Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dichaea hystricina an orchid native of Puerto Rico

The anchor shaped lip is shown to great advantage in this photo

These flowers are tiny and hard to see, the casual observer can easily miss them in the tangle of stems of the plant.

A young plant

A clump of stems
This small orchid is interesting because of its distinctive growth habit and its peculiar flowers. The stems are flattened and have monopodial distichous stems that vaguely resemble centipedes. The flowers are peculiar in the sense that they are build to be pollinated by euglossine bees, their distinctive lips look like tiny anchors. The last point is the notable because there are no euglossine bees in the the Greater Antilles. There were euglossine bees in the Caribbean in the distant past as evidenced on their presence on the amber found in the deposits in the Dominican Republic. But if there were any in Puerto Rico they are now extinct in here as well as in the other Greater Antilles. So what pollinates this flower in the wild in PR is something of a mystery although it would not be surprising if they turned out to be cleistogamic, that is that they self pollinate. I am fairly confident this plant is hystricina because the margins of the leaves are ciliate, a characteristic of this species.

This orchid has a wide distribution in the tropics in America and the West Indies. Given this huge distribution area that covers many islands and mountain ranges I wonder if in the future this species might get split into several species like they did with Epidendrum difforme. However that is for the taxonomist to decide, for the moment it is considered a single species with a large geographical distribution. Its preferred habitat is in the rain forest of the high mountains of Puerto Rico it is locally abundant and, st least for me, relatively easy to find. Finding the flowers is a matter of timing your visit to their native haunts to their blooming season. I have seen plants blooming here in August and September. It is reported that they bloom from August to November in PR. I have had a difficult time finding and photographing the flowers of this plant mainly due to the rainy nature of its favored haunts. In the Luquillo highlands it can rain at any time of the day almost every single day during the blooming season of this plant. High humidity being inimical to the good functioning and survival of cameras it is not without trepidation that one takes an expensive camera into the sopping wet habitat of this orchid. Of course there are dry days on these forests but often they don’t align well with those weekends and holidays on which I can travel to their area of the forest.

I have seen many plants of this species, including some respectable sized clumps of stems, but so far have been able to take a photo of just a single flower. I found this single flower on an August visit to the forest that happened to allow for a brief respite from the constant rain. Hopefully in the future I will be able to return to their habitat to search for more plants on bloom. I am strongly against collecting this plant as its cultural needs condemn it to a sure death when placed in the hands of the casual orchid grower. Plants removed from its highland habitat and brought into the coastal lowland will slowly die from dehydration even when given a lot of watering mainly because it is so hard to replicate in captivity the combination of high humidity, moderate temperatures and breezy environment that occur in this plant favored locations. That doesn’t mean that given the proper care it can’t grow or even thrive in captivity, is just that the time and equipment investment needed to properly grow this plant away from its rain forest habitat is larger than what a vast majority of orchidists are willing to spend in time and money.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos! I absolutely love this genus. Thanks for posting!