Thursday, 31 January 2013

The good, the Bard and the beautiful

Did you know, there is no mention of orchids in Shakespeare?

I came across the Natural History of Shakespeare, a floral gem, and simply had to check.

Rose, lily, carnation, marigold, columbine, pansy, lavender, pink, wallflower, Holy Thistle, violet, daffodil, primrose, oxlip, daisy, lady-smocks, woodbine, eglantine, honeysuckle, cowslip, harebell, love-in-idleness. Even ferns. Weeds. Insects. Reptiles. Mythical creatures.

No orchids. Still, it was fun looking through such a delightful text. Copyright-free.


Saturday, 19 January 2013

A touch of the exotic

When you hear the word ‘virus’ at this time of year, you think of ’flu and other nasty infections.

One doesn’t associate orchids with viruses, but they do get them. However, many are ‘symptomless’ – surely the best kind.

Australian scientists investigating indigenous and exotic viruses in orchids have identified a virus never before found in orchids.

Researchers from Murdoch University and the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority tested four species of donkey orchids (Diuris) for RNA viruses.

They tested two wild populations of donkey orchids and two captive populations including one at Kings Park and one in South Australia and found 11 isolates of eight distinct viruses.

According to Murdoch University’s WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre senior research fellow Steve Wylie: ‘Nobody has looked seriously at Western Australian indigenous plants for the viruses that infect them or what sort of implications they might have for the plants.’

A report says they are concerned that exotic viruses, ones brought into the country, might spread to native flora. Meanwhile, other viruses must have evolved long before anybody came here.

The team tested four orchid species with a technique called Next Generation Sequencing because of the plants’ wide distribution in wild and captive populations.

They found exotic viruses are infecting both the captive populations and the wild populations. One rare orchid (diuris pendunculata) was co-infected with four different viruses but was otherwise healthy.

One of the four viruses (Turnip yellows virus) had never been found in orchids before and is prevalent in canola, cabbages and turnips.

Everything they tested had at least one virus and surmised that in the wild most plants are infected yet live quite happily. The next job is to see if indigenous viruses are possibly even beneficial, or if introduced viruses have a negative effect such as reducing lifespan and then, seeing if it would it be worthwhile getting rid of the viruses to safeguard stock.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Orchids in action

See the future stars of the orchid world at work in this video – not in Kew, but at a Somerset school. Inspiring to see such young people with such focus.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Winter orchids?

You might associate orchids with hot climates. Think again.

Although the temperature outside can fall below -20 C, moth orchids in a greenhouse in Inner Mongolia are blooming.

The 60,000 square metre site in autonomous region’s Tumed Right Banner is one of the country’s biggest orchid high-altitude plantations.

According to the press, deputy managing director Zhao Yifan, said the park, run by of the Luzhiyuan Landscape Construction Co Ltd, produced more than 800,000 seedlings in 2012, with half of them sent to Beijing.

He expects to see 15,000 of them appear in the capital’s markets during Spring Festival at a competitive prices.

He’s hoping to expand, and he’s already exporting 300,000 orchids a year to South Korea.

The high cost of air cargo makes it difficult for Zhao to enter the European flower market. He considered transporting orchids by rail to Amsterdam, Europe’s flower trade hub, but is rethinking, over rigid quarantine regulations in countries en route.

‘When the flowers enter a new country, the whole package has to be opened and checked,’ Zhao said. ‘This is harmful for fresh plants.’

However, he expects to see more government involvement and international cooperation finally establish a route free from complicated inspections.

More than 1.5 million orchid seedlings are grown in Inner Mongolia every year, while about 60 million are grown annually nationwide.

Tumed Right Banner is a region of western Inner Mongolia, People's Republic of China. It is under the administration of Baotou City, and is located along on the Jingzang Expressway, running from Beijing to Tibet.

Being an orchid fan is brilliant for geography.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

New Cuban orchids

Cuban tree ferns
Great story for the New Year. Spanish researchers are celebrating the discovery of two Laeliinae in Cuba.

Scientists from the University of Vigo, in collaboration with the Environmental Services Unit at the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park (Cuba), have named the orchids Tetramicra riparia and Encyclia navarroi.

According to the press, the name T riparia is a nod to its discovery along stony streams in the mountains of Baracoa, one of the rainiest and least explored areas in Cuba. It is barely the size of a small coin.

Mountains of Baracoa
The second new orchid, from the western tip of the island, dwarfs its neighbour with showy purple and green petals are similar to a daffodil in appearance, spreading more than 2.5 inches, with up to 20 blooms on one plant.

Both new species are deceit pollinators, enticing bees to spread their pollen without a reward. One mystery they aim to solve is if the deceit orchids have a greater taxonomic and genetic diversity than other nectar-producing species.