Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Good news

A happy story about new botanical discoveries by Kew researchers that warms the cockles of this orchidmaniac's heart.

They include six new orchids a three-metre slipper orchid, Selenipedium dodsonii, from Ecuador. It was identified from a specimen taken from the wild decades ago and stored unnoticed in a US herbarium.

Many of the discoveries have potential for use in medicines and by the aromatherapy industry. Others can assist production of crops to be cross-bred with the commercial species to create new varieties that might be more disease-resistant or able to grow in drier or wetter areas. Specific genes might also be transferred to create genetically modified strains.

Pictured: rope suspension bridge inviting you to explore the cloud forest in Ecuador.

Go Kew.

Friday, 13 November 2015

In pursuit of lost orchids

Florida hosts a treasure trove of orchids, especially state park Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. Now scientists there are keen to restore certain species lost through the years as a result of poachers and habitat destruction.

The allure of  so-called 'lost orchids' never dies (see below).

The park is located on a shallow swamp, marked by tall cypress trees. Orchid thieves are common, especially where cowhorn orchid are concerned. Over the past ten years, and in working in partnership with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Fakahatchee scientists have harvested seeds and re-cultivated cowhorn orchids for replanting throughout the swamp.

The spectacular cowhorn, with its hundreds of dotted flowers, was down to just 17 orchids in the 85,000-acre park. Ten years on, there are several hundred. A similar success was had with the dollar orchid, another endangered species.

Sadly, two other orchids are lost to Florida in general, namely the rat-tail orchid and another known only by its scientific name, Epidendrum acunae.

Much time and effort and energy has been spent seeking these lost orchids, but it seems they are locally extinct, according to local reports.

In a bid to restore the lost orchids to Fakahatchee, scientists turned to Cuba, just 200 miles away and asked for help.

The botanical garden possessed both species and are now helping to restore the ‘lost orchids’ to Florida.


The Lost Orchid by Pamela Kelt is available on Amazon. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Sad plight of white orchid gem

The white fringeless orchid is at risk, reports the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Although not facing extinction, numbers are low numbers at more than half the orchid’s known locations.

Apparently, there are 58 known occurrences of the orchid, across five south-eastern states, mostly in forested wetlands.

Sadly, the afflicted orchid it appears to depend on a limited number of butterflies (the silver spotted skipper, spicebush swallowtail (pictured), and eastern tiger swallowtail) and a single species of fungi to complete its life cycle, so it is highly vulnerable. the silver spotted skipper, spicebush swallowtail, and eastern tiger swallowtail.

One population in Winston County, Alabama, disappeared after the removal of beaver dams, while others have been lost through construction. Deer have been spotted eating them, and they’ve even been dug up and consumed by feral hogs. Humans are also to blame, still collecting this beautiful orchid for sale.

The service hopes to the increase conservation efforts needed to recover the plant.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Orchid oddity

File:Common spotted orchid 1.jpgA lucky orchidmaniac has made a fabulous find in Cumbria.

File:Frog Orchid - Coeloglossum viride (14356357219).jpgWhile counting frog orchids at Plantlife's Augill Pasture reserve in Cumbria, Lois Harbron discovered a hybrid cross of frog orchid and common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) - both pictured here.

Named “X Dactyloglossum mixtum” it could be dubbed a “pink frog orchid”. Just imagine a blend of the two and there you have it.

Hybrid orchids are not too uncommon, according to the Plantlife blog. The marsh and spotted Dactylorhiza orchids often “cross”. 

This particular one, however, is quite rare. Since 2000, it’s only been found at about 15 sites in Britain. It looks like this hybrid is also a new record for the county.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Going native over wild orchids

While many folk obsess over exotic orchids, it’s time to wave the flag for the extraordinary variety of wild orchids in Britain and Europe. 

Sue Parker is a true orchidmaniac and has compiled a delightful ‘everything you need to know about wild orchids but were afraid to ask’ article.

Pop over to First Nature and read The Nature and Biology of Orchids - Sue Parker. It's a fascinating compilation of answers to questions compiled over time. The style is enthusiastic, well-written and easy to understand.

For instance, Sue tackles such issues as what causes hybrids, and what is a ‘hybrid swarm’, along with what causes freaks and monstrous forms to occur.

A little gem.

By Pamela Kelt

Caption: The attractive Serapias lingua, or Tongue Orchid, grows throughout much of Europe in both Atlantic and Mediterranean countries. Did you know the plants can grow up to 50cm in height? At first, the various types of tongue orchids, often found growing alongside each other, can be difficult to tell apart, writes Sue, but Serapias lingua is characterised by a dark red spot in the ‘throat’ of the flower. 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Fresh light on SA orchids

South Africa has an extraordinary treasure trove of orchids.

Orchids of South Africa is the first field guide to orchids in the area to be published in more than three decades. Orchid maniacs can drool over the nearly 500 orchid species found in the region, including Lesotho and Swaziland.

It features a  comprehensive over-view of orchids in their natural habitat, with photographs of each speices, distribution maps, flowering time-bars, and descriptive text to help with identification.

The paperback, by authors Steve Johnson and Benny Bytebier with illustrator Herbert Stärker, came out in May, with a grand 536 pages and 2,500 colour photos. From publisher Random House Struik, it’s available to purchase online for £19.99.

Caption: Bartholina burmanniana, Spider Orchid, a geophyte from Western Cape Renosterveld vegetation, South Africa

Friday, 5 June 2015

Risk of extinction

The Lima Orchid (Chloraea undulata) was considered extinct for more than half a century, until it was rediscovered thriving in the hills of Asia in Cañete.

Sadly, this is no time to be complacent. It seems that Peru has more than 1,000 species at risk of extinction, including certain orchids.

A group of nearly 100 researchers and specialists, working with the National Forest and Wildlife Service (Serfor) has assembled the list of endangered species of wild flora. It will appear in October.

The previous 2006 list totalled 777 species of flora. Now the new list aims to educate and promote the significance of preserving the biodiversity of flora. Other endangered flora include rosewood, cedar and mahogany.

By Pamela Kelt

Caption: Epidendrum secundum, Peru

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Orchid volunteers, please

A fascinating new orchid project is asking for volunteers.

The Natural History Museum has launched Orchid Observers to investigate how climate change is affecting orchid flowering times.

Scientists have noted that the flowering time of the early spider orchid, Ophrys sphegodes, is clearly affected and they want to find out how changes in the environment are affecting other wild orchids. They are asking people to look out for flowering orchids, take photographs and upload them, with the date and location, to the project website.

Also, as part of Orchid Observers, which is in collaboration with the University of Oxford's Zooniverse, people can help digitise historical orchid collections by reading and recording label information from the more than 10,000 museum orchid specimens.

The plan is to combine these observations with historical records to span nearly two centuries to compare against climate records over the same period.

The results could inform future research on how climate change affects not just individual species, but whole ecosystems.

The man orchid (Orchis anthropophora) is found in southeast England and begins flowering in early May to late June.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 24 April 2015

Hanging gardens of ... Tokyo

An extraordinary garden is delighting visitors to Japan.

A few years ago, before I came down with this serious dose of orchidmania, I would not have believed that these were all the same species, given the astonishing variety of form and colour. Now I know better.   

A suspended, living arrangement of 2,300 flowers rise and fall around viewers as they move through the space at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. ‘Floating Flower Garden: Flowers and I are of the same root, the Garden and I are one’, a project by Japanese artists at teamLab.

A computer-controlled system shifts the myriad orchids up and down depending on who is below. Flowers part like curtains, forming a bubble around the viewer.

The orchids on display take in water and nutrients through their roots and are soil-free, meaning the garden is actually growing, even though it’s installed upside-down.

According to the artists, the scent of each flower is intensified when it’s pollinated by its corresponding partner insects, and the fragrance changes throughout the day.

The run has been extended to 10 May, due to demand.

Check out the video to get the full floral effect.

By Pamela  Kelt

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Orchids of glass

Stunning glass orchids that look more real than their natural counterparts are to go on show next month.

Seattle artist Debora Moore creates sculpted glass orchids inspired by her travels and love of nature. “Glass Orchidarium” opens May 16 at the Northwest African American Museum in her home city.

Imagine the nightmare of packing up these fragile beauties up to be delivered to the exhibition!

To see more of Debora's fine glass work, visit her Pinterest board.

I've been a fan of Dale Chihuly for years, but perhaps he has a rival.

 By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 13 March 2015

Petal power

The new government-funded National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS) will enable scientists to take an annual stock take of the UK’s wild plants and their habitats for the first time.

They need our help and are hunting for volunteers to carry out surveys of wildflowers, including orchids. Their habitats that will provide evidence of plant species increasing or declining, as well as indicating the changing state of valued grassland and fenland habitats as well as road verges (as pictured).

Volunteers will receive survey guidance and a colour ID guide full of beautiful photos and illustrations of the 408 NPMS species. There will also be the opportunity to attend training workshops up and down the country to get to grips with the methodology and network with fellow volunteers. 

Helpers will be randomly allocated a convenient 1km square to visit. The visit involves recording plant ‘indicator species’ in plots. Within your 1km square you will record around 5 plots in semi-natural habitats.

Anyone interested in nature who can identify plants, or who is keen to learn. Different levels of participation ensure that all who are keen can participate: you do not have to be an experienced botanist. You will only need to identify between 25-30 indicator species per habitat. 

For more information visit www.npms.org.uk.

Caption: Wild orchids

Friday, 6 March 2015

Orchid winners and losers

Scientists have discovered that climate change is having an unexpected impact on Britain’s orchids, with ‘Lady orchids’ taking advantage of increasingly warmer temperatures at the expense of so-called ‘man orchids’.

Kew Gardens experts have noted that certain species are spreading north, while others which prefer colder or damper climes are likely to become a rarer sight.

Lizard orchids (Himantoglossum hircinum) and lady orchids (Orchis purpurea) are thriving, while more northern species, such as bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa), coralroot (Corallorhiza trifid) and the small white orchid (Pseudorchis albida) are struggling.

Worryingly, there has been a sharp decline of the man orchid (Orchis anthropophora), frog orchid (Dactylorhiza viridis) and fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera).

The already critically endangered red helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra) faces extinction, according to the report.

Winner: Lizard orchid
Loser: Bog orchid

Friday, 27 February 2015

Orchid wine

Apple, elderberry, even parsnip. You can make wine from anything, except, God forbid, tomatoes, in the immortal words of wine expert Mr C.J.J. Berry, whose book I still use.

Never in my life did I think to see a story about orchid wine. It seems that a Taiwanese university known for making cosmetics from orchid extracts is working with local farmers to brew a wine from a certain variety of orchid.

The name is Moonbeam wine (not moonshine, of course!). Apparently, it’s made from an orchid breed called I-Shin Venus, which is noted for its sweet aroma, said Chen Hong-hwa, head of National Cheng Kung University's Orchid Research Center.

It doesn't sound real, but here's a link to prove I'm not making it up.

The P. I-Shin Venus is a new variety made by crossing the P. bellina – known for its sweet aroma – with the multi-flowered P. equestris. Just imagine a combination of the two pictured.

Chen is head of the research team that developed the I-Shin Venus and the Moonbeam wine in collaboration with local farmers.

In 2013, the team created a line of facial products using embryonic stem cells extracted from orchids.

Thanks to technological advancements, says the report, the centre can now obtain good quality and quantity extracts and embryonic stem cells from orchids to make a variety of products, said Hsiao Yu-yun, a researcher.

I've heard of Falernian wine, but Phalaenopsian? I wonder.


By Pamela Kelt

Dracula orchids in distress

Strange Dracula orchids may look frightening, but these Central American and north-west Andes rarities are under threat from deforestation.

“Dracula” applies to a whole genus of orchids, including some species that are blood-red and have long, pointed sepals.

Conservation groups are calling for the creation of a new nature reserve in the Chocó region of north-western Ecuador to protect newly identified species.

Rainforest Trust and Fundación EcoMinga have the opportunity to purchase a 650-acre area of land where two species of orchid, the Dracula terborchii and Dracula trigonopetala, were recently discovered – and they are exclusive to this region.

The unique climate of the Chocó region is created by clouds coming in from the Pacific ocean and meeting with the western side of the Andes, creating constant mists. It’s one of wettest tropical forests in the world.

Although there are thousands of orchid species around the world, a third of them originate from Colombia and Ecuador. Experts believe it’s possible that this small reserve could hold five percent of all the orchids on the planet. on a single branch of a tree festooned with epiphytes, there may be dozens of species of orchids. It’s likely that there are additional undiscovered species is this area.

To fund future protection, Rainforest Trust and Fundación EcoMinga hope to help establish a small ecotourism site at the reserve – according to an online report.

Captions: Masdevallia chimaera var. roezlii;Cloud forest under threat

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 13 February 2015

Orchid boost

One of the best sites for butterfly orchids in Wales is benefiting from the ‘Grow One Sow Ten’ appeal which has unlocked £7,000 of funding.

The Cae Blaen-dyffyn nature reserve, and the Coronation Meadow for Carmarthenshire, will see improved access as well as funds for ongoing conservation grazing and tree work, thanks to operator CWM Environmental Limited. 

Wild flower seeds will also be collected from the nature reserve to create a new wild flower meadow next to the reserve.

In another story from Plantlife, it reports on its battle against cotoneaster that’s invaded the pristine habitat on Portland in Dorset, which has resulted in the happy return of white orchid Autumn Lady’s-Tresses and other native beauties such as Portland Spurge, fire-dot lichen and Horseshoe Vetch. 

The garden escapee smothers wild flowers but worst hit of all are the rare and intricate lichens and mosses that give Portland its international importance. It’s been clearing large areas of Penn’s Weare on the East coast of the island, thanks to funding by SITA Trust and support from Dorset Wildlife Trust.

Butterfly orchid
Autumn Lady’s-Tresses

Friday, 6 February 2015

Behold: a new ‘warty’ orchid

With armed guards to kept drug smugglers and illegal loggers at bay, an intrepid team of UK botanists trekked through the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia – and found a strange orchid.

They brought it back to Kew, where it flowered in December, forming a weird, maroon flower with a distinctly warty look. It turned out to be a brand new species, belonging to the genus Porpax.

Sadly, it’s not on display, but there’s a photograph of the previously undocumented bloom. It is one centimetre long and tubular, and rather different from anything you’ve ever seen. (Pictured is a similar flower, Porpax meirax, slightly paler in colour, and wart-free, but sufficient to give you an idea.)

Porpax is a genus of epiphytic orchids native to southern and south-eastern Asia from India to Yunnan to Borneo. Up to this find, it had contained only 13 currently recognised species as of June 2014.

Caption: a Porpax meirax, of the same genus. Plate 7329 in Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Orchidaceae), vol. 119, (1893).

By Pamela Kelt

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Time to sniff out smuggled orchids?

Conservationists are considering using sniffer dogs in detecting wild orchids that are being harvested in Tanzania at alarming rates and smuggled out of the country.

The Wildlife Conservation Society is training detector dogs for ivory, lion bones and other illegal wildlife products. Director Dr Tim Davenport thinks the system could work for orchids, although funding would have to be sought, according the press report.

It seems that wild orchids are used in the making of chikanda, a food that is cooked from the tuber, the size of small potatoes. It is cooked with peanut powder and spices. In rural Zambia it is eaten with a local staple 'ugali' and sold at markets eaten normally as a dessert or snack.

Shockingly, each year up to 4 million chikanda tubers (or 60 metric tonnes) were harvested from the Southern Highlands.

Based on the number of species found in the Southern Highlands, it is estimated that as many as 85 species might be at risk of over-harvesting.

"In the mountains around Sumbawanga a lot of chikanda orchids are growing as well, but it seems that orchid traders haven't really gotten there yet," he said, adding that this may change taking into account that evidence shows Tanzanians have taken a liking to the delicacy as well.

An alternative project involves a collaboration with researchers from Norway and Sweden to identify and monitor trade in Tanzanian wild-harvested medicinal plants by means of innovative genomics- based DNA bar-coding.

Naremoru river in the rainforest near Mt. Kilimanjaro, photograph by Chris73 / Wikimedia Commons