Thursday, October 11, 2012

Brassocattleya Morning Glory

Some time back, a member of the EPOS (Margaret) gave me part of a Brassocattleya (Bc.) Morning Glory that another member had given her, as it more or less fell in two when she repotted it - orchid society plant insurance is to spread divisions of your plants around in case anything untoward happens to yours!

After a long wait, four of the buds have opened: 
Bc. Morning Glory; detail of lip
Bc. Morning Glory
Bc. Morning Glory
Bc. Morning Glory; detail of lip
This is the orchid with the largest individual flowers the OOAB collection; we tend to steer away from the giant Cattleya-type blooms for the most part, but this is quite a nice plant to my eyes, and it's very hard to say no to a free orchid. :)  Incidentally, this plant is another one of the casualties in the taxonomic name wars; its parents, which constitute a first generation (primary) intergeneric hybrid are (for the moment) classified as Brassavola nodosa and Cattleya purpurata. Cattleya purpurata used to be in the genus Laelia, so many people may have seen this plant labelled Bl. (Brassolaelia) Morning Glory; however, for the moment at least, Brassocattleya (Bc.) Morning Glory is the right name! If you look at the two parents (click on the links above), you'll see that the colour and lip patterning must come from the Cattleya parent, whilst the huge lip and somewhat narrower petals and sepals seem to be inherited from the Brassavola parent. This is quite an old hybrid, first registered in 1958; this cross has since gone on form part of at least 27 other registered hybrid orchids (according to version 8 of OrchidWiz).

It arrived at OOAB HQ with some scale; careful ministrations with cotton buds soaked in surgical spirits and drizzling a little Bio Kill into the leaf axils where we couldn't reach seems to have knocked out those menacing little beasts. Talking of menacing little beasts, the fellow EPOS member who gave me this division lost about half of their first flowers (which developed a month or so earlier than mine) to a slug, which devoured several promising buds overnight!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oerstedella centradenia

This little Oerstedella has been fighting a long, hard battle against scale. Eventually, I put this little plant in a ziplock bag, added some Bio Kill, and shook it around until the entire plant was wet with insecticide. This seems to be a pretty effective small-scale way of applying pesticides, and is particularly nice as you don't get any overspray - particularly handy for indoor growers with no garden (like us here at OOAB) to use for a quick spray. After that, I potted it up in some Hydroton (LECA). This seems to have finally knocked out the scale, and the plant has responded with some pretty little flowers.

Oerstedella centradenia
Oerstedella centradenia
 I hope it will now decide to start thriving a little more now that its energy isn't continually sapped by vicious little bugs!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dendrochilum glumaceum

I often find small things repay close attention; the natural world is full of miniature marvels, and orchids no less so. You can spend quite a long time looking at things through a 1:1 macro lens (a microscope even more so) - and adding a 2x teleconverter to your macro lens can get you some really interesting images. Once you get those images back and look at them full screen, the results can be quite amazing. The pictures below were taken at a 1:1 macro setting through a Canon 100mm macro lens at f16 1/60th second exposure with total flash lighting.

Dendrochilum orchids generally have long flower stems with many flowers growing off them in very close proximity, giving a "bottle brush" effect. Grown to specimen size, these plants look great with gracefully arched stems dotted all over the plant (mine has a long way to go...!). But take a closer look and you'll see more obviously "orchid-like" flowers hidden in there.
Dendrochilum glumaceum
Dendrochilum glumaceum
Dendrochilum glumaceum is quite strongly scented - I'm not quite sure how to describe it, but it's a sort of sweet, creamy smell - the sort of smell you sometimes get in "creme" hand soaps that I absolutely hate, but many will find very pleasant! Googling the scent of this species brings back a lot of hits for "hay scented" - I can't imagine hay smelling anything like this, because in my mind hay would be freshly cut grass, a smell I'm familiar with from mowing lawns. As far as I can tell, Dendrochilum seem to like being kept quite moist. If you're interested in learning more about this genus, make sure to check out!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Aerangis fastuosa

You may remember this plant from last year. It has again decided to bloom for us in September (it's still going strong now).
Aerangis fastuosa
Aerangis fastuosa
Note the long spur
Aerangis fastuosa
Again, it won "Best Miniature" on display at the EPOS September meeting plant table (we also took along the Jumellea comorensis you may remember from the previous post and our Dendrochilum glumaceum). It was pure white when we displayed it, but there seems to be a little damage to the blooms now (the slight brown discolouration at the back of the lip), presumably from being jumbled around during the ~260km round trip. The blooms aren't as profuse this year; I'm chalking this up to less humidity (because our humidifiers have all broken). Still a very charming plant, and one day I may get around to mounting it, which will let it show off its flowers to best effect! Again, it has a fairly heady jasmine smell, but not nearly as pronounced as last year (when it had more than twice as many flowers).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jumellea comorensis

Here is our Jumellea comorensis, which has been in bloom (just the one flower) for over a month now. I really like Angraecoid orchids - and a lot of them come from countries in the area the project I work for studies (only we study the sea - not too many orchids there...!) and it seems like quite a cool idea to grow things that come from more or less where you live. I took this one to the last EPOS meeting in September; it looks like the transport (or maybe just time) has done some damage; it's going a bit brown at the back there; it was initially pure white.

I've actually been to the island of Grand Comoro (Ngazidja) (comorensis means "from the comoros" - this species is known from Grand Comoro) - way back in 2003 - for a grand total of about 5 hours, hopping off a ship, taking a taxi to a tiny village, deciding the weather was too rough to dive from the beach (massive boulders making an eerie low pitched crunching noise) and then back to the ship. The roads there are incredibly narrow, and we noticed that many cars were missing wing mirrors. Amazingly, the taxi we took still had one. By the time we got from the capital, Moroni, to the village (Itsandra), the wing mirror was gone...

Anyway, enough words, let's look at some flowers!

Jumellea comorensis - front
Jumellea comorensis - lateral

Jumellea comorensis

The long spur seems to have stayed caught up in the node where the flower originated (see the second picture above); if you do a google image search of this species, it seems to be quite a common trait.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Some new flowers

Thing have been quiet on this blog again lately, but not so much on the balcony (and certainly not in Life!) - plenty has been in bloom, several plants for the first time!

First up, Masdevallia Snowbird (M. tovarensis x M. meijiana), which has lovely, white, long lasting blooms that - at least in my plant - are scented with a lovely mix of a clovey-cinnamon spice together with a floral scent that reminds me of jasmine. You'll notice it within a few feet of the plant, and definitely if you put your nose anywhere near it! This one hasn't flowered for me before, but when it got around to it, it certainly put on a show!

Masdevallia Snowbird
Masdevallia Snowbird
It's grown a fair bit since I received it just over a year and a half ago (wow, time flies!).

Another first time bloomer is my small Dendrochilum wenzelii, which when well established can put on quite a show. This is one of the plants Senior Management noted - at last year's (2011) EPOS Show - would be allowed into the OOAB house if one happened to find its way home. It did, mysteriously. :)
Dendrochilum wenzelii
Dendrochilum wenzelii
Next we have our Dendrobium kingianum that went absolutely crazy with flowers this year - sadly, they don't last too long. There were a lot more flowers than last year - clearly the "it's kind to be cruel" rule of withholding winter water in (many) Dendobiums works well with this species. Sadly, my plan to take more photos of it once more flowers had opened never happened, but the profusion of buds gives a good indication of the show it put on for us!

Dendrobium kingianum
Dendrobium kingianum
NOID mini Phalaenopsis
You may remember this mini Phalaenopsis from last year - it's back in bloom again this year; I think I need to step up my fertiliser dosing for the phalaenopsis (I tend to cater for the more delicate plants more in my regular watering, so fertiliser is minimal). 

And now for some non-orchids (gasp!)

This is one of Senior Management's favourite plants and its blooms stay open for a very short time indeed, so I thought I'd try and take a picture that might make a nice desktop backgroud. If you'd like to see some awesome time lapse footage of similar plants opening, have a look over at Plantgasm's Timelapse section.

Although commonly known as Amaryllis, these are in fact a cultivar of Hippeastrum.

I'm not sure what this little semi-succulent plant is, but I just love the anthers.
It has a slightly odd, pungent garlicky smell when in bloom.

As always, don't forget you can click on any of the pictures if you'd like to see a larger version!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

EPOS Annual Show 2012

The Eastern Province Orchid Society is having its Annual Show this weekend, 17-19th August 2012, at the Sherwood Garden Centre in Port Elizabeth. Entry to see the show costs just R10 a person; entering plants is free.

Here's a map for your convenience:

View Larger Map

Show opening times are:
Friday 17th : 13:00-17:00
Saturday 18th : 09:00-17:00
Sunday 19th: 09:00-16:00

Judging takes place from 09:00 to 13:00 on Friday; during this time, only the judging team and their assistants will be permitted into the exhibition.

As well as the various show entries, there will also be plants and orchid supplies for sale, a tea room and various talks and presentation. As one of South Africa's biggest orchid societies (in terms of member numbers) we can expect quite a lot of fantastic entries.

If you would like to enter the show, with a chance to have your plants judged and possibly awarded by the South African Orchid Council, please note that entries have to be delivered to the centre on Thursday 16th August from 09:00 to 18:00, and must be accompanied by a Exhibitor Entry Form. There is a NOID category, so don't be afraid of entering orchids whose exact identity is a mystery, and there is a category for novices too! Plants can be collected after 4PM on Sunday.

Sadly, my own orchid collection is not in a showy mood - being some distance inland, winter is longer and colder than at the coast, so it's a bit early for OOAB to score any great glory! (We had the same problem last year).

If you'd like a look at last year's show, or need some inspiration to get in your car and go, have a look at these posts. I imagine this year will be quite similar!

If you'd like some tips on entering plants into shows, here is what EPOS' August 2012 newsletter has to say:
 Even if you are a small grower with only a few plants, your blooming orchids will enhance the orchid show and add to your enjoyment of the hobby. Don't hesitate to enter them. Here's how to exhibit them at their best.

Make sure there are no insects or diseases lurking about. Spray your plants with a broad spectrum pesticide / fungicide well before the buds open. Carefully examine under the leaves and remove all signs of scale or other stationary pests.

Remove moss or weeds from the potting medium. Remember no other plants except orchids may be displayed and weeds are “other plants”.

For the Cattleya alliance and similar orchids, wet the pseudobulbs under a tap or spray with clean water and remove all dead bulb sheaths and other dead tissue.

Remove yellow or dead leaves or leaf tips. Also remove any flowers that are starting to go off or probably will not last through the show. Use a separate new, disposable razor blade for each plant or sterilise your cutters between plants.

If your plant shows salt residue from hard water, go over it with a solution of detergent and water with 10% household bleach. Thick leaved orchids like Phalaenopsis and Cattleyas can take some light washing with a washcloth. Rinse with plain water and dry immediately with a soft cloth. The cleaner and healthier your plant appears, the better impression it will make on the judges.

Staking is extremely important. Don't expect the show committee to do this for you. If you don't have a stake, make one from a piece of fence wire or a coat hanger. Long inflorescences, such as on Phalaenopsis, should not be staked in a rigid upright position, nor should they be allowed to flop down. They should be staked just below the first blossom, and the upper stem should be allowed to curve gracefully. Do this as soon as the first buds reach a noticeable size. Keep the buds facing the light until they open. On a plant with multiple flower stems, arrange them in an orderly way. They should radiate outward as naturally as possible, not all facing front.

Buds in the Cattleya alliance often need some help. There is much controversy over what is ethically permissible  to do, but minor manipulation seems to be acceptable  as long as all the “helps” are removed (and all evidence thereof) before the show. If the buds tend to crowd together, push them apart with spacers made from Styrofoam pieces or cotton wool.

Cotton wool, tissue paper or bubble wrap can be used to protect flowers on the way to the show.

Make sure the plant is identified and labelled accurately. Much embarrassment can be caused if your plant is named incorrectly and is thereby disqualified.  If you don't have the plant's name, it can  still be entered in the NOID (No identification) class. A beautiful unnamed orchid can still win you an award.

If you have at least part of the name, or only the parents, consult the Orchid Wiz programme or similar source for the correct name or ask someone with access thereto to assist you.

Make sure the plant label is stuck firmly down in the pot or attached to the pot so it is visible. 

Complete the entry list with your name and the names of your plants beforehand. All this will make life much easier for the setup people and the show committee, as well as those taking down the show. Make sure the setup people mark all your plants with your unique number before they are placed in the exhibitors area.

Keep a copy of your plant list and make a note of the identifier number allocated to you. This will make it so much easier when you collect your plants after the show. 
I'll be sure to take some pictures over the weekend - we plan to go on Sunday.  Hope to see you there!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Miltonia moreliana and Dendrobium mousmee

Miltonia moreliana
Miltonia moreliana
At the EPOS meeting last Thursday, one of the members brought in this spectacular specimen of Miltonia moreliana. This plant was at one stage considered to be a variety of another species - Miltonia spectabilis var. moreliana, but it has since been elevated to species level. Clearly this plant is worthy of wider cultivation. The previous South African Orchid Council (the AOS of South Africa, if you like!) award to this species was given to a small plant with just two flowers in 2010. There seem to be quite a lot of AOS awards at the 70-odd flower count, and there are a couple or awarded plants with over 100 flowers from Australia and the USA. I imagine the South African judges would have fallen off their chairs if presented with this. Sorry the photos aren't that great - cellphone cameras are not DSLRs!

The other spectacular specimen we saw that night was a Dendrobium mousmee 'Coleen' which is growing in the speaker's garden centre business; unfortunately, this was only photographically, but nonetheless, the statistics are impressive. He had the plant for several years without blooming and then gave it away. Ultimately, he bought it back a few years later. The plant is perhaps 30-35 years old and in that time has grown to a monster of around 5m in circumference! It has over 5,000 flowers and buds:
Dendrobium mousmee 'Colleen'
Photo courtesy Colin Silver, Stoneage Orchids
 Not surprisingly, this plant has previously been judged; in 2005 it had 3,500 flowers. I can only imagine it will continue getting larger and larger. You can see more photos of it at the Stoneage Orchids facebook album here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New spikes and flowers

Things are definitely deciding to bloom again.
Dendrobium Mini (White with Red Lip)
Our Dendrobium Mini has not one, not two but three separate flower spikes - pictured above is one of them. They're getting longer every day and the buds are starting to take shape now.

Even one of our two cymbidiums has had enough of sitting around doing nothing and is busy putting up two spikes. I have no idea what has triggered that, as I understand it usually takes cooler temperatures to trigger it, and it's been boiling hot around here, but I generally find that plants don't actually spend a lot of time reading books and sometimes resolutely resist such conventions! Given a few weeks, I suspect we'll see some flowers, but you never quite know when an orchid is going to be showing its blooms (at least, I never do!). I'd been starting to think that our little balcony just doesn't get enough light for these plants which have remained fairly unexciting grassy looking houseplants for quite some time now, but it seems - at least on that windowsill - there is just about enough! I wonder if it might be having a bit more water (Cymbidiums apparently quite like to be kept on the damp side), as it receives the run-off from a Vanda that sits above it and is regularly sprayed.

Our Stenoglottis Ganymede also has two spikes on it:

Stenoglottis Ganymede
Flowers beginning to open.
Stenoglottis Ganymede
If last year is anything to go by, this flower spike will get at least three or four times this length and be covered in blooms.

Towards the end of last year, I received an Aerangis citrata from Plantae which had two spikes on it; the flowers are now starting to open.
Aerangis citrataFirst flower to open.
Aerangis citrata
Aerangis citrata
showing spur
I really enjoy the angraecoid orchids, which have a delicate and graceful elegance to them (at least, I think they do!). I haven't detected a scent to this one but I have yet to sniff it in the evenings, when this group is usually most strongly scented. The flower has a very slight yellowish tint to it (hence the botanical name, I suspect) which isn't coming through in these photos very well.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Stelis ?vulcanica? - surprise flowering

Usually I notice when plants throw out a spike - I tend to watch them like a hawk for any signs of interesting growth. Well, actually, I doubt hawks look at their orchid collections much, so I watch them like any (obsessive?) orchid-grower watches their plants... Somehow, I missed this one that sprung up in between several leaves that had grown on top of each other; I was having a look at the plant and noticing several other promising-looking growths on the leaves, and then this spike peeped out at me, in full bloom!
Stelis nanegalensis
Stelis nanegalensis
For those of you who just like the pretty pictures, stop reading now. Beyond this point Taxonomy Alert!

I obtained this plant, labelled Stelis vulcanica, last year; it appears not to be a valid name (RHS says it should be Stelis nanegalensis), but this name still seems to be commonly used. It's also possible that this is mis-identified. We first saw a "Stelis vulcanica" at an EPOS meeting last year (the first one Senior Management and I attended together, I think); someone noted (when the plant table was being discussed) that vulcanica wasn't valid and suggested it was perhaps argentata, but it seems they probably actually meant nanegalensis! In any case, Senior Management expressed the opinion that such a plant should be encouraged to appear at OOAB, so this was duly accomplished.

Anyone have a handy (up-to-date) monograph on Stelis, preferably with keys? has some scans of various books that are somewhat helpful; one of the references notes that argentata has a small hook on the lip of the flower, which this flower has (zoom in on the full size versions, or see crop below); at the same time, there is a nice botanical illustration of nanegalensis which clearly also shows such a "tooth". It's possible one of the authors got this wrong (such a thing is not unheard of). At the same time, I'm an absolute neophyte at plant taxonomy, so I could be totally mistaken. To me, this looks most like Luer's illustration of nanegalensis, so I suspect that is what this is

Stelis, detail of lip (crop)
Illustration of Stelis nanegalensis
from Luer in Icones Pleurothallidinarum
Note lip detail.

The initial Species Identification Task Force (SITF) blog post on Stelis nanegalensis shows the detail of the lip structure well in one of the close-up photos.

Luer's monograph contains some other little gems: interestingly, it seems that Nanegal is the town where this species was originally collected from and described (by Lindley in 1858 - the suffix -ensis in a latin name can be thought of as "comes from"); Schlechter later described (what is ultimately the same species) as vulcanica in 1915; the rules of taxonomy dictate the earliest validly published name takes priority, so hello, nanegalensis! "vulcanica" apparently stems from it having been collected in or around the Pulalagua Volcano. Apparently, one can distinguish the apparently rather similar Stelis superbiens from nanegalensis on the basis of the teeth on the lips - which suggests at least some orchids identified as superbiens are not - see for example this which clearly has 3 teeth on its lip! Sadly, I don't have access to the Icones Pleurothallidinarum, so I can't leaf through the Stelis section for general inspiration, nor see what they have to say about argentata.

S. argentata is also noted to have a (single) tooth in the center of the lip - an email from Luer suggests that argentata is very variable, and may occasionally have extra teeth (argh!); ultimately though he seems to decide that the plant the SITF is looking at is nanegalensis.

These plants seem to be quite variable in both colouration and the amount of "hairyness" on the flowers; this may be simply variability, or it may just be an unrecognised species complex ; given the diversity, range and potential habitat isolation of Andean pleurothallids, that does not seem beyond the bounds of reason.  Luer's email linked to earlier suggests it's simple variability; I'm not sure if he's a "lumper" or a "splitter". "Lumpers" are taxonomists who are conservative in assigning things species rank; "splitters" tend to like to recognise diversity as valid species.

Until otherwise noted, this does indeed seem to be "vulcanica", only the valid name for this species is Stelis nanegalensis. Time for a label update!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Names, Names, Names!

At the last EPOS meeting, before the main talk, the speaker (Hendrelien Peters) gave an overview of some of the craziness around orchid names and how they keep changing at the moment, and usefully, how to wade through the morass to the right name for your plants.

If you're "in" the orchid world, no doubt you'll be familiar with the upheavals in plant names, if you're not, it's kind of interesting (not to mention frustrating), so here's what I recall of the topic, plus some useful tools. I sit right in the middle between the two camps - the hobbyists that don't like change, and the taxonomists that want to get it right, even if it's a bit annoying - I spent some time as a taxonomist-in-training, so I'm sympathetic to that, but it's quite frustrating to find many of the names you've painstakingly learnt have changed.

First up, the useful tools. It's generally a good idea to know what your plants are called, and keep this up to date, particularly if you have any intention of showing your plants, and especially if you intend to breed them. There are two notably useful online tools for this, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (which conveniently for our purposes includes the Orchidaceae) and the International Orchid Register.

WCSP website
First up, let's deal with the simpler case of natural orchid species . Kew maintains a World Checklist of Selected Plant Families at Here, you can figure out what the correct current name of a species is (both genus and specific epithet), barring human error. (NB: This will not work with intergeneric hybrid "genus" or grex names; this database deals only with natural species). Take for example Sophronitis coccinea, a pretty, miniature red Cattleya Alliance plant that is prominent in the background of many "Mini Catts". Type Sophronitis coccinea into the box and click Find Name. This returns a list of several options, including the species and several varieties. You'll note none of them are in bold, which denotes a currently valid name (that is, the general consensus of plant taxonomists agrees that constitutes the "correct" name of a species). Next, click on the species you want - the first one for Sophronitis coccinea. This will then take you to a page that lists all the information about that particular species. You'll note that Sophronitis coccinea is currently considered a synonym for Cattleya coccinea which is the currently valid/accepted name for this plant. If you'd like to see what this little plant looks like, check out this IOSPE page. You'll note they still have it as Sophronitis - either they disagree or they haven't gotten around to updating it!

Results for Sophronitis coccinea
There are a couple of other useful functions. You can use wildcards to figure out something you've forgotten or aren't sure of the spelling for - if you're sure of the Genus, but not the specific epithet, just put the genus in and it will list every plant (valid or otherwise) described in that genus - look through the list for the one you want. If even the genus is uncertain, try a few letters with a * character. For example, pretend you're looking for Bulbophyllum rothschildianum, but you're not sure of the spelling. Try searching for Bulb* roth* and you'll get there! If you use the Advanced Search, you can check just the family Orchidaceae, which may be handy to speed up your hunt.

Many, if not most of the orchids people grow are hybrids between various orchid species. Most have been given variety ("grex") names. Many hybrids are even made and registered between different genera of plants, so you end up with what are called "intergeneric hybrids"; these are given a new "Genus" name - there are lots of these (78 pages and counting...), and a list is maintained by Kew here. Most of these are also given abbreviations, because writing out "Brassolaeliocattleya" gets tedious when you're labelling hundreds or thousands of plants, so there is an accepted abbreviation for pretty much every orchid genus (and intergeneric) - for example, "Brassolaeliocattleya" is Blc. If you're trying to work out what a particular abbreviation is, just search that page for the letters, or use the abbreviation document - One of the effects of the taxonomic shake-ups is that these intergeneric hybrid "genera" change; some become invalid (because if genus X is subsumed into genus Y and intergeneric genus Q was X crossed with Y, then Q is no longer needed). Simple intergenerics are usually two or three genus names mashed together (portmanteau); after a while though, this gets unwieldy and people invent new names. Another listing is maintained by Jerry Bolce in Canada 2011 version here; 2014 version here. This is more up-to-date than the Kew one, which seems to have last been updated in 2005. This one by OrchidsAustralia is also quite good.

I was looking through that list for Iwanagara and couldn't find it. Why? Because as BrooklynOrchids tells us, Iwanagara is Cattleya x Caularthron x Guarianthe x Laelia x Rhyncholaelia x Sophronitis and several of those genera have been subject to big taxonomic shake-ups. Iwanagara Appleblossom is a fairly common plant. What is it called now? Now we turn to the International Orchid Register, (what an easy URL to remember... I usually just google it!).

International Orchid Register Search
Iwanagara is no longer valid, so we can't search using that, but we can use Appleblossom. So, click on Grex Name Search, leave the Genus blank and put Appleblossom into the second box. And...
Three hits for Appleblossom. We can discount Dendrobium right away. But is it now Jackfowlieara or is it Rhycholaeliocattleya? Click on each one to find out. When we click on Jackfowlieara Appleblossom, the page tells us that Iwanagara is a synonym. Bingo. Iwanagara Appleblossom is now Jackfowlieara Appleblossom. I next tried to find out what constitutes a Jackfowlieara, but the RHS site did not list it in their list of intergeneric names - but Jerry's list does. Jackfowlieara (Jkf.) = [Cattleya x Caularthron x Guarianthe x Laelia x Rhyncholaelia] What's missing? Sophronitis, which as we saw earlier, has been collapsed into Cattleya! If you're searching for something uncertain, you can use % as a wildcard at the front, or leave the back end off (try searching for Apple and then %ssom).

So hopefully you now have the tools to undertake your own plant label detective work!

But what is driving all this change? Are plant taxonomists sitting in their labs trying to make our lives as difficult as possible? Are they being foolish? Read some of the rants about name changes online and you might come to think that plant taxonomists are terrible, terrible people!

In fact, the taxonomists are trying to follow best practice in phylogenetics and systematics in making sure that the names plants have accurately reflect the relationships and evolutionary history between different plants. Biology is messy, and it can be quite challenging to separate out two species, let alone decide what is related to what and how closely. In the past, all such studies have relied entirely on what could be seen and measured - shapes, colours, sizes and that sort of thing. Modern science has placed at our disposal genetic tools that let us examine in unprecedented detail just how closely related various plants are to each other by examining their DNA. Hobbyists, of course, still rely on what they can see and measure - very few people have PCR machines and sequencers at home...

Essentially, with these new tools, it has been discovered that old relationships are wrong - sometimes we've been too zealous in assigning genus names (Cattleya and Sophronitis are too similar to be "worthy" of splitting) or we've been fooled by somewhat superficial similarity in form and "lumped" groups, which are then split apart. Laelia is another casualty of the "name wars"; many of them have moved across to Sophronitis - and then Cattleya, leaving relatively few species as Laelia!

A summary of the major changes:
  • Sophronitis = Cattleya
  • Laelia are now mainly Cattleya except a few species from Mexico
  • And whilst many things have been moved into Cattleya, others have been moved out! Quite a few Central American "Cattleyas" have been moved into Guarianthe.
  • Schomburgkia have been moved into Myrmecophila or Laelia
  • Odontoglossum are all Oncidium
  • Encyclia has seen a lot of things hived off. 
  • Here is a good overview of the Cattleya Alliance changes.

For a long time, the RHS orchid register didn't recognise Rhyncholaelia digbyana, keeping it as Brassavola digbyana. This has fairly significant repercussions as this species is quite important in Cattleya Alliance breeding - for example, most Blc. are probably not!

As for their impacts on your plant labels, this PDF is a pretty handy list for plants with Sophronitis and Laelia in their ancestry! Australian orchid genus name changes are extensively covered here. Just wait until the taxonomists sink their teeth into the mega-groups like Dendrobium and Bulbophyllum, and perhaps some of the Pleurothallids!

Ultimately, your best bet is probably to put the grex name (without the genus) into the search engine and figure out where it has been pigeon-holed for the time being. I have plants affected by this - my Slc. Kagaribi Dawn is now Cattleya Kagaribi Dawn. My Lc. Tropical Treat is now Cattlianthe Tropical Treat and so on! I don't have many Cattleya Alliance plants, so it's not too frustrating, but those with big collections of "Cattleyas" are probably banging their head against the desk next to a huge pile of blank labels right about now. If you have the software program OrchidWiz, it tends to be quite up to date, but also works with the old names, which is very handy!

If you're interested in learning more (this post is already quite lengthy), much of the work is done using the ITS ribosomal RNA region; this is roughly equivalent in usefullness to the COI mitochondrial DNA used in separating animal species. Although plants have COI, it evolves/mutates much more slowly than in animals, so is less useful in studies. One eventual hope is we'll have "barcode scanners" that can identify species by genetic markers alone.

Once you get into learning about how these decisions are made, and discover the fact that quite often (at least it's the case in animals) the people that make sweeping changes are molecular biologists with no traditional taxonomic training at all, you can see why you can have flaming arguments at systematics conferences, and perhaps why there can be so much flip-flopping! On the other hand, a surprising amount of taxonomy goes on "gut feel" and years of familiarity with a group (which perhaps explains why some keys are so impossible to use. What is "moderately long" when you've only ever seen one example? If you've measured hundreds of them, you'll know "moderately long" when you see it, but us noobs who haven't spent 30 years studying that genus? No...). Another problem of course is that the datasets are incomplete - if we had comparable sequences of every one of the ~30,000 species of orchids, it might be possible to create the One True List of Names, but that's a long way off - in the interim, the only constant is change!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paphiopedilum Onyx

Our Paphiopedilum Onyx is in bloom again. Clearly we're doing something right! The plant has loads of new growth and was repotted a few months ago (most paphs enjoy annual repotting). The flower spike is surprisingly tall. Paph. spikes seem to be quite easy to "bruise", although it did have a rough time in the car on the way to the EPOS meeting last week, falling over several times before I found that it fit quite happily in the cup holder. Fortunately nothing broke! Strangely, I have another plant of this type that shows no sign of flowering, yet is cared for essentially identically.
Paphiopedilum Onyx
Paph. Onyx, detail of staminode
Paph. Onyx, Staminode and pollinium
Paph. Onyx, Leaf Detail
The guest speaker, Hendrelien Peters (who coincidentally saw this plant last year in February too), noted that the staking could be improved by holding the flower by the ovary at the back (rather than lower down as I had it); this would pull the flower more upright; the ideal paph to an orchid judge would pretty much be a perfectly vertical round circle with a pouch on it! 

This plant not only has great flowers, but is one of my favourite orchids out of bloom too, thanks to its blocky variegated leaves. Paphs make quite good windowsill houseplants (these so called "Maudiae-type" [like this Onyx] paphs particularly so), as long as they don't get direct sunlight or get too dry. If you want something a bit different to a phalaenopsis for a fairly forgiving plant, try a paph!  If you're short on space, many of them are quite compact growers (unlike Phragmipedium). I'd quite like to get a so-called "vinicolor" paph, which has burgundy red-ish blooms, and often purpleish leaves at some stage in the near future.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Epidendrum porpax - or is it?

About a year ago, as covered in this post, you might remember that we added what was called Epidendrum porpax to our collection at OOAB. To refresh your memory, the little bare root plant looked like this:
Epidendrum (Neolehmannia) porpax peperomia
Apparently, however, this is not the correct name for this plant, and it should be called Epidendrum peperomia. Here's a link to the profile on IOSPE. For a while, plants in this group were placed in Neolehmannia, before the taxonomists (at least for the time being...) decided it was better lumped into Epidendrum. I wasn't sure why it ended up as peperomia, or if porpax was even valid any more; I suspected it was either earlier described (and overlooked) as peperomia, or they decided that porpax is something else. So I turned to google, which yielded the IOSPE page on the still valid E. porpax, which states:
Hagsater has separated E porpax and E peperomia and states that the differences are that E peperomia has an orbicular-cordiform lip that is wider than long, has an obtuse apes and is known only from Colombia and Venezuela while E porpax has a reniform to sub-orbicular-subquadrate, slightly convex, apically rounded, shortly emarginate and erose dentate.
Great, thanks botanists, because I don't even know what most of those terms mean (actually, I do, but only because I did quite a bit of taxonomy, just not with plants; it's easy enough to look them up on google). The problem with such terms is applying them to a different group, when such terms can be quite subjective! The true porpax (sensu Hagsater*) also seems to be fragrant, wheras no fragrance is noted for peperomia. Forget the description, go and have a look at the photo of it on IOSPE and you'll see it's clearly different. I also wonder if the word "apes" is a typo for "apex", but it's on both the IOSPE peperomia and porpax pages (still, it's probably copy/paste between them, so errors carry!). In any case, the important point is that it seems most (if not all) the plants in cultivation are Epidendrum peperomia. The latest AOS Orchids magazine has an article where these plants are labeled peperomia with a note that they were previously porpax. Time to relabel!

Aside from the taxonomic intrigue, the real reason for this post was it's finally decided to bloom, after spending the last year forming a nice green mat in the pot I placed it in. I think it would actually be better on some sort of saucer, raft or plaque than a pot, but that's where it lives for now.

I grow mine right on the windowsill, where it gets a bit of (net/sheer curtain filtered) afternoon sun, and mist it pretty much daily (with RO water with a tiny amount of MSU formulation fertiliser in - always considerably less than 100┬ÁS when I've measured it, but essentially the very tip of a teaspoon in a litre of water; most of my plants that like moisture and all the bare root/mounted plants get a blast of this at least once a day; twice if it's hot). It's potted in primarily bark with a little moss added to the top layer.

Epidendrum peperomia
First bloom to open

Epidendrum peperomia
Lateral view
Sometimes, I think it's interesting to take a slightly different view of flowers than the conventional face-on we usually see, particularly as I'm not documenting these things for scientific purposes, which demand a certain presentation (at least they do in fish, the group I'm somewhat familiar with the taxonomic requirements of!). Here is the back of the flower above:

Epidendrum peperomiaRear view

Here's what one of the buds looks like just as it's about to open:

Epidendrum peperomia
It has quite a few more buds to open, so I'm hoping it will put on a decent show by the next EPOS meeting in March (and not stubbornly have already finished by then). I rather like the creeping green foliage of this little plant, and it seems a worthy addition to the collection of anyone who likes miniature orchids. Finally, I leave you with a somewhat less close up picture so you can see the lovely leaves:

Epidendrum peperomia
With foliage
*Icones Orchidacearum, Fascicle 13: The Genus Epidendrum, Part 9: Species New & Old in Epidendrum