Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Flights of fancy

Orchids and hummingbirds are one of nature's most dazzling combinations.

I thought I'd share this wonderful photograph taken by JanS, a contributor to Orchidboard.com. It's a great site for orchid fans, by the way.

And why not find another excuse to feature one of my favourite paintings on the same theme?

Orchids and Spray Orchids with Hummingbird is an oil painting by Martin Johnson Heade, (1819 – 1904). He was a prolific American painter known for his salt marsh landscapes, seascapes, and depictions of tropical birds (such as hummingbirds) as well as lotus blossoms and other still lifes. His painting style and subject matter, inspired by romanticism of the time, are regarded by art historians as a significant departure from those of his peers.

Heade was born in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, the son of a storekeeper. His earliest works were produced during the 1840s and were chiefly portraits. He travelled to Europe several times as a young man, became an itinerant artist on American shores, and exhibited in Philadelphia in 1841 and New York in 1843. Friendships with artists of the Hudson River School led to an interest in landscape art. In 1863, he planned to publish a volume of Brazilian hummingbirds and tropical flowers, but the project was eventually abandoned. He travelled to the tropics several times thereafter, and continued to paint birds and flowers.

Heade was not a widely known artist during his lifetime, but his work attracted the notice of scholars, art historians, and collectors during the 1940s.

He quickly became recognised as a major American artist. Heade's works are now in major museums and collections. His paintings are occasionally discovered in unlikely places such as garage sales and flea markets.

Wikimedia has a delightful selection of his works.

Orchids and Spray Orchids with Hummingbird, about 1875-90, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Friday, 27 December 2013

Orchids in the past

If you’re interested in the history of orchids, there’s a fascinating academic paper on the subject, looking at the traditional medicinal uses of orchids in Europe.

In old treatises of medicine, doctors of antiquity deduced the pharmacological properties of plants, from observation of their shape, ‘similia similibus curantur, in comparison to the human anatomy and this well before Paracelsus (1493-1541) made the theory famous.

Frédéric Bonté, Veronika Cakova and Annelise Lobstein present a paper featuring some examples of European traditional uses of orchids as medicine, health food and even as skin care treatment.

There are some intriguing examples. In Roman medicine, the orchid-based aphrodisiacs drinks were called Satyrion but it seems that their properties were more due to the aromatics they contained.

In Europe until the Middle Ages, such as the Dr Vicat medicine treaty on Swiss pharmacopoeia, they are also sometimes described as having anti-pyretic and anti-diarrhoeal effects.

Later, in the north of Europe, some species of Dactylorhiza were described as having disinfectant, healing or diuretic qualities.

According to the French encyclopedia of Diderot and Alembert, the best preparation of the orchids is that of M. Geoffroy, described in a report of the French Academy of Science in1740. The dried bulbs, without skin, are thrown in cool water, are cooked then dried. Reduced thus, they were used as a drink to ease chest complaints. It was also considered a strengthening remedy for children and convalescents suitable “to repress the acridness of the lymph” and useful in the biliary phthisis and dysenteries.

The first phytochemical and pharmacological uses of purified extracts in skincare products arrive in the 20th century.

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 23 December 2013

Darwin and the Christmas orchid

Recycling is a good thing. Here's another chance to read about Charles Darwin and a mysterious tale from the winter of 1862:

Mystery parcel
On a chilly morning in January 1862, an unsuspecting postman trudged up the drive to the house of Charles Darwin with a strange parcel.

Already in the early throes of orchid addiction, Darwin unwrapped a bundle of orchid specimens from Robert Bateman, which he’d requested for his ongoing research into insect pollination.

One plant was particularly intriguing: the Angraecum sesquipedale Thouars, a large Madagascar orchid with star-like flowers of ‘snow-white wax … and whip-like nectary of astonishing length’. Almost a foot, give or take an inch or two, as he discovered, when he set out to measure them. Darwin was hooked.
Darwin had first caught the bug in 1860. By July 1861, he took his wife and daughter Henrietta to Torquay while he diverted himself considering the many species of wild orchids to be on the shore.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Rare orchid find on tiny island

A rare species of orchid has been discovered on a remote Scottish island for the first time.

Irish ladies' tresses, which resembles plaited hair, only graces a few sites in the UK and Ireland, meaning the discovery of around 160 plants on Oronsay is a significant find.

Experts at RSPB Scotland, which manages a nature reserve there, believes the Spiranthes romanzoffiana orchids, which have a musky vanilla fragrance, were dormant underground awaiting amenable flowering conditions.

According to the press, volunteer Gill Watts, who found the orchids with her husband Richard, said: "We were actually surveying for marsh fritillary butterflies when we spotted all these white flowering spikes coming out of the ground. 

"We thought at first they might be a more common orchid, but after checking with the RSPB reserve manager, we managed to positively identify them.”

Ladies tresses, or Spiranthes, come in over 40 varieties, and are found in the Americas, Eurasia, and Australia. The genus name Spiranthes is derived from the Greek speira ("coil") and anthos ("flower"), and was inspired by the spirally arranged inflorescence.

Oronsay is a small tidal island south of Colonsay in the Scottish Inner Hebrides with an area of just over two square miles.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Lost orchid rediscovered

Orchid fans are buzzing with the news that one of the world’s rarest orchids has been rediscovered after 175 years.

Richard Bateman and Paula Rudall, from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, found the green-flowered plant on a wind-swept mountain ridge they compared to a scene from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World.

At first the team had focused on two kinds of butterfly-orchids, but by using morphology and DNA sequences, they were able to distinguish between the widespread short-spurred butterfly-orchid and the rarer narrow-lipped butterfly-orchid. It was only when the team surveyed an orchid population on top of a volcanic ridge on the central island of Sao Jorge that they made a surprising discovery: a third species.

On their return from the island of Sao Jorge in the Portuguese Azores to Britain the scientists realised that another botanist had first seen the orchid 175 years ago – but had never realised what he had discovered.

Browsing Kew Gardens archives, they realised that a German explorer, 20-year-old Karl Hochstetter, found the plant when he visited the Azores, 850 miles off the Portuguese coast, in 1838.

Hochstetter collected just one specimen and dried it before giving it to his father, the world-renowned botanist Christian Ferdinand Hochstetter. However, he misunderstood both the specimen and its significance, confusing the orchid with a closely related species. The father, a very experienced botanist, never visited the island, and so only saw the flattened specimen.

As a result, it disappeared from view – until now.

Wild for orchids

Orchid books can be pricey, but Wild Orchids of Regional WA is a DVD that might make a great present for the rellies.

West Australia is renowned for its wildflowers, and this product focuses on more than 200 orchids from the state, featuring native orchids, hybrids and bonuses.

The total running time is 82 minutes, and the contents account for two-fifths of all native orchids in the southern half of Western Australia.

Check it out here.

There are many Western Australian orchids yet to be filmed, so the makers have issued a list of the orchids they are hoping to document. If you can help us find these, please email: info@atoz-visual.com. All in confidence, of course.


NB: Don’t worry if the link looks odd, it worked last time I tried!

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 6 December 2013

Tassie orchid ‘app’

With more than 320 detailed photographs, Orchids of Tasmania is a treasure for the orchidmaniac Down Under. But it’s not a book, it’s an ‘app’, so it’s ideal for techies - and most affordable at around £1.99 in the UK, for example.

It describes 184 of approximately 220 orchid species native to Tasmania, Australia, including 70 species particular to that state. With a description of the botany of each species along with the preferred habitat, main flowering period and confusing species the app assists in identifying both common as well as rarer species. A distribution map highlights where in Tasmania each species typically occurs while a search bar allows species to be located by either scientific or common name.

As an aid to identification orchids may also be browsed by genus as well as flower colour. Orchids listed as threatened at both the state and national level are highlighted with a link to relevant sites for further species information. A glossary as well as photographic descriptions provide information regarding orchid anatomy and reproduction.

The app, from William Higham, also has relevance to mainland Australia with 114, 94, 76 and 43 of the orchids represented being also found in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland.

Caption: the Caladenia carnea, or Pink Fingers, native to Tasmania

Friday, 29 November 2013

Ugly side of beauty products

The darker side of orchids reared its ugly head recently with an intriguing article about the strange and highly illegal items seized by UK border officials.

Eight live big cats, hippo teeth, tortoises aplenty, walrus horns and a Rolls Royce upholstered with alligator skin were among some of the smuggled items, according to the report.

The haul included 500kg of face cream containing caviar extract and, check this out, bodybuilding supplements containing the rare orchid Dendrobium. In fact, there was a noticeable a shift in the beauty and fitness industries, where endangered species once used only in folk medicines are being sold as such supplements and facial creams, for instance, in the evolving market.

A Home Office spokesperson said more items were confiscated in the year up to April 2013 than ever before.

I plan to read the small print on future packaging on cosmetics with more care. Mind you, I can’t imagine caviar face cream will be on special at Wilkinson’s.

By Pamela Kelt

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Impressions of orchids

This week, French painter Gustave Caillebotte is featured on Wikipaintings, with a delightful Impressionist painting of orchids from 1893. 

Painted a year before his death, the subtle colouring and composition of Orchids is typical of his later style.

Born in 1848, upper-class Caillebotte was a French painter, member and patron of the Impressionists, although he painted in a much more realistic manner than many other artists in the group. Caillebotte was noted for his early interest in photography as an art form, and later was famed for his approach to realism.

Caillebotte used his wealth to fund a variety of hobbies for which he was quite passionate, including orchid horticulture, stamp collecting, yacht building, and even textile design.

Coincidentally, Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Orchid Daze celebrates the work of three Impressionists who were inspired by the beauty of landscapes: Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin. The garden's annual exhibition reveals how the trio opened eyes to new ways of seeing and perceiving the world.

Van Gogh's ‘starry night’ is the theme in the Conservatory Lobby, according to a report. Metal spirals above visitors' heads support a construct of jewel-like miniature orchids. The colour scheme mimics Van Gogh's style, with oranges and yellows contrasting with blues and whites.

Monet features in the Orchid Atrium: at the centre will be a tranquil pool filled with planters of massed orchids suggesting clusters of water lilies. Lilac, pink and salmon Pansy Orchids (Miltonia) and Cattleya hybrids appear to float above the reflective surface in an abstracted homage to the artist's most famous paintings, including Giverny's iconic Japanese bridge.

The Orchid Display House celebrates Gauguin with striking blue Vandas, flaming orange/red/pink Masdevillas, and sunset yellow Nun's Orchids. 

The show runs February 8 - April 13 in the Fuqua Conservatory and Orchid Center.

Friday, 22 November 2013

From outrageous to affordable ...

It wasn’t that long ago that a yellow orchid called P. Golden Emperor 'Sweet' sold in Taiwan for $100,000. Since 1978, the orchid scene has changed.

How much did you pay for your last orchid? As for me, it was £4.99 at Ikea.

A fascinating article on the Wall Street Journal reflects on how the once hard-to-afford item has become available to the masses, comparing it to flat-panel TVs and laptops.

Orchids now are the best-selling potted flower in the US. It takes a look behind the closed greenhouse doors of Taiwanese entrepreneurs of the popular Phalaenopsis, or the moth orchid, who have applied modern mass marketing techniques to the exotic blooms.

However, they’ve become a victim of their own success and profits are decreasing.

A market for rare orchids still exists, but even that has declined since the mid-20th century when horticulturalists figured out how to clone orchids from tissue cells. 

By Pamela Kelt

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ephemeral blooms

Orchids are hard to draw or paint.

The ‘Paint Action’ cycle is quite extraordinary. A Swiss artist has modelled paint by natural forces, ie gravity, creating a new kind of orchid - if only for a split second.

Fill a tank was several layers of different colours of liquid paint with the top layer being either black or white. Then, throw a sphere into the paint. As the falling object splashes into the tank, the paint is forced upwards, shaping the individual layers of paint into a blossom-like structure. Hence ‘orchid’.

Artist Fabian Oefner photographs the result, using high-speed devices, capturing structures of great elegance, which appear only for a fraction of a second before disappearing beneath the surface again.  

Orchid blooms last for months, and these for no time at all. Both are exquisite.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 15 November 2013

Orchid booty on Mt Wellington

Hopes are high for an endangered Tasmanian orchid after volunteers found dozens of leek orchids plants in Hobart this autumn.

The Tassie orchidmaniacs came across 180 of the dainty Prasophyllum amoenum on Mount Wellington.

This find extends the known range to more than nine kilometres, according to a news report.

Now the Scientific Advisory Committee could change the conservation status of the leek orchid whose numbers were down to a worrying 20.

With the discovery, it is hoped more people will recognise the species and ensure its survival.

Caption: Prasophyllum elatum, a relation of the Prasophyllum amoenum 

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 8 November 2013

Six new orchids found

Indian scientists have located six new orchid species in Manipur, one of which is unique and has no chlorophyll.

Staff from the Orchid Research and Development, Hengbung, Senapati located the species, as part of its conservation work on orchid species found in the hills of Manipur.

Of the total 286 reported species of orchids grown in Manipur, 26 species were found last year by a research team of the Centre for Orchid Gene Conservation of the Eastern Himalayan Region, which conducted a survey in the forests there.

Among the highly threatened species of orchids specified in Schedule-VI of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, three species namely, Blue vanda (Vanda Coerulea) (Kwaklei), Red vanda (Renanthera imschootiana) (Kwaklei Angangba) and Lady’s slipper (Paphiopedilum spp.) (Khongup Lei) are at present preserved at the Centre, a source from the centre said.

There are also three other orchid species endemic to Manipur, namely– Ascocentrum ampullaceum var.auruanticum (Nachom Lei), Schoenorchis manipurensis and Kalimpongia narjitii.

The Northeastern region of the country was estimated to have about 600 species of orchids. As per Biological Survery of India (BSI), Manipur alone have about 450 species.

According to a report, The Khonghampat Centre is an ex-situ preservation centre with about 220 species of orchids.  The Centre is also preserving various species of trees, bamboos and other important rare and vanishing plants of the state.

By Pamela Kelt 

Loktak Lake, the only freshwater lake in Manipur



Friday, 1 November 2013

My phavourite Phal

Writing is a solitary business. Very quiet. Perhaps that's why I enjoy it after years in a noisy newsroom.

Of course, I have my two daft dogs for company, and I love them.

However, my orchids keep me company too. I have a magic north-facing windowsill where they seem to thrive. Nothing to do with me. I’m not a natural with houseplants.

I have around a dozen, and we commune every day. I watch them grow, form buds, flower. I remember to feed them weakly, and weekly, as they say. Water them, not too often. I dead-head them. Repot if required. Clean their leaves. Brush off the spider webs.

One orchid in particular is my favourite. I bought it two years ago when I had an interview in the paper about The Lost Orchid. The astonishing thing is, it’s still flowering. It hasn’t stopped!

Today is another book launch for me (The Cloud Pearl), and I’d like to say thanks to my wonderful potted friends. 

The Lost Orchid, where all the madness started, is set to be released in January 2014. I think I may treat myself to something special, but this deep pink phalaenopsis will always take pride of place.

By Pamela Kelt

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Not quite dead

The robust greenhood (Pterostylis valida), listed as extinct under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999), has been spotted in north-central Victoria, at Nardoo Hills, 100km out of Bendigo.

Bush Heritage Australia bought the 817-hectare property at Nardoo Hills in 2005, adding it to their growing allocation of protected reserves. The non-profit organisation, started by Bob Brown in 1990 currently manages 32 such reserves across the nation, each dedicated to fostering the survival of native wildlife species and their habitats, according to a report.

The robust greenhood (not greenwood, as mentioned in the article) was last noted in 1941.

Nardoo Hills is also home to a significant population of another species of threatened orchid, the northern golden moths (Diuris protena). Jeroen Van Veen, Field Officer the reserve, hopes the robust greenhood will grow to a similar state of opulence.

Similar orchids waver under threat of habitat loss from such forces as ploughing, fertilisers and herbicides, grazing livestock and feral herbivores. Allowing the rare flower a chance to flourish is a matter of managing weeds around the population, and protecting the growth area from rabbits and wallabies.

By Pamela Kelt

Pictured: a close relation of the robust greenhood is the Pterostylis sargentii, found in the Williams Narrogin area, known as the Frog Greenhood. Photo by Harvey James. If anyone has a picture of the robust greenhood, do let me know.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Orchid deceit

The orchid mantis is a strange thing.

We’ve all read how orchids mimic creatures to secure pollination. The orchid mantis resembles a flower in order to lure its prey … and is more effective at attracting insects than an actual flower, researchers have found.

Botanically, orchids use scent and bright colours to attract insects. It has long been assumed that the orchid mantis mimics flowers in order to lure these same insects.

Australian researchers investigating this theory were stunned to discover that the species is around 30 per cent more effective at attracting pollinators than the real thing, says a report.

They measured the hourly rate at which the pollinators flew up to the mantis and compared that to real flowers, according to Dr James O’Hanlon, an ecologist at Macquarie University in Sydney.

The Malaysian orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) is apparently the only known animal to mimic a plant, however there is still very little known about the species.

The team of scientists is now intrigued. How the insects are viewing them? Do they respond to the shape or colour? Do they think it’s a flower, or something unique and attractive?”

By Pamela Kelt 

Picture: the orchid mantis

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The fine art of digitisation

I recently had to scan in some photographs and a short document. Even with modern technology, it’s a laborious business.

It struck me just how valuable is all the digitising work going on behind the scenes.

A favourite website of mine is Botanicus, which has an astonishing mission statement.

It regards digitising, indexing, and annotating historical scientific literature as vital to future research in systematic botany, the science of the identification of plants.

As is stated on the site, like other natural history disciplines but – unlike the physical sciences – systematic botany is built upon and requires frequent reference to the literature of its past.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


I don’t like cut flowers, but I do collect gorgeous flower illustrations. Usually of orchids, but occasionally something special crops up, if you’ll forgive the expression.

Take Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora (1807), for instance, now in the public domain.

It’s the third and final part of Robert John Thornton’s new illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus, considered by many to be the greatest of all flower books.

It consists of a series of sumptuous depictions of flowers notable for their epic and unusual settings. Interwoven amongst the images are various descriptions, histories and poetic odes regarding the flowers featured. The first plates were engraved by Thomas Medland in May 1798 from paintings by Philip Reinagle.

Between 1798 and 1807 they produced a total of 33 beautiful coloured plates, engraved in aquatint, stipple and line. Others engravers included Joseph Constantine Stadler working from the painting of Peter Charles Henderson. When he planned the project, Thornton had decided to publish seventy folio-size plates. Lack of interest from the general public spelled disaster for the scheme, and the holding of a lottery could not save it from financial ruin, neither did a page in the work dedicated to the spouse of George III, Queen Charlotte, patroness of botany and the fine arts.

Check out these fabulous tulips. You can see why tulipmania was real. And who could resist these winged passion flowers?

The whole book is available on Botanicus.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Headlining orchids

Top milliner Philip Treacy has designed three elaborate headpieces inspired by his favourite flower to mark the ‘Day of the Orchid’.

The famous hat-maker – who has provided headwear for the Madonna and Lady Gaga –  jumped at the chance when he was first approached by Dutch orchid cultivators.

Orchids are his favorite flower and often a source of inspiration for my collections, according to the news article.

He’s a thorough chap and invited cultivators and orchids into his studio, and he was bowled over by their diversity of colours, shapes and patterns.

He chose the white Phalaenopsis, the blue Vanda, and the yellow Oncidium as his three sources.

Philip has also been honoured with his own namesake flower, the Philip Treacy Orchid. 

Click here to see the creations.

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 16 September 2013

The low-down on cryopreservation

Orchid experts know that cryopreservation of seeds can make orchid propagation easier.

Read a fascinating article offering a detailed inside view on the technical process within a university department.

Visit the cryopreservation lab, which sounds like something the script from a sci-fi movie. Woman scientist Dr Uma Rani, trained in UK, has taken her knowledge back home to Malaysia to find better ways of preserving seeds.

Orchid seeds are microscopic, not feasible for commercial or individual growing because they do not have the layer of nutrient-rich endosperm (food supply) that conventional seeds have.

Orchids are epiphytes, plants that form mutually beneficial relationships with other plants, like trees, and the job of the endosperm is usually done by the layer of moss on trees that nourish the seeds to encourage growth.

Commercial orchid propagation is done via tissue culture (cloning using cell aggregates of the original plant) instead of seeds, because these orchids are removed from their natural habitat.

Difficultires arise when you buy a bottle of haphazardly-shaped cloned plantlets from nurseries – they can be puzzling to organise and transfer into pots.

People often waste plantlets when isolating them into more fertile ground and competition between them while in the bottle also hampers the chances of maximising the efficiency of the growing process. Even the survivors have a short shelf-life.

Dr Rani is working with artificial seeds which aim to function as natural seeds to make orchid propagation easier and more efficient.

The technology of synthetic seeds had never before been utilised on a commercial level, making Dr Rami’s venture a first. It is highly applicable in preserving other plants as well and she’s had success with preserving oil palm lines.

But there’s more to the research. Oddly enough, the end-product of Uma’s project is good news for both hobbyists and entrepreneurs alike as, to the former, these artificial seeds are user-friendly and are pleasing aesthetically, especially when sold in glass trinkets, as pet plants.

For the latter, the products can even be marketed as live curios to the public, apart from the benefits they reap from maximising production capacity for the export industry.

In reality, the seeds can last indefinitely in liquid nitrogen, just like in sci-fi stories, but not on a shelf.

According to the report, Dr Rani firmly believes they can be preserved for an even longer period as the study goes on, and larger commercial support alongside public interest in her quest could someday unlock the mystery of the actual shelf-life of these crystal-clear balls of life, calculated in years instead of just days.

Caption: Seeds of orchids, plate 2 of 3 by J.G.Beer (1863) published on Beitrage zur morphologie und biologie der familie der orchideen. Vienna, Austria: Druck und Verlag von Carl Gerold's Sohn. Date: Date     1863. Author Dalton Holland Baptista

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Botany in miniature

For some surreal images of pollen, take a visit to the Public Domain Review which is featuring a rare work entitled ‘Ueber den Pollen’ (1837), or ‘Pollen up close’.

Fantastic illustrations of various strains of pollen in extreme magnification, as featured in the book by St Petersburg-based German pharmacist and chemist Carl Julius Fritzsche.

German speakers can take advantage of a key identifying each pollen type pictured see these descriptions.

In addition to the plates is a modern, black and white shot taken at the Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility at Dartmouth College. It produced a photograph showing pollen strains at similar magnifications to those shown in Fritzsche’s book (around 500 times magnification)

It focuses on pollen from a variety of common plants: sunflower (Helianthus annuus), morning glory Ipomoea purpurea, hollyhock (Sildalcea malviflora), lily (Lilium auratum), primrose (Oenothera fruticosa) and castor bean (Ricinus communis). The image is magnified some x500, so the bean-shaped grain in the bottom left corner is about 50 μm long.

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 2 September 2013

Fungus, the lifesaver

There is a secret ingredient that orchids need. OK, it’s fungus. A team of researchers and volunteers is using fungus as they work to rescue two threatened orchids in Australia.

Both the Rosella Spider Orchid and the Wine-lipped Spider Orchid rely on underground fungi to germinate. So, for those working to boost each species' chances of survival, the fungi need to be in ready supply in the laboratory.

A team from the Royal Botanic Gardens, nine landcare groups and the Nillumbik Shire Council travelled to Cottles Bridge and Panton Hill, north-east of Melbourne, to collect wild samples from the orchids.

The work is so finicky they need to use dental tools. Conservation volunteer Neil Anderton removed samples less than a centimetre in size from just below the soil line.

According to the report, the microscopic fungi are located in clumps known as pelotons in the tissue of each orchid species.

Once each sample is cleaned at the gardens' herbarium, experts isolate and remove the fungi before placing the material on a jelly-like culture in a petrie dish to grow.

The orchid seeds, collected 12 months earlier and stored in a freezer at -20 degrees, will then be scattered over the fungi and jelly. Growth should commence in a fortnight.

The seedlings are transferred to larger pots in a year's time and then graduate to cardboard Chinese take-away containers two months after that.

However, it could be two years more before the orchids could be planted in the wild and four or five years before the propagated plants flowered.

The Rosella Spider Orchid is listed as endangered in Victoria, while the Wine-lipped Spider Orchid is listed as vulnerable.

The project is back-up plan to ensure the future of the species.

Caption: Not a Rosella Spider orchid, but something rather similar and just as beautiful, the Candy Spider Orchid. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Bloomin’ orchids defy records

Orchids have been flourishing across the UK, including the chalky grasslands of Bedfordshire.

At Houghton Regis Chalk Pit, Bedfordshire, reserve officers counted more than 700 common-spotted, around 140 pyramidal and three bee orchids.

It seems are thriving not only on protected nature reserves but also in the wider countryside and even gardens, reports the press.

This summer, pyramidal and common-spotted orchids have generally arrived several weeks late, which suggests recent weather has provided more suitable conditions as the season has developed.

More than 600 greater butterfly orchids have been counted at Caeau Llety Cybi reserve in Ceredigion, Wales, double the number recorded in 2010.

A musk orchid (pictured) was noted at Malling Down nature reserve, the first time the species was recorded at the Sussex Wildlife Trust site in seven years.

The fragrant orchid has reappeared at Ancaster Valley, Lincolnshire, flowering for the first time since 2004, while Flamborough Cliffs in Yorkshire have seen a huge and unexpected increase in northern marsh orchids.

In Dereham, Norforlk Wildlife Trust conservation officers counted so many common-spotted orchids that they have advised the town council to recognise the area as a county wildlife site.

According to reports, some species flower just once a number of years after germinating, and so "flushes" this year indicate suitable conditions for them in previous years, such as the wet ground last year. Other orchids can take a rest year from flowering before blooming for several years in a row.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Orchids up to their tricks again

The duplicity of orchids is well documented. Bees, for example, are tricked by orchids that disguise themselves as the brightly coloured flowers of neighbouring plants.

However, researchers have noted a new twist to this botanical decpetion. The Oncidiinae group of orchids is one of the most diverse groups of flowering plant in the world, with around 1700 different species being found across South and Central America.

What is intriguing is that most of them are able to attract pollinators without rewarding them with the valuable oil or nectar which they receive from other flowers.

In the plant world, successful fertilisation involves attracting pollinators, such as bees, to transfer pollen from one flower to another, usually in return for a reward.

Researchers from Imperial College London and Kew Gardens have noted that a specific orchid, the Trichocentrum ascendens from South America, of the Oncidiinae group, does not do this.

In a ten-year study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, they report that the Trichocentrum tricks pollinators by closely mimicking the colour and flower shape of another plant family, the Malpighiaceae, whose flowers produce a plentiful supply of oil.

Vincent Savolainen, Professor of Organismic Biology in Imperial's Department of Life Sciences, explains: "These reward-giving flowers have evolved a very special colour called bee-UV-green, that is highly distinguishable to bees' sensitive eyes. The Trichocentrum ascendens and other Oncidiinae orchids copy the special colour so precisely that bees are unable to distinguish between the flowers, visiting an orchid and pollinating them without the reward they may expect."

It could be that not producing nectar means the sneaky orchid can divert more energy to growing strong and producing more successful future generations.

Caption: Stigmaphyllon sp. (centre; Malpighiaceae) and Oncidiinae orchids Trichocentrum ascendens and Rossioglossum ampliatum (left and right; Oncidiinae: Orchidaceae)

Friday, 16 August 2013

Lost and found

Very exciting news. My novel, a Victorian adventure entitled The Lost Orchid, is now in the editing stage.

I submitted it to Bluewood Publishing last year, and it should be coming out soon. I'll keep you  posted. 

It's been a busy year. This is the sixth book to come out - the others are a mix of historical mysteries and teen fantasies. All the gen is here, on the author website.

By Pamela Kelt

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A first!

Tootling along on our summer hols, I found myself having a picnic at the edge of the Lake District. That's interesting, I thought. These meadowy slopes look just like the ones I've been featuring on Orchidmania. The photos were full of colourful British orchids.

I decided to take a closer look.

I did and boggled.

As you all know, I love orchids, but I've never seen any growing in the wild, to my shame. But there they were. Just simple common spotted orchids, but still. They were fantastic. It was rather thrilling.

Thank goodness for the strange spring we've had, which seems to have produced more native orchids than ever before.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 2 August 2013

Moth orchid database

Taiwan is creating a database to compile a comprehensive list of predicted molecular markers for moth orchids. The aim is to prevent future variety rights disputes, a local researcher claimed.

According to the Taipei press report, with mature technology and a standard operating procedure, they group is sure it can establish a 200-variety database by the end of the year, according to Chang Hui-ju, an assistant researcher at the Taiwan Seed Improvement and Propagation Station.

There are about 400 moth orchid varieties grown in Taiwan. The Council of Agriculture’s Taichung-based station has been developing the technology for the past three years, while liaising with experts in the Netherlands.

The station is also planning to apply the technology to other plants.

Orchids are one of Taiwan’s most important agricultural exports. Sales of Oncidium orchids showed the biggest annual increase of 25 per cent, while sales of moth orchids increased 16 per cent.