Monday, January 17, 2011

Coilostylis (Epidendrum) ciliare, a night fragrant moth pollinated orchid native of Puerto Rico

Coilostylis ciliare, this is the presentation of the lip of a newly opened flower

Inflorescence, top view

Inflorescence, side view

A flower that has been open for a few days

A flower that has been open for more than a week, the reason for the color change is unclear but may be a signal for pollinators

The flower of a cross of Blc. Toshie Aoki and Coi. ciliare

Coilostylis ciliare is part of a group of green and white flowered orchids that have similar - looking flowers which are native of Puerto Rico.  This group of orchids is comprised of Epidendrum caphoporum, Epidendrum tridens, Epidendrum nocturnum and Coilostylis ciliare.  Of all these orchids the only one with a fringed lip is Coilostylis ciliare.   Coilostylis ciliare has a wide distribution on the island of Puerto Rico, I have seen plants from several places in the island.   Lately this plant has been renamed Coilostylis ciliare.
 I received as a gift a plant that originally came from the area of Utuado.  This plant had pseudobulbs only five to six inches tall and produced inflorescences of two to four flowers, it bloomed in the spring.   Sadly this I lost this plant which was among the smallest of all Coi. ciliare I have ever seen.  I also have a plant that hails from the east of the island and whose pseudobulbs reach nine to ten inches tall and that produces inflorescences that have four to nine flowers.  This plant ranks among the hardiest of my orchids.  It has survived everything that I or the weather has thrown its way from drought and deep shade to overwatering, neglect and very bright light conditions.   My plant usual response to adversity is to produced dwarfed pseudobuls that don’t bloom.  James Ackermann  says in his book that the plants of Puerto Rico might represent a conglomerate of sibling species.  He suggest that the population of plants of the Karst area in the north may be a different species, however this issue remains unresolved as far as I know.
My plant blooms between December and January.  I have seen large moths flying around the flower but have not seen them actually take the pollinia away from them.  The care of this plant is among the simplest.  It demands a well drained, airy media and strong light to do well.  However it will survive  under and grow reasonably well shady conditions but blooming will be poor if the shade is too deep.  In my experience it will grow and bloom even if not fertilized as long as it is planted in some sort of organic media but the pseudobulbs will be smaller than those of a well cared plant.
Some of these orchids are reported to have nice fragrances, but my plant is not one of those.  The way I perceive the fragrance of my plant is as if I was smelling a bunch of upset stinkbugs.  When there are many flowers open at the same time I find the smell overpowering but not in a good way.
In the early eighties I visited the island of Culebra and found an enormous population of this plant growing along the sides of a ravine in one of the most remote and little traveled sections of the island.  I haven’t forgotten the sight of thousands of plants of this species blooming at the same time.  None of the plants were growing on trees they were all growing on large boulders at the sides of the ravine.  Some of the boulders were covered with masses of plants that were several feet wide.  Unfortunately at the time I saw all these plants growing and blooming together I was not interested in growing or even photographing orchids so I regarded it as an interesting but not a particularly photo worthy subject.  How I have come to regret that judgment!
In 1989 hurricane Hugo went over the island of Culebra as a category four hurricane.  The damage to the vegetation and the infrastructure was severe.  I returned to the island and thought about visiting the colony of orchids, but it turned out that reaching the colony was an impossible dream.  I managed to get to nearby hill from which the area of the colony could be glimpsed with binoculars.  The colony showed the most pitiful aspect imaginable.  Practically every large tree had fallen exposing the whole colony to harsh sunlight.  As a result you could see the remains of thousands of sunburned, bleached, dead stems among the shrubs that had managed to survive the tremendous force of the winds.  Reaching the colony was impossible due to the tremendous damage the forest had received which rendered the whole area nearly impassable due to the large quantity of fallen branches and trees quite a few of which were fearsomely spiny.
But even among the destruction and carnage you could see here and there a few plants that had survived because they had been growing in narrow crevices between the huge boulders and had been sheltered from the worse of the winds, the falling debris and the sun.   By the time I visited Culebra many months had passed since the hurricane and already the vegetation, although mightily beaten, was showing signs of recuperation.
It has been many years since the last time I was in the island of Culebra, I wonder if I returned to the ravine whether I would find the orchids thriving again.  The area where the orchids grew is a protected area so the chances that the surviving plants managed to reseed the whole area are high.  The orchids of the Caribbean have live for millions of years on the island and probably have endured many cycles of destruction and rebirth.  I only hope one day I can return to the nearby hill where I last glimpsed the orchids to see how they have fared and maybe even glimpse their blooming even if from afar.
I have seen this orchid from time to time in local collections but, judging from the times I have seen exhibited at orchid shows, it seems it has become rarer in the last few years as orchid hybrids have become the focal point of many collections.  Some of the plants of this species at I have seen at orchid shows appeared to be from commercial sources outside the island.  There have been a few plants of this species that have exceptionally fine flowers but they are not often seen.  I saw a hybrid of Blc. Toshie Aoki and Coi. ciliare at an orchid show.  I also saw a photo of a Rhycholaelia digbyana/ Coi. ciliare cross.  But both plants are unavailable commercially.  Eli of Utuado had cross of Coi. ciliare with pastel pink flowers but I don’t remember which plant was the other parent.


Jose M Oliveras said...

Hi Ricardo. Is my first visit to your very interesting blog. Google redirect me to it, when looking info about Coilostylis ciliare for my monthly orchid paper.
You are right, in PR is not common to see C. ciliare at orchid shows, but in the St. Croix, VI, Orchid Society Show a lot of them are exhibited. This shows is from Feb. 25 to 27, at the US Virgin Islands University. They are celebrating 40years of orchids shows. I will be there exhibiting and selling orchids for the second year, and judging as a Student Judge. I would like to see you at the show.

Ricardo said...

I won't be going to that show. I am particularly busy at this time of the year with the breeding season and on top of that I will be chaperoning one of our parrots which will make a very rare public appareance at the Festival of Kindness in Feb 24. This festival is geared toward collecting money for people that need help with particularly difficult medical problems.

Unknown said...

Hi Ricardo,
and thank you for a very nice blog. I have one question for you about your Coilostylis ciliare; do you give it some kind of winther-period rest in cool place and maybe reduce watering?
I have had this plant for 2 years and it hasn't bloomed for one time! I'm eager to see it flowering, because this summer it made 7 new pseudobulbs :) And now I'm wondering if I have to put it to some cooler place than in my windowstill where it's about + 20 celcius (68F).
Best regards, Tia from Finland

Ricardo said...

My Coilostylis don't need a cooling period to bloom. Personaly I think they respond to the shortening days of autumn. My plants bloom around Christmas and the New Year. Do you know if your plants are mature? Also this plant loves light, too much shade and it will grow well but will not bloom.

Unknown said...

now I have grown my Coilostylis ciliare in mych light and the 7 new pesudobulbs have grown well. Now it clearly has slowed it's growing. The new pseudobulbs are about 4-5 inches tall + leaves are too about 5 inches tall. I'm so exited, if i'm going to make it bloom or not. The new pseudobulbs aren't quite ready yet, but maybe soon. Then I'm going to shorten the light daytime. This plant is't so very common in orchid-growers in Finland, so sadly there's not so much information of it. Thank You for You'r wonderful blog :)

Anonymous said...

Ricardo: I have posted images of an orchid that grows on the high cliffs of St. Croix's north shore. see facebook Cruzans In Exile pages. This plant looks identical to your photos found here. Can you please take a look and help me to ID this orchid?

Muchas grazias.


Ricardo said...

I could not see the page Cruzans in exile since it is a closed group. But Epidendrum ciliare is unmistakable. I am sure it is the same species. I have seen it growing sometimes in a huge mass, on cliff faces is St. Croix.

Clay said...

Hi Ricardo, I would love to know on what part of the island you found the colony of orchids. I go to Culebra on a yearly basis and would love to go look myself to see if they are still there. A member of my extended family has a house there and they have a Coilostylis ciliare growing on a cactus in their yard. And I just out of sheer lucky, I happened to pick one up here in Wisconsin from a local orchid expert. I can't wait to see it bloom.

Arivera said...

More than 20 years ago I collected a sample of this orchid I found over El Cañón de San Cristobal in Aibonito. It has proven to be a real tough plant, and has survived a multiply with no care at all. I moved to Caguas over 10 years ago and I brought a smal plant. It also has multiplied and survived everything, including huracane Maria. Right now is In bloom. It blooms several times during the year.