Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Focus on hybrids

Your favourite orchid blooms. Huzzah.

Try to take a photograph? It’s hard.

Some chaps are better. Justin Guariglia, an award-winning photographer and contributing editor of National Geographic Traveller is an expert in high-resolution shots and now he’s focusing on orchids.

His latest project is exploring hybridisation and the synthetic world through hybrid orchids. Has he read THE LOST ORCHID?

DBKU Orchid Garden, managed by Orchidwoods Co, the company started by Au Yong’s father, the late ‘Orchid King’ Datuk Au Yong Nang Yip, in 1969 is all about orchid breeding. There are 75,000 plants comprising 82 genera in the 15.4 acre wide park.

Read the article about his fancy cameras and such. Unbelievably, he’ll take 1,000 shots before he moves on to the next orchid selected by Au Yong who, between him and his late father, have created a couple of hundred unique hybrids from orchids collected around the world.

‘While there are 25-30,000 species of wild orchids, there may be a quarter million or more hybrids – and that blew my mind, because it means over 100 years, people have been breeding orchids,’ he said when asked why he chose to feature hybrid orchids and not jungle or wild orchids.

He takes the photography to a different abstract level. Each flower is held up to the camera and photographed to enhance their symmetry and perfection. The editing process may take up to a year and once he’s made his selection, each flower will receive up to 100 hours of retouching.

In his words: ‘Whether you love your work or not, you will remember. Whether you recognise the leaves or the veins of the leaves, love is being able to recognise one leaf from another.’

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Mii, mii, mii

Amazing. The world’s first blue moth orchid.

Masahiro Mii, a professor at the Graduate School of Horticulture, claims this Phalaenopsis, or moth orchid, is unique. It usually blooms in white, red or yellow. Cross-breeding has created hybrids, but the flower does not have a gene to create blue pigment in the petals. Until Mii. This remarkable chap and his research team extracted a gene from the Commelina communis, or Asiatic dayflower, which has blue petals, and inserted it into a cell of the Phalaenopsis. The genetically engineered plant produced a blue flower after four years of cultivation.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Photo finish

Japanese botanists have created blooming hybrid orchids after they succeeded in crossbreeding a species that photosynthesises with another that does not, according to the press.

In 2006, the team artificially crossbred Cymbidium ensifolium (pictured right) which does photosynthesise, and Cymbidium macrorhizon (pictured left), which does not. They grew the seeds in glass bottles and guessing that the hybrids will photosynthesise, although the results are not yet available.

This autumn, it produced large flowers, three to four cms wide, with light yellow-green petals with red-purple dots.

This is the first time two fundamentally different nutritional regimes have merged into one, claimed Tomohisa Yukawa, a botanist at the museum's Tsukuba Botanical Garden in Ibaraki Prefecture.

If you recall your school biology, most plants convert the energy from the sun into chemical energy to generate nourishment – this is photosynthesis. But some orchid variants and some vascular plant species have ceased this process. Cymbidium macrorhizon, found in Japan and Southeast Asia, has no leaves and is parasitic to russulae and other fungi.

To see the final result, click here.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Orchidmania - Roman-style

Orchid fever is not restricted to the Victorians.

The Romans were crazy about orchids as well. A study of ancient Italian artifacts has predated the earliest documented appearance of orchids in Western art from Renaissance to Roman times.

Researchers claim the orchid’s popularity in public art appeared to fade with the arrival of Christianity, possibly because of its sexual association. Orchid fanciers have linked the petals and pseudo-bulbs to male and female sexual organs. Orchis is Greek for testicles, as everyone knows.

Botanist Giulia Caneva of the University of Rome (Roma Tre) assembled a database of Italian artifacts, including paintings, textiles, and stone carvings of subjects including vegetation. Her team then set about identifying the real plants the artists had copied.

The portrayal of Italian orchids – about 100 species – appeared much earlier than expected. Academics had observed the flowers in paintings from the 1400s, Caneva and her students discovered that stone carvers were reproducing orchids as early as 46 BCE. At this time, Julius Caesar had instigated the Temple of Venus Genetrix in Rome, and at least three orchids appear among many other plants on the Ara Pacis, a huge stone altar erected by the emperor Augustus in 9 BCE. Flowers emphasised the altar’s theme of civic rebirth, fertility, and prosperity following a long period of conflict, Caneva says.

However, orchids vanished from public art as Christianity held sway the third and fourth centuries, as the pagan and sexual symbols were eliminated. With the arrival of the Renaissance, however, orchids reappeared, as a symbol of beauty and elegance. Kristin Nicole Edrington is a jewelry specialist in Alexandria, Virginia, and examined the rise of orchid imagery in high-end jewelry made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

According to the article, the discovery that Roman artists also favoured the flower confirms that ‘orchidmania is nothing new, and was such a big thing even back in the day’.