't dehydrate so easily and you refresh the environment by the evaporation of the water on the ground.
Important: The plant should be dry before nightfall so do not water it too late. During the cool months you can do the same thing but just in sunny days when the evaporation is higher.
I use rubber hose with valve controlling the flow always wetting the plants from the bottom to up (more the roots than the leaves). Regulating the flow, I can have small drops forming almost a mist or a strong gush to help cleaning the inside of the wood baskets.

V. Wirat Pink

  Ascda Yip Sun Wah  x   V. Gordon Dillon ON: OK. But you have another secret to water Vandaceous

Senna: Vandaceous should be water until their roots turn into green. Scrub gently the white part with the fingers to warm it and, little by little, it starts to absorb the water and becomes green. It is important not to let any white part.
You can also dive the root in 30/35ºC water. The immersion is advisable when the root, due to the lack of watering, becomes like cork and doesn't absorb water.

  ON: You become an expert in Vandaceous, what else can you tell us about your cultivation ?

Senna: The main points of Vandaceous cultivation are: luminosity, humidity, temperature, nutrition and OBSERVATION. In my opinion, observe is more important because the plant gives all signs of a good or a
unbalanced cultivation.
Examine the leaves and roots: color, texture, size, creases, rigidity, tip and branches of the roots. Examine the flowers: number, size and durability.
Concerning the cultivation conditions, look for copying he best growers, mainly in Thailand, where are, nowadays, produced the best plants.
In Angra dos Reis as well as in Niterói, Vandas and Ascocendas are, most of them, cultivated suspended in thin steel wire with free roots. I adopted this kind of cultivation when I started to have troubles to clean the inside of the wood baskets. With the development of the roots and deterioration of the wood, come the pests in the roots and the fungi in the wood. The solution I found it to hang the plants in thin wire with free roots. An article by Dr. Grove, in the magazine Orchids da AOS, confirmed that my decision was correct. I have already changed 90% of the plants.
Vanda cristata

ON: Is there a short or an amusing story connected to orchids that you can tell us?

Senna: As I had constant troubles with fungi attacking my Vandaceous and lost for this two plants that I specially loved very much, I decided to start to study a little about the disease in plants. I bought many books in Brazil and abroad and, in 2001, I decided to attend to "Control of Plants Disease", in the University of Lavras (Long distance course - lasting for a year).
Coming back at 60 years old to the bank of the university could only due to an intense relationship with orchids.

ON: One said that orchidophilia is a soft manifestation of madness. Have you done any "orchidophilic" insanity: ?

Senna: Once, coming back from a work travel, I should do a 10 hours-stop in Paris. I went to a hotel and by intuition I decided to go to Vacheron Lecoufle nursery. I took the train (An hour and half to get there), I didn't intend to by plants, I went there just for visiting and have a talk. To my surprise I found the last Renanthera storei three inches) to sell. I was looking for this plant for long time without succeeding. Of course, I bought it. Just a crazy person could abstain from going for a stroll in Paris to stay for more than three hours in a train to see orchids.

ON: Thank you, very much.

  (*) Vandaceous: Group of monopodial orchids which grow, in the most part, without substrate and involved many genera: Vanda, Ascocentrum, Rhynchostylis, Neofinetia, Aerides, Renanthera and of their hybrids, besides Phalaenopsis, which needs substrate. 

  Photos: José Alberto de Senna

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