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.