Friday, 30 May 2014

Verge warriors unite

This month, our hedgerows have been spectacular, but we plant lovers should not rest on our laurels.

Our badly managed road verges are driving presenter Alan Titchmarsh wild. He wants help to convince councils to adopt better guidelines to save wildlife – and save money.

Why are road verges so important?
Every summer, an organisation called Plantlife hears from despairing supporters, upset that a favourite flower-rich verge has been destroyed. In a matter of minutes, a bank covered in beautiful native species is reduced to a shorn strip. It’s heartbreaking stuff for plant lovers, but even worse for our hungry pollinators and other wildlife.

On the Plantlife site, they explain how road verges are the life-giving arteries of the countryside, linking habitats and acting as vital corridors for wildlife to thrive on. They also represent a remnant of our native grassland which has suffered catastrophic losses over the last century.

They can act as buffers to some of the most impoverished areas, be they six lane motorways or intensively farmed fields.

Did you know that combined with railway edges they are the single most viewed habitat in the country, giving millions of people every day direct contact with the changing seasons and colours of the countryside? They also provide distinct local character to each region, from the flower rich hedgebanks of Devon to the heather covered moorland verges of Yorkshire.

When managed correctly road verges can support remarkable diverse collections of species. The good news is that good management often involve simply doing less, allowing the verge to develop and plants to set seed before cutting takes place.

Plantlife has been working with Worcestershire CC – managing road verges with Deptford Pink and Tower Mustard; Hampshire CC – devising management plans for Tower Mustard, Broad-leaved Cudweed and Narrow-leaved Helleborine verges; East Sussex CC – liaison though Spiked Rampion project; and Kingsteignton DC – liaison on management of Deptford Pink verge.

Pop along to the website and see if your county council has signed up. Mine hadn’t – but it only took a minute to register a suggestion. You can sign up here.

If you’ve seen unwarranted council activity in the verges, take a photo and send it to Alan's Verge Warriors campaign at Plantlife.

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 26 May 2014

Flower mystery solved

I thought I'd found a pyramid orchid in Kenilworth.

Rob and I were on one of our favourite walks on a rainy Bank Holiday afternoon. Then I spotted this:

What could this pinkish purple spike be? Probably not an Anacamptis pyramidalis, but a common bistort, or even a Persicaria bistorta 'Superba'. Never mind. It's still a beautiful sight.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 23 May 2014

Orchid thief strikes

A orchid thief has stolen a rare Early Purple specimen from an ancient wood in Milton Keynes.

The beautiful native wildflower was removed from Linford Wood, the largest of the city’s ancient woodlands, popular for its spring and summer flora.

According to local press, the theft has been reported to The Parks Trust, the charity that cares for Milton Keynes’ parks and green spaces. The trust is also calling for all visitors to the wood to be vigilant and to report any suspicious behaviour to the police or to its community park rangers.

The early purple orchid is one of the earliest flowering orchids, often coinciding with bluebells. The heliotrope-coloured flowers grow in a dense, cone on a single spike and its leaves are glossy, dark green in colour with dark spots.

It is one of five orchid species to be found in the city’s ancient woodlands: the common spotted; broad leaved helleborine; greater butterfly and twayblade.

Removing plants from land without permission is a criminal offence and this incidence has been reported to Thames Valley Police.

This might seem a small matter in this day and age, but I still find it shocking that someone could commit such a botanical violation. Shame on them. 

The trust has wood patrols in force and is asking all visitors and local dog walkers in the park to be vigilant and to report any suspicious behaviour to either the police or The Parks Trust on 01908 233600.

Caption: Early Purple Orchid

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 19 May 2014

Flowers in the desert

A new Botanic Garden is being created near Muscat, the capital of Oman. A project of staggering proportions, It aims to display the entire flora of the Sultanate, including its native orchids such as Epipactis, Eulophia, Habenaria, Nervilia and Eulophia guineensis.

The garden will be developed to grow display plants and trees in their natural habitat and aims to have 1,200 floral species and the natural habitats of Oman across an area of approximately 420 ha.

The project includes the construction of two climate controlled biomes with a total area of 17,000 square metres, as well as entry gates, garages, workshops, train stations, a mosque, an educational centre, facility buildings, extensive habitats and sundry buildings.

The Oman Botanic Garden is situated at Al Khod, some 40 kilometres from the capital Muscat. Despite its reputation as a desert, as seen by the NASA satellite shot below, it is amazing to discover that the country is home to more than 1200 species of plants, including 80 endemics.

In early 2008, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) education officer Sarah Kneebone took up a new postion at the Oman Botanic Garden. The Garden plans to open in the next few years, and aims to cherish and conserve the plants and ethnobotanical heritage of Oman.

As changing social systems, overgrazing, habitat loss and climate change put plants and habitats at risk, the Oman Botanic Garden hopes to help counteract this loss by promoting behaviour changes that will revitalise traditions and conserve the environment.

The project comprises an orientation centre, research and field studies centres (with accommodation for 60 students), five external habitats, five biomes with habitats from the mountains and southern Oman (the extremely diverse Dhofar region), a heritage village to house live demonstrations and workshops on the uses of plants, cafes, shops, and four classrooms.

The nursery is now functional (with 51,500 plants of 120 species), and foundations are being dug for the orientation centre. The plan is to open in the next few years.

Friday, 16 May 2014

In the dark over moth orchids

I’ve always been intrigued by the name Phalaenopsis, or ‘moth orchid’.

I’d always assumed the name was Greek for moth, but ... well, it isn’t!

According to a learned discussion ‘phalaina’ means ‘whale’ in English. This is so both in ancient and modern Greek language. 

An authoritative source of the vocabulary of classical Greek records ‘falaina’ as a whale, while the Latin is ‘balaena’. The discussion continues about the Latin word balaena, used of baleen whale families Balaenidae and Balaenopteridae.

It can hardly be a mistake. And one can hardly change the English common name ‘moth orchid’ into ‘baleen whale orchid’, after all, can one?

So in 1825, why did Carl Blume name the genus Phalaenopsis?

Experts agree that the word ‘Phalaena’ had already been used in 1758 by Linnaeus to indicate one of the divisions of Lepidoptera. Blume must have followed Linnaeus in this respect. If there was a mistake, one writer assumes, then that’s where he thinks it must have happened.

Like many early botanists Blume did not explain the etymology of the new name. Many botanical names are not directly derived so the literal translation from Greek or Latin is often interesting but not necessarily helpful.

So why did Linnaeus use the term in the first place?

Just a thought, but what if he muddled up the word papilio, which is Latin for ... you guessed it. Moth!

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 5 May 2014

Orchid gems: revealed

After I saw the story about the photographs in the American Museum of Natural History’s vast archives, I did an orchid hunt on the site. Look what I came up with – some more gems to drool over.

Three wonderful illustrations popped up. First was ‘Orchid, botanical illustration for use in Bongo Group, Akeley Hall of African Mammals’, dated 13 April, 1934; and then ‘Orchid, painting by A. J. Klein for use in Bongo Group, 1934.’

Artist Robert W Kane (1910-1982) has several entries, including ‘Ground orchid, botanical illustration with colors noted, for use in Leopard Group, Akeley Hall of African Mammals’.

Well, any excuse for some exquisite orchid illustrations.

By Pamela Kelt

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Focus on the natural world

For more than 100 years, photographs in the American Museum of Natural History’s vast archives were hidden away in the fourth-floor research library of a museum in Manhattan’s upper West Side. 

Now, thanks to a marathon digitisation project begun in 2006, more than 7,000 images have just gone online.

Some of the best appear in a great newspaper article outlining the project. What’s exciting news is they’re just the start of an eclectic collection of a million photos the museum eventually wants to put online.

This sort of project should be hailed as an inspiring initiative to retain's the world's hidden archives.
I particularly loved this lantern slide of wildflowers. Any orchids in there? It’s in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Caption: Wild flowers, Glacier National Park, Montana” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 2 May 2014

New Panama orchid named

US biologists have located a stunning new orchid species in a mountainous area in central Panama.

Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, stumbled upon the rarity on a field trip eight years ago.

Unable to identify it, she contacted German Carnevali, a world orchid expert. It was unnamed, but it has just been officially dubbed it Lophiaris silverarum.

"Lophiaris" is the genus name, comprising about 40 species in the world, and the new species is known to grow only in central Panama. The plant, a mule-ear oncidium with straw-yellow flowers, blooms only in November, the flowers lasting about a month.

Experts reckon there are about 30,000 known orchid species worldwide, and there are possibly many others that are as yet undiscovered. In Panama alone, there are about 1,100 known orchid species, whereas the United States hosts about 200 described species.

It’s no easy task to discover a new orchid species: the plants tend to grow in areas that are difficult to access and land development can also interfere. Sadly, in the tropics, habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate and the world is losing the diversity of orchid species.

Orchids are unique in that the flower's female and male reproductive parts are fused together. An interesting aspect is that orchids can easily hybridise or cross.

As a result, some 300,000 orchid hybrids are man-made and commercially available to the public.

The finding was published in journal Phytotaxa.

Researchers are now in the process of propagating the species in vitro for commercial purposes.
L. silverarum grows slowly, taking about four years to reproduce from seed to the first bloom, so it could be many years before it is available to the public.

Caption: another lophiaris, Lance’s Lophiaris, 1884, The Orchid Album, Robert Warner, B.S. Williams and T. Moore.