Monday, September 30, 2013

Dendrobium farmeri, a significant blooming six months after its blooming season.

My plants of Dendrobium farmeri blooming season is in March and April.   Their blooming pattern is fairly predictable, the plants produce a number of inflorescences in March, and then about a month later, they produce a second blooming.   Not all plants bloom that way, in my area Dendrobium farmeri albiflorum produces a single flush of inflorescences and that’s it for the year. 

Sometimes the plants that produce pink tinged flowers produce single inflorescences long after the blooming season has passed.  These inflorescences are produced erratically and don’t seem to conform to any blooming schedule.  But in 2013 my largest plant produced four inflorescences in September, the largest blooming event ever outside its normal blooming season.  This is not the only plant to bloom six months after its normal blooming season, a large Coelogyne parishii also produced a few inflorescences in September.  

What really sets these blooming events apart from the ones that occur in Spring is the fact that all the inflorescences came from latent buds low on the stems of older pseudobulbs.  In the normal blooming season the inflorescences come from the highest bud in the previous year growths.  This means the inflorescence is produced just under the leaves of the stem.  The autumn inflorescences in my plants were all produced from buds halfway down on the stems of old pseudobulbs.

Bulbophyllum rothschildianum (O’Brien) J.J. Smith (1912) , not difficult to grow in Puerto RIco, but susceptible to scales

This species comes from India and Thailand.¹  I brought some small seedlings about a decade ago.  They proved to be easy to care for and grew well under the climatic conditions (warm) that are prevalent in my local area.  Unfortunately the plants turned out to be vulnerable to infestation by hard brown scale.  The plants were successfully treated for this insect pest but they apparently suffered considerably and were weakened by the scales.  Scales are an insidious and persistent pest that needs constant vigilance to keep under control.

My plants spent several years without blooming.  The flowers in the photos of this post are the first ones since the infestation.  My plants come from seedlings that were the product of crossing two plants, not from meristem cloning of a selected plant.  As a result my two plants produce somewhat different flowers.  One produced mostly red flowers whose petals at times separate.  The other produces flowers that are variable and can be solid red, stripped in red and green and even have one red sepal and one green/red stripped sepal in the same plant.

The flowers in this blooming of my plant are few and small compared with the inflorescences of an awarded clone that is in optimum conditions.  However I expect that in coming years my plant will grow stronger and better.    A selected clone of this species can have lateral sepals measuring from 13.5 to 15 cm, hopefully my plants will some day approach this size.¹

¹Siegerist, Emly S. 2001. Bulbophyllums and their allies: A grower’s guide

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dendrobium Nopporn Starbright

For some years now Dendrobium hybrids that come from hybridizing plants with ancestry from the Latourea, Phalaenanthe and Sphatulata sections of the Dendrobium genus have been showing up in the market.   These Dendrobium have many virtues, among those, the flowers are big and impressively long lasting.  However some flowers can show lurid color combinations that are unfamiliar to the average orchid grower and some retain a trace of the strongly twisted flowers of the Latouria ancestors.  It remains to be seen if they will become as popular as the ubiquitous hybrid Dendrobium derived from the Phalaenanthe and Sphatulata section of Dendrobium.

Some comments on the changes in brightness of certain colors of the tail feathers of the Puerto Rican parrot as you look at them from different perspectives.

top view

Reverse view

Side angle view

front angle view

Of all the species in the psittacine genus Amazona, the puertorican parrot, Amazona vittata is the least colorful.¹  Aside from a limited amount of red in the forehead, and the white skin patches around the eye, the rest of the body is covered with green feathers.  On a perching PR parrot there is little color besides green to be seen, the turquoise and black of the wings, the blue, red and yellow areas on the tail are all kept well hidden.  The reason for such lack of color is probably the need to be as cryptic as possible to avoid attracting the attention of predators.

The PR parrot brightest colors are in the forehead and in the tail feathers.   The red band in the forehead varies widely in width, length and shape.  Generally males have a wider red band than females, but not always.  Perhaps the best example of the variability of the forehead color in the species is the pair of PR parrots currently on exhibition on the Juan A. Rivero Zoo at Mayaguez. The male has a single tiny red feather in his forehead, the female has a red band wider and larger than almost all females, so one on first sight could easily be fooled into thinking she is the male and vise versa.

Very few people are familiar with the color in the tail feathers of the PR parrots.  The reason is that because they can only be sighted when the parrots fan their tails, a normally brief occurrence, they are essentially invisible to the casual observer.     But even if an observer happened to be at the right place and time to see a bird with its tail fanned, from a distance the colors are barely visible and unremarkable when compared even with even modestly colorful species, such as the hispaniolan amazon (Amazona ventralis).

In the aviary the birds interact in many ways during the day.  Some of these interactions involve body language, on occasions this includes tail fanning which is normally accompanied by vocalizations and sometimes bowing and wing cupping.   The birds can do these displays as parts of being aggressive and also for other reasons which are not necessarily so easy to discern.   Except when we are selecting breeding pairs from the flock, or are concerned about a bird being bullied, we don’t pay much attention to these displays. 

About a decade ago, when I was standing next to her breeding cage, a female known as Ann, did a bowing and tail fanning display standing in front of me on the wire floor of the cage,  very close to my face, this is, to this day, an uncommon event (by the way, Ann and her mate, Pepe, used to be among the tamest and sweetest birds in the aviary, but as they grew older they became more and more intolerant of people around their breeding cage, now as they are getting close to the two decade mark in their lives, when breeding, they are hideously aggressive and among the most fierce of our pairs, but I digress).

When this event happened, it was morning and sunlight was coming from my back and hitting the parrot head on.  When Ann did her display, for a brief moment, her green color became brighter the way a mirror becomes brighter when the sun hits it at just the right angle.  I was intrigued by this but given that I had many other concerns at the time, filed it in the back of my mind for future reference.  Early this year I found some a shed tail feather and decided to photograph it to record how light reflected from it.

The feathers that are the last ones at the sides of the tail are different from the other tail feather and any other feather.  They are asymmetrical and one of their sides is blue.  I found that the blue of these feathers changes in brightness and you look at it from different perspectives.  If you look at the feather from an angle of 90 degrees from top looking down at the top side, the color is not particularly bright.  But as one changes the perspective, the blue becomes brighter and brighter as one approaches the horizontal plane.  If one looks at the feather in the orientation that it would have if a parrot was displaying standing in front of you the blue becomes almost mirror-like in its brightness.  You can see how the blue changes in the photos.  

What is the meaning of this change of color?  The birds have a different color perception system than us, with four receptor cell types.   Personally, I don’t know how the eyes the parrot’s perceives the changes in color that my mammal brain reports to me.   My own guess would be that if the feathers undergo changes in color and brightness as a result of the birds fanning and bowing, it may be that those changes play a role in courting displays, alternatively it also could be important in aggressive interactions.   It has been shown that budgerigar females favor males whose face feathers display fluorescence.²   For the moment, from a strictly scientific point of view, I can’t say with any certainty what the brightness changes means for the parrots.   For all I know it could be an artifact of perspective or of my own perception.   Nevertheless I find it an intriguing phenomenon. I don’t foresee the program exploring this matter as we have worked hard to keep our birds from getting imprinted with humans and breeding pairs are not fond of either people or photographic cameras.

¹Low, R. 1984. Endangered parrots

²Proc Biol Sci. 2001 Nov 7;268(1482):2273-9.
Ultraviolet vision, fluorescence and mate choice in a parrot, the budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus.

Lockhartia lunifera (Lindl.) Rchb. f. 1852, an specimen plant

This nicely grown specimen plant of Lockhartia lunifera was seen at the 2013 Orchid Festival of the Mayaguez orchid society.  

Cattleya Madeleine Knowlton ‘Harvest Moon’ a large white Cattleya hybrid

I saw this plant on the Orchid Festival of the Mayaguez orchid society.     Very nice color and shape.  However I must confess I am prejudiced, I still like the trumpet lips of the white Cattleyas of yesteryear.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Aerides lawrenciae plant from a cross of selected forms of the species 'Robert' AM/AOS and 'CF Fuchsia'

The color of this cross of two selected clones of Aerides lawrenciae is quite delightful.  Unfortunately the largest inflorescence had several damaged flowers.  But the color of the newly opened flowers of the smaller inflorescence was exquisite and eye catching.  Seen at the Mayaguez orchid society festival, September 2013.

Puertorican parrots eating west indian tree fern stems

The Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata) is known to eat the leaves, fruits or seeds of more than forty species of plants.  In the Rio Abajo forest the parrots sometimes consume the stems of the fronds of the tree ferns of the genus Cyathea.   The effect of the parrots’ activity is to completely defoliate the ferns.  The parrots consume all stems, from very young ones that are starting to unfurl to the oldest ones.    The ferns eventually produce new leaves and recuperate fully from the parrots foraging activities.    The birds don’t eat the whole frond, just parts of the stems.    I find the fact that the parrots were using the tree fern stems as food remarkable given that the birds that have been  released into the wild since the reintroduction program began were given a wide variety of wild leaves, fruits and seeds before the release, but not tree fern fronds.    

Bletia patula var alba Hawkes 1950, a rare sighting

Fully mature flower

Newly opened flower
I had heard of Bletia patula alba for many years but had never seen one “in the flesh”.  Yesterday in the Mayaguez Orchid festival I finally was able to see one.  A plant of this type was awarded by the AOS many years ago, but so far as I know that plant was lost.  I found a very pale form of this species in the wild some years ago, but in all my field trips I have never seen an alba in the wild.  In some areas of Arecibo I have seen fields where there were thousands of plants but all of them were uniformly colored.  I would hope that this clone will be selfed and the seed sown or some divisions are distributed among hobbyists so that it is not lost again.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dendrobium aduncum Lindl. 1842, some curious translucid flowers

In January 2010, the flowers of one inflorescence of Dendrobium aduncum became translucid.  I had never noticed this happening before.  The flowers looked oddly beautiful.  I don’t know what caused this or whether it is normal for the flowers to become translucid under certain circumstances. 

Polystachya foliosa (Lindl.) Reichenbach f. 1863, "in situ" in the Rio Abajo forest in Puerto Rico

This species is found in Central America, South America and the West Indies.  In Puerto Rico this is a common orchid in moist districts from sea level to high elevation (900 mts.), it frequently grows in roadside trees.¹   I have seen these orchids in many places in the island.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to know if the plants I see in the wild are foliosa or concreta if the plants are not in bloom.  Even when in bloom, the differences between these species are based on technical details of the lip and column that don’t exactly leap to the eye.  My best guess is that the plant and inflorescences in this article are foliosa.   I found this plant close to my home, in the Rio Abajo forest, this greatly facilitated taking the photos of the plant and the inflorescence.

The flowers of these orchids are small, yellowish green.  In the case of this particular plant, the flowers don’t open.  The flowers in the photos are cleistogamic, that is, they self-pollinate and never open.  As a result of this pollination strategy the plant produces many seedpods.

A few years ago, in an orchid internet forum, a person that had visited the island told me that it had collected seedpods from an orchid he had seen on the roadside.  From the description it was clear it was a Polystachya.   I told the person it was hardly worth the effort to spend time and money sowing seeds of Polystachia, given the possibility that the plants produced would never open their flowers.  The person, which appeared to have only a tenuous understanding of orchids, was clearly put off by the news that the seedpods were not of a rare or showy orchid.  I wonder if the person went ahead anyway and sowed the seeds.

¹ Ackerman, James D.  1995.  An orchid flora of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

A Lankesterella sp.?

I found this plant in a pile of broken branches next to an earth road.    I had a hard time identifying this plant since even the genus eluded me.  KellyW of the Orchidsforum suggested that it was a Lankesterella.¹  

¹Zelenko, H., Bermudez, P. 2009.  Orchid species of Peru

A Mesospinidium sp,?

I saw this plant in a garden in Mindo, Ecuador.   My best guess at the genus of this orchid is Mesospinidium.  It is said to be closely related to Ada.¹  The flower in the photo is not totally opened, which doesn't help with getting an identification.

¹Zelenko H. et al. 2002.  Orchids, The pictorial encyclopedia of Oncidium

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Peristeria elata, the inflorescence of my largest plant

These are photos of the inflorescence of my largest and most vigorous plant of Peristeria elata.  A well grown plant can produce a big inflorescence that can have many flowers open at the same time.   The largest plants can produce two inflorescences at the same time. Unfortunately the weight of the flowers tilted the inflorescence to one side so the display is not as pleasing as it could be.  So my recomendation is to use a stake to keep the inflorescence perfectly vertical, it should be placed before any of the flowers open.

Odontoglossum halli Lindley 1837, in Ecuador

I saw this plant in the orchid house of the Botanical Garden of Quito, Ecuador.  It is found in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.  This species is part of the Epidendroides group inside the group of orchids related to Oncidium.¹   There were plants of this species inside and outside the orchid house.  The plant growing outside in the trunk of a tree, growing under shade had more flowers.  The plant growing inside the orchid house was sitting in the ground and exposed to a much higher level of light.    The flowers of the two plants I photographed were subtly different, the one outside had lips that were not flat, the one in the orchid house had a flat lip, the marking and the coloring of the flowers were also slightly different.

¹Zelenko H. et al. 2002.  Orchids, The pictorial encyclopedia of Oncidium

Monday, September 23, 2013

Epidendrum fimbriatum Kunth 1816, a tiny gem from high altitude wet forests

I saw this plant in the orchid house of the Botanical Garden of Quito, Ecuador.    This plant except that it is found in Peru.¹  It is also found in Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia.   The flowers were at the tip of a long inflorescence that seemed to have been blooming for a long time.  It was being cultivated on a raised bed of gravel.

¹Zelenko, H., Bermudez, P. 2009.  Orchid species of Peru

Encyclia brassavolae (Reichenbach f.) Lindley ex Stein 1892

I saw this plant in the orchid house of the Botanical Garden of Quito, Ecuador.   Although this orchid was not identified with a tag, the flowers are unmistakable.   It was growing on a raised bed in the middle of the green house.  It had a single flower.    The plant was in excellent condition.   It is clear it thrives in a diurnal range of 45F during the night and 77F during the day.

This plant is found in Central America and Mexico at altitudes between 1200 and 2500 meters in wet pine oak evergreen forest, it is reported to sometimes grow on rocks.¹  This plant was placed by Withner in the genus Panarica.  In the Cattleyas and their relatives: The debatable Epidendrums, it is named Panarica brassavolae (Reichenbach f.) Withner & Harding. 

¹Withner, C. L., Harding, P. A. 2004. Cattleyas and their relatives:  The debatable Epidendrums