Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Epidendrum anceps, a green flowered native orchid of Puerto Rico

Bottoms up look of the inflorescence

A secondary inflorescence 

Flowers with a greenish yellowish tinge
A plant in situ

Epidendrum anceps is a epiphytic and lithophytic orchid that is native of Puerto Rico.  It has a vast geographical distribution that goes from Florida in North America to the West Indies and tropical South America.  It has been reported from several of the Virgin Islands.

 I have seen this plant in the wild in forests in Maricao and in Rio Grande.  In Maricao I have seen it growing on gravelly soil under low bushes that protect it from full sunlight.  In Rio Grande I have found it growing low on the trunk of a tree that bordered an area that had been cleared by man of its forest cover.

The plants I have seen in the wild follow a growing and blooming schedule that is coordinated with the wet and dry seasons.  In the wet seasons all the plants I have found are growing, not a single one was blooming although it is reported that they bloom year round.  I is said to smell like vegetables that are starting to rot.  

The plants I have found blooming have had an inflorescence that is hanging downwards and presents the flowers in a short dense cylinder called a raceme.  Some inflorescences are shorter and dome shaped.  Some plants can rebloom from axillary buds in the year’s inflorescence.  The flowers I have seen in PR have been green and yellowish but else where they can be bicolored with the lip being purple and the rest of the flower muddy brown, in a plant that was apparently photographed in Japan the flowers had red over the margins of the petals and lip. 
Although this flower is not as showy as many other orchids it does have its followers and it can be seen with some regularity at orchid shows that feature local orchids.  I have seen some plants in captivity over the years but most local orchidists are not interested in this plant.  It seems to adapt well to captivity and those plants that I have seen were big and bushy.  Unfortunately the fact that the flowers are very small in comparison to the plant that produces than and that they are an unremarkable green color militates against this plant becoming a popular horticultural subject.

I have never cultivated this plant so I can’t give any tips on its culture in captivity.  In the wild it seems to prefer places that get plenty of rain during the wet season and are not severely affected by drought in the dry season.  The largest and healthiest plants I have ever seen were in Maricao in an area where there were many of the bromeliads known as “water tank” bromeliads growing in the ground.  The water stores of these ground dwelling bromeliads help to maintain a high level of environmental humidity around them even when there has been no rain for a while.

There have been some confusion over the years about the proper name of this plant.  I think this quote from Dr. Ackermann book on the orchids of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands can be very illuminating in this respect.  From Ackermann’s book, “ Garay and Sweet (1974) and Liogier and Martorell (1982) listed this species as 
Epidendrum secundum, but this is a misapplication of the name caused by confusion over typification.  Subsequently the problem has been resolved: the Committee for Spermathophyta of the I.A.P.T.  declared that Jacquin names should be typified by Jacquin specimens (Brummitt, 1978; see also Dressler and Williams, 1975, 1982; Hagsater 1993.”   In  October 2009 Kew Gardens in England released a name list that sunk Epidendrum galleotianum into the Epi. anceps name.

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