Monday, April 13, 2015

My Dendrobium nobile hybrids have bloomed in 2015

Dendrobium Wave King 'Akebono'
Dendrobium Red Emperor 'Prince'
Dendrobium Love Memory 'Fizz'
Dendrobium Country Girl "Warabeuta'
The old Dendrobium nobile hybrids were not easy to bloom.  But this is no longer the case with the new hybrids.  All the plants that I have brought have bloomed several years in a row without having to subject them to a severe drop in temperature.  The best performer is Wave King which bloomed several times during last year.  The one that produced the fewest flowers was Dendrobium Love Memory.

Bulbophyllum Lovely Elizabeth (Bulb. Elizabeth Ann x Bulb. rothschildianum)

I brought this plant last year to Hausermann orchids.  I was pleasantly surprised when the plant bloomed just a few weeks after it arrived.  I has bloomed again in April.  The flowers look to me like a nicer, larger version of Bulb. rothschildianum.   I started producing a new growth in December, but a dastardly snail ate it.  The plant is now in a spot that snail can't reach.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Psychilis monensis Sauleda 1988, a strange flower with unusually shaped floral parts.

The island of Mona, is in the middle of the Mona Channel, this is between the islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.  The whole island is a wildlife reserve.  Although to most people this deserted island looks pristine, this is an illusion.  The island was subjected to different types of exploitation for centuries.  Its native flora and fauna was often severely damaged both by humans and by introduced animals.

But in the latter part of the twenty century the island was left alone to recuperate and nature is healing the scars left by Man.  The island has several species of orchids, the most abundant by far is Psychilis monensis.  I have seen places in the island where these orchids are downright abundant.  In habitat that is in good condition, large plants of this species can be found growing around the bases of shrubs.  But you can also find these orchids growing on the rocks, on cactus and on living or dying trees.

The flowers of this species vary in color and shape, even when you look at a small area, neighboring plants can have flowers that are noticeably different.  When I visit the island I am always on the look for variants that I have not seen before.  In the case of this particular plant, I found it while hiking deep into the interior of the island.  The plant is growing up on a tree but the inflorescence hangs down so that the flowers are at an eye height.

The flower has an asymmetrical lip, in itself this is a curiosity,  But the main oddity is a second small half lip pointing up from the right side of the flower.  None of the other flower segments is quite right.   I was in the spot where this plant grows for only a short time, I was unable to ascertain if this was a single occurrence or that the plant produced all its flowers like this.  Given the difficulty of reaching the spot where this plant grows, it is unlikely another person has come across this plant.  If I have the opportunity I will try to return to the place to see if it normally produces flowers like this.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Dendrobium nobile Lindley 1830. Culture: A plant that has bec naturalized on a tree near the town of Corozal, Puerto Rico

Dendrobium nobile is a species that is common in orchid collections in the Island of Puerto Rico.  Unfortunately, few people know or understand the seasonal cycle of this species.  As a result one sees many plants that are quite large and healthy and yet bloom poorly or not at all.  The most common error in cultivating this orchid is keeping it in too much shade.  This plant grows best when cultivated in strong light, it can even stand the full strength of the tropical sun.   However in nature the amount of light exposure this orchid gets varies with the seasons.  During most of the year the plant grows under a leafy canopy, but as the dry season progresses the trees in its native haunts lose their leaves an the plant is exposed to full sun.  Seasonal low temperatures and a dry spell are also elements that happen in this plant habitat that is often not replicated in captivity.

This particular plant is growing ten feet up in a tree in a fork between branches.  The canes are getting a healthy amount of  sunlight because the tree has a fairly open canopy.  The plant experiences a seasonal dip in night temperatures that resembles somewhat what it gets in its native range, although in Corozal, low temperatures normally don't often stray lower that the low sixties.   It is blooming now in what is locally the height of the dry season.

This is clone has nicer flowers than most other plants I have seen locally.  I examined this tree and others that were nearby but I didn't find seedlings.  The plant has no signs of having ever produced a seed pod.  I did find a small seedling under the plant but it was evident it was a vegetative propagation from an old cane.

It is clear the environment in this locality is favorable for the growth of this species.  I have seen even larger specimens of this orchid growing at higher altitudes in Puerto Rico.  Those plants grew well and bloomed abundantly, in contrast with the plants one often sees in the coast.  The common circumstances of the plants I have seen blooming locally is that they were all naturalized to trees in sunny areas and that they were in places that consistently experience temperatures in the range of sixty Fahrenheit or lower during the dry season.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Grammatoheadia Boynton Leopard, with most of its flowers opened.

Most of the flowers of the inflorescence of my plant of Grammatoheadia Boynton Leopard are now opened.  Although initially the inflorescence had about seventy five buds, it started dropping a number of them at the tip after most of the flowers were open.  I don't now if this is a natural occurrence or because I moved the plant from its original location to a place next to the house. and hanged it in a shady spot.

I was surprised that the flowers all turned toward the direction of the strongest light.  That means that on one side of the inflorescence you are looking at the flowers front and on the other you are looking mostly at their backs.  This inflorescence has a number of flowers that surpasses the inflorescences of all my other Grammatophyllum, except the massive inflorescence of Gramm. speciosum.  However this plant is positively tiny compared with an adult speciosum.

The specimen that wasn't

When I go buying orchids I look out for things that are different from what I have in my collection and that are showy and eye catching.    Generally I avoid impulse buying, although I have at times been guilty of buying plants I know nothing about because I am overwhelmed by their beauty.  This is what happened me about a decade ago when I was buying orchids at an orchid show.

The annual orchid show of the Sociedad de Orquidistas de Puerto Rico, is the largest orchid show on the island.  There are plenty of exhibits and many vendors.  In this particular show, one of the vendors had a large plant of Dendrobium spectabile on his table.  The plant had many canes and had several inflorescences.  When I saw it I was in love!  When I asked for the price it turned out the plant was quite expensive.  But that didn’t deter me, I brought it and was very happy with my plant.
The pot and the base of the plant was tightly wrapped with tape, and I surmised that it was so that the potting material would not fall during transport.  But when I arrived at home, I was dismayed to find out that the specimen plant was in fact a bundle of single blooming canes artfully arranged around a small plant that had a single inflorescence.  I was angered and dismayed.  I called the vendor, which was not from the Island, and complained bitterly.  To their credit they said the plant had been sold by mistake by an untrained helper, they offered to refund the money.  That alleviated the monetary loss but I was heartsick about the plant. 

 In my garden things didn’t go well for this orchid, the plant in the center failed to thrive and died relatively quickly for reasons that are not clear.  The single canes rotted and died one by one until only a single one remained.  This cane was large, didn’t have roots, and was leafless.  I gave the cane the kind of tender loving care only an obsessive compulsive orchidist can give to a prized plant and eventually it produced a tiny new cane.  In due course the new cane rooted firmly in the plastic pot where I had planted it.  Then next year it produced a larger cane, and the next year the cane was even larger.  Finally, after several years the orchid bloomed.  I was in ecstasy!

The plant has continued to grow and to bloom faithfully year after year.  Sometimes it blooms twice a year.  I have brought other Den. spectabile plants over the years and all have, for unknown reasons, declined and died.  But the original one continues to thrive, it is indestructible!

To finish this story, I would like to add some advice, if you ever see a plant for sale with many blooming stems, check the bases of the canes.  If they are buried in the media to such a degree that you can’t see the base from where the roots grow, and the media is taped over so that it won’t fall, there is reason to suspect that you are looking at a composite plant made out of two or more plant puts together in a pot.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The thieves orchids

When I was a college student, back in the early eighties, I had a small collection of orchids.  I would spend the week in the town where the university was and come back to my hometown on weekends to take care of my orchids.  My mother would water the plants during the week if it was exceptionally dry but outside that,  she didn't pay much attention to them because she was not really interested in orchids.

One Friday, when I arrived home I went into the shade house only to find someone had broken in.  Only one plant was stolen, a Phalaenopsis aphrodite that was in full bloom.  I was really, really angry and upset.  At that time those orchids were quite rate locally and pretty difficult to get.  It was clear, from the size of the hole on the side of the greenhouse, that the thief had been a child.   I inquired among the neighbors, no, not the adults, the children, they were the ones that really knew everything since they were free range children (is that still a thing nowadays? but, I digress).  But no one had seen anything.   I was unspeakably angry but there was nothing I could do.

I repaired the shadehouse, reinforced the sides so that nobody could make a hole in them and, as I was doing that, pondered on what to do.  The first thing I did was put out some bait.  The bait were some pieces of Oncidium sphacelatum.  They were hung from the sides of the shadehouse in spots where they could be easily reached.  But I decided that this was not enough to appease my thirst for revenge.  Whenever a plant became virused, pest covered or had lost all their roots and capacity to grow or bloom I would take them out of the shadehouse and hang them in the trees around the garden.

I called these plants, the thieves orchids.  To me they were an early warning system in case there was someone was stealing plants in the area.   I an addition I had pleasant, calming, fantasies of the stolen orchids infecting all the other plants in the collection of whoever brought them with all manner of loathsome diseases.  I admit this was very vicious thing to do, but I was young and angry,  nevertheless I still think there is a specially hot place in hell for people that buy stolen orchids.

Contrary to expectations, no orchid was ever again stolen from my garden.  As the years passed by the thieves orchids met a variety of fates.  Some departed for the great, happy, terracota pot in the sky.  Others were given to particularly masochistic people that fully believed they could be cured, and in some cases they were indeed cured.  Lastly, a few were cured by the judicious application of chemical agents and were welcomed back into the shadehouse.

In due time I became less wary and things in my garden returned to their usual blissful tranquility, except for that time a relative decided that by hook or crook, she would get a piece of my huge specimen plant of Myrmecophya humboltii, but that is another story.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An orchid story: The Oncidium altissimum that would not bloom

When I was a college student, I was going to attend some athletic events in the capital city of Puerto Rico. I lived at several hours driving distance from the capital, so a friend invited me to stay at his house which is near where the events were going to take place, so I would not have to do a long drive.  It was the first time I had visited my friend's house.  His mother knew that I cultivated orchids and asked me to take a look at one of her plants.  She told me that even thought quite large and healthy,  inexplicably, it would not bloom.

When I looked at her orchid I was impressed, the plant was easily three feet across and had a large number of adult sized and quite fat pseudobulbs.  The plant was in excellent condition and free of pests.  I was baffled, a plant of such size in the wild should have been full of the remains of old flowering stems, which in this species can reach ten feet long.  On her plant there was no evidence that the plant had ever bloomed.

I started asking her questions and soon realized she had no idea how the flowers of the plant looked.  Actually she knew very little about the plant, only that it was an orchid, and that was that.    I could not find anything wrong with the plant or with the care she was giving it.   Then she told me that she had one problem with the plant.  There were some vine seedlings that kept invading her plant and growing on the media.  She had to continually cut them, but to no avail, they, very stubbornly, kept invading her plant in spite of her ruthless campaign against them.

When she said that, I asked her to show me from where the pesky vines would grow.  She pointed me to the bases of the pseudobulbs.  She thought that inflorescences were invading weeds!!  She didn't recognize the inflorescences of the Oncidium because she know nothing about the plant and because the inflorescences grow quite a bit before they produce the branches where the flowers are.   She had spent years cutting the inflorescences.  You might be surprised that such an absurd thing could happen, but this happened in the ancient times before the Internet, when information sources about orchids in Puerto Rico were few and you had to go to a mayor library to get even basic information on common types.

I told her about the inflorescences and how to tie them so that they would show their best.  I had to do this because the plant was growing in a large pot in the ground in an inside garden.   Eventually. the plant finally bloomed with many inflorescences to everyone's delight.

Pearlscale cichlid Herychthys carpintinis, un buen grupo de juveniles

Fotografiados en la exhibicion de peces y pecera del 2012 de la Asociacion de Acuaristas de Aguadilla.

Oncidium altissimum [Jacq.] Swartz 1800, with an unusual root basket.

This orchid is found in the wild in Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands and in several islands of the lesser Antilles.  In Puerto Rico it is widespread except for the dry regions (Ackerman 2014).  I live in a forest near the town of Arecibo,  Puerto Rico.  When I hike through the forest I often see this species growing high up in the trunks of trees.  However from time to time I find seedlings growing in less sturdy locations.

In the case of this plant, it was growing in a relatively slender branch.  As the orchid grew in size it started building its root basket.  Root baskets in orchids trap leaves and organic matter.  Each new growth adds its roots to the basket.  The moisture and nutrients caught in the root basket helps the plant survive and produce new growths.

The part of the branch where the orchid was growing died and started decomposing, but because it was covered with orchid roots it didn't fall from the tree right away.  Since the decaying part of the branch no longer had the structural integrity to support the weight of the orchid, the plant found itself hanging upside down, still attached to the tree by its network of roots.  The new growth grew in the opposite direction of the older pseudobulbs, which now were hanging upside down.  The new pseudobulb produced roots that grew in exactly the opposite direction of the old ones.  The result is the unusual root basket you see in the photo.

Eventually, the roots of the orchid that were attached to the still living parts of the branch decayed and the orchid fell to the ground after a particularly windy storm.  I found the plant by the roadside.  I took the plant to my garden to observe how it will grow now that the only support it has is its own roots.

Ackerman, James. D. 2014. Orchid Flora of the Greater Antilles