Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lepanthes woodburyana one of the commonest endemic Lepanthes

Lepanthes woodburyana

Sierra palm forest/elfin forest transcition area, many Lepanthes are found here.  The ground is from wet to soping wet year round.  The view is toward Pico del Este

Sometimes the inflorescence is over the top of the leaf instead of under it which is the norm.

This plant was found in the Sierra Palm forest

Two inflorescences plus one seed capsule





A plant at a local orchid show, a rare sight indeed.  The many stems and flowers on the plant speak of a skilled and knowledgeable grower.


Lepanthes woodburyana is one of the most common Lepanthes species I have seen in El Yunque forest. They can be found growing in tree trunks, twigs and riverside boulders. They seem to do best in areas where the environmental humidity remains consistently high year round such as the margins of rivers and creeks. It might be a startling thought that humidity could be low in such a place as a rainforest but I have had the experience of visiting the forest at a time when a dry period has lingered long enough for the moss in the trunks of trees to become bone dry. I suspect that these plants are vulnerable to the spells of dry weather and low humidity that sometimes happen even in the depths of the rainforest. The reason I think these plants are vulnerable to spells of unfavorable weather is because over the years I have seen groups and colonies of these plants suddenly disappear from places where they were common and easy to find. At first I was alarmed when a group of plants could not be found and even thought that someone in the orchid hobby had collected them. But when plants disappeared from sites where the possibility of them having been collected was unlikely in the extreme I discarded this possibility. Also the number of orchid growers that grow Lepanthes in the island of PR is so vanishingly small that I have yet to see a single native Lepanthes in cultivation in the collections of any of the many orchidists that I know personally. However they do show up, on rare ocassions, at orchid shows. In fact if you ask local orchidists about Lepanthes many will be unfamiliar with them and of the remainder that do know them most would hardly consider them a subject fit for cultivation. For most orchid growers in PR growing orchids means keeping large flowered Classic Cattleyas, in this light Lepanthes, and many other tiny flowered genera have flowers that are simply too insignificant to bother with.


Because of this unpopularity the local Lepanthes are happily left alone in the wild and to survive or die on their own terms and according to the vagrancies of the seasons and the climate. My biggest difficulty with the local Lepanthes is the lack of photos of plants whose identity has been certified by a botanical authority. Even with the botanical descriptions, the taxonomic keys and line drawings are a challenge for an amateur, it can be difficult to determine the ID of a plant without a color drawing or photo.

There are several Lepanthes species in PR and perhaps with a single exception, they are not endangered or particularly rare in their favored habitats. They can be easily found in the wild habitat but you will have to bring a magnifying glass to really enjoy their beauty. They are best left in their native haunts because they will not tolerate even slight neglect in cultivation. A Cattleya can easily endure two weeks without watering with no ill consequences. Lepanthes will die the moment they desiccate which can happen in less than a week during particularly windy spell in the dry season or at the height of the summer when temperatures are at their yearly peak.

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