Monday, 25 March 2013

Shining example of orchid conservation

Sun-orchid. What an exotic name.

But Wimmera’s metallic sun-orchid is endangered. Not only that, says Dr Noushka Reiter, from the Wimmera Catchment Management Authority, it’s a vital link in Australia’s biodiversity.

“While the metallic sun-orchid in itself might not do much for people, other than its beauty, it plays a critical role,” she says in an interview.

Before the Europeans arrived, the orchid numbered in the tens of thousands. With the misguided introduction of rabbits and weeds, the species declined to just 30 in the Wimmera and 1,000 around the world.

However, and isn’t that a nice word sometimes, this year, thanks to 20 years of science and conservation work, the first wide-scale reintroduction of an endangered orchid species in Australia has meant that 3,000 metallic sun-orchids have been planted across four sites in south-west Victoria.

Dr Reiter is the team leader who has been working at the Horsham Orchid Conservation Facility where  a recent breakthrough ensured that thousands of orchids could be grown.

Orchids are rather demanding, it seems, being reliant on a fungus which, in turn, requires a certain vegetable community. But with Noushka’s help and insights, the sun-orchids will shine again.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Back from the dead

Ghost orchids, those rare blooms famous for their mystic white petals, have never been bred in greenhouses.

Manic fans have even attempted to grow them using a procedure akin to in vitro fertilisation. Many are hunted illegally. Keith Davis, who graduated from NCSU in 1979, has discovered how to grow and protect the endangered flower.

His passion started when he bought a dozen specimens for a dollar each at a local sale to fill a greenhouse at Corpus Christi  Texas. All 12 orchids died within a few weeks.

He got the bug, especially for ghost orchids, those ethereal white orchids have no leaves. It is the the roots that contain chlorophyll to perform photosynthesis. Keep the roots above ground and they will thrive. 

Ghost orchids are found growing on the sides of trees. Experts regard them as epiphytic, not parasitic. A parasite feeds off of the host for nutrients while epiphytes use the host for support.

Mr Davis pursued the ghost orchid, which is so rare, that obtaining seeds is difficult, and even then, the process might not work. But he had an epiphany. If something grows in nature, there has to be a reason. Find it, apply it, and you can unlock the secret.

During long periods of dry weather, the ghost orchid grows naturally. The roots are buried in moss and lichen on the host tree. As he says: ‘I later discovered that this dry period is vital to getting the plants to bloom.’

How long did that take to find out? Orchidmaniacs wouldn't care; they would just applaud.

He chose his host plant, the mockernut hickory, not just because of the delightful name, but because it was durable and it wouldn’t rot. Spanish moss assisted in formed a  micro-environment around the roots to survive the difficult first year. Other hurdles were overcome but Mr Davis won an American Orchid Society society competition. Check out a recent article.

And some orchid kudos.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Artistry and orchids in China

In China the orchid enjoys a revered place with bamboo, the chrysanthemum and the plum blossom as one of The Four Gentlemen of its art.

The orchid is also said to represent the qualities of quietness, friendship, integrity and an indifference to fame. As the flower is regarded as delicate, anyone with an orchid or two on show at home is considered not only to have good taste, but also to be endowed with traits of patience and longsuffering.

A fascinating article appeared recently on the flower industry in Zhangzhou, where experts are overcoming the logistical difficulties to market their orchids around the world.

 Zhang Enci, secretary-general of Zhangzhou Orchid Association, explains how there are 213 hectares of orchid plantations in Zhangzhou, cultivating more than 1,000 species of orchid, yielding 60 million pots every year.

If you’re interested in the history of cultivation, apparently orchid-growing in Zhangzhou dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when orchids were mostly indigenous flowers growing in the mountains. In the wild, the leaves were slimmer and blossoms were smaller, but after centuries of human intervention, they have become brighter and more colourful.

Astonishingly, there are 62 large orchid plantations in Zhangzhou, in an industry employing 12,000 people. Many of the gardens have been passed down from generation to generation. A particular area of expertise is the butterfly orchid, now becoming increasingly popular.

And here’s a staggering fact. Nine years ago, a single pot of a particular species fetched 10 million yuan ($1.6 million; 1.2 million euros). It was named Benchi lanhua (the Mercedez-Benz orchid).

Captions: Top, part of the front end panel to the 'Admonitions Scroll' attributed to Gu Kaizhi, showing a drawing of an orchid and accompanying inscription by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796), 1746, scanned from McCausland, "First Masterpiece of Chinese Painting". Author Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799).  Above: Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera_chlorantha)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Recycling, orchid-style

A quirky tale from La Palma landed in my digital intray this morning.

Rather than toss unwanted orchids at the end of season, condo residents have found a way to put the flowers to good use.

Unit owner Lance Schelhammer began collecting non-flowering orchid plants last season and suspended them into trees around the pool.
Residents returned to a flowering, gorgeous orchid garden. They plan to continue the scheme next year.

At first, the flowers were installed in traditional wooden-framed baskets, but in time, there are hopes they might grow on their own for a more natural look.

Lance said to local press: ‘There’s nothing quite like an orchid.’

 Can’t disagree with you there.

Caption: Darwin's original greenhouse, complete with orchids in traditional square baskets.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Focus on Estonian orchids

Estonia has 36 species of orchids. Not many people know that.

Saaremaa resident Tarmo Pikner has a new book out on orchids and he describes how most of them are found in Estonia’s western islands, says a report.

Mr Piker, an entrepreneur and former local government official, explains how Estonia's maritime climate and calcareous soils favour certain species of orchids. His own interest in the plants goes back many years, and he discovered an endemic Estonian species on Saaremaa in 2003 – Dactylorhiza osiliensis.

The book has nearly 400 photos with descriptions in Estonian.

The flower-filled coastal meadows present a particularly wonderful summer spectacle and are attracting visitors keen on botany.

Meanwhile, there's an exhibition of orchids to start in Tallinn this month at Tallinn Botanical Garden.

The traditional orchid exhibition present delicate and elegant miniature plants as well as bolder and bigger species, all tough survivors, all equally beautiful. The exhibition takes place from March 2 to March 10, 2013.

Pictured: A similar Dactylorhiza, the maculata