Monday, January 10, 2011

Leochilus puertoricensis a small epiphytic orchid endemic of Puerto Rico

The flowers are green these look slightly yellowish because they were photographed when full sun was shining on them
You can see on this plant the remains of two inflorescences that failed to set seed

In this case the inflorescence is long enough to bring the flowers out of the shade

Two plants growing and blooming on a branch of a guava tree.

A plant growing on a guava branch

The first time I saw this small orchid was about twenty five years ago in El Cañon de San Cristobal.  I was hiking along the Cañon’s floor when I came across a tiny plant of this species lying on the ground with the remains of the twig it had been clinging still attached to its roots.  I was fascinated with the tiny plant and took the took it home.  A few weeks later I was surprised when an inflorescence came out of the plant that up to that time I had thought belonged to a seedling Oncidium altissimum.  When the first inflorescence lost its flowers the plant bloomed again.  I didn’t know the identity of the orchid as at that time there was not much information around on native orchids.  The plant died a few months after it finished blooming and I always wondered what I had done to make the plant die under my care.  For many years afterwards I never saw this orchid again, even when I visited and camped in areas that are within its geographical area of distribution.  This Leochilus was described in 1986 as Leochilus puertoricensis by Mark W. Chase.
In 1999 I started working as leader of the captive propagation program of the Puertorrican parrot project so I moved to the aviary which is in the heart of the Rio Abajo forest.  I was always on the lookout for this orchid but for the first few years I never saw it.  Then one day as I was walking around the aviary grounds I noticed a tiny orchidaceous leaf sticking out of the moss covered base of a Croton ornamental bush.  Intrigued by the leaves I started searching the area and found several seedlings growing in the stems of the Croton bushes.  In due time these orchids bloomed, set seed and then died.  I have seen this cycle repeated several times in the eleven years that I have lived at the aviary.  You find a few scattered seedlings on guava or Miconia trees, the seedlings grow rapidly, bloom, produce seed capsules, scatter the seed and then inevitably die.   One baffling characteristic of this species is that the plants always die after blooming and setting seed, even those plants that seem to be in places that appear to be ideal for their continual long term survival.
At this moment in the aviary you can’t find any plants of this species in any of the trees that have hosted them in the previous years.  You can say the same thing about Campylocentrum, Ionopsis and Tolumnia orchids in the aviary, in my early years in the aviary they were so common I never gave them a second though, now with the exception of Ion. satyrioides all have disappeared from the area of the aviary.  I only hope I am still here the day they return.
Leochilus puertorricensis is not in cultivation or has any horticultural importance but on rare occasions you can find wild collected plants in orchid collections.  Every time you can see that the roots are still attached to remnants of their twing or branch perch.   So far I have known of no plant that has shown long term survival in captivity even when the plants were put into a trees in areas where this species grows naturally.


Anonymous said...

Hello Ricardo, very nice to read your blog on Leochilus puertoricensis. I would like to get fresh plants of this species for some genetic studies. If you find it again, could you contact Jim Ackerman at the U of Puerto Rico, please? He knows how to get me material for my genetic studies, including the required permits. I'm now at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London. Thanks of your help. Mark Chase

Ricardo said...

Isent a message to Prof. Ackermann through facebook. He has not answered. You can contract me in

Madeline said...

Hola Ricardo! Buscando información sobre el cultivo de las tolumnias, me encontré en esta página, he notado lo que comenta, que estas orquideas, están bonitas y de momento mueren sin razón aparente, ahora mismo tengo muchas que me las trajeron de unos cafetales y veo que se están poniendo resecas, aunque no ha llovido para acá las he estado regando, la verdad después de leer su artículo he quedado desanimadas con ellas. Gracias por la información la valoro pues no había encontrado en ningún lado esos detalles que usted expone.