Saturday, December 17, 2011

Porroglossum amethystinum a tiny and yet very weird orchid from Ecuador

When I first saw this little orchid I was totally stumped as to what orchid genus it could belong.  My ignorance can be excused on the basis that I had never previously seen an orchid of the genus Porroglossum.  These orchids are known for the particularity that they have a sensitive lip that retracts into the flower when touched.  The movement is triggered by an insect which is forced the lip’s action into contact with the plant pollinia.  There are a few specialists orchid growers in the United States that keep Porroglossum species but I have never seen this one before.  The flowers are lovely but small, the inflorescence is quite long in comparison with the flower size.  Because of the many other orchids with larger flowers in the Cabañas Armonia site I almost missed this one.   I saw this plant in the town of Mindo Ecuador.

Encyclia aspera in Mindo, Ecuador

I found this Encyclia aspera plant growing in a garden in Mindo, Ecuador.  The flowers were in poor condition probably due to insect attack.  The plant was in a shady spot which probably accounts for the few flowered inflorescence as Encyclia are generally plants that need from bright light to full sun to do their best.   This plant was rescued from an area where the vegetation was cut down to make way for a road.  I must confess that as an orchidist it was a peculiar experience to walk the trails in the Mindo area and see hundreds of orchids of every imaginable description in the decaying branches that lay on the sides of the trails.  I am sure that I would have been able to gather, just from the stuff lying on the ground, a collection of plants to rival that of a botanical garden in variety and sheer size.    You might think I would have been tempted to gather a few of the choosiest varieties to take home but I knew better.  Probably none of the plants would survive for long away from their native temperature and humidity regime in the Andes Mountains.
Many years ago an elderly friend of mine brought from Peru a Sobralia orchid.   How he managed to pass through customs with that plant is mystery to me to this day as it was not a tiny thing.   Well, things were different back then, and I am taking about a time decades before the terrorist attacks in New York made the airport inspectors adamant about groping everyone and their grandma.  The moral I guess is that never underestimate an orchid grower hell bent on bringing an orchid home.  My friend was as excited as a hen with a newly laid egg with his Sobralia plant.  He waxed lyrical about the huge, brightly colored flowers of the orchid.   He diligently showered tender and loving care on the orchid but it was all in vain.  Shortly after arrival the plant leaves turned black, fell and then the rest of the plant became something similar but not quite exactly like, a pile of mush.  Since then I have seen this chain of events replayed with a variety of orchids, all of them cooler growing plants brought on impulse by people dazzled by the beautiful or unusual flowers.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Brassolaeliocattleya Glenn Maidment 'Aranbeen' a lovely semi alba Cattleya

 I brought this plant in 2005 from H&R Orchids in Hawaii.   This plant has been a joy to have around.  It blooms faithfully and has not been sick one day of the six years it has been with me.  The quality of the flowers in consistently good although I must confess that if the flowers are a bit undersized or of a lesser than top quality it is entirely my fault and it is probably due to me slipping on its care.  The plant has performed best when grown in bright light although I have never grown it in light as strong as the one Lc. Drumbeat ‘Heritage’.  This plant has thrived with the same care I give all my other Cattleyas.  I give them as bright light as they can tolerate short of sunburn and I fertilize it only when it is growing at the strength that is recommended on the label of the fertilizer.  I potted it in a wire basket in which it has been growing with no problem for the last six years.  My only complaint is that is has never produced a side shoot that would allow me to divide it into two plants.

Laeliocattleya Drumbeat 'Heritage' HCC/AOS a stunning 'classical Cattleya'

A particularly nice blooming with three large, very symetrical flowers.

 When most people talk about orchids, the one that is in their mind’s eye is the classical large lavender hybrid Cattleya.  This image is so culturally ingrained that even people that have only the slightest knowledge about orchids will instantly recognize the type.   Even in the orchid world, where people will often ignore large flowered hybrids to fuss a coo around a rare tiny flowered species,  Cattleya still hold their ground as a sort of cultural compass . “ Grow it like a Cattleya” is an advice that is so common as to be in the same level as “tastes like chicken”.
Back in the nineties my collection of orchids was composed mostly of species (as it still is) and I had only a few small flowered Cattleya species .  I started looking for a large flowered Cattleya because I wanted the kind of orchid that my mother, who was not particularly interested in “botanical” orchids (the smaller and weirder types which “only a botanist would love”), would enjoy.  After doing some research on lavender Cattleya I decided that the one that seemed the best option was Lc. Drumbeat ‘Heritage’.  This plant has large flowers with an excellent shape and I was sure it would grow well under my climatic conditions.  To me Lc. Drumbeat ‘Heritage’ embodies the best characteristics that people associate with a classical lavender Cattleya.
I brought it from Housermann’s Orchids as a relatively large plant as I didn’t want to wait years for it to bloom.   Having learned, from bitter experience, that potting Cattleya in bark in plastic pots was a recipe for disaster under my local conditions, I potted it in a wire basket I made myself.  The basket was filled with stones and a few of the the hardest pieces of wood I could find.  The key feature of this arrangement was that the plant’s roots would have a very well aireated mix that would drain quickly and would not have, even under the wettest conditions imaginable, pockets where the air would not reach.  This is an important item as Cattleya roots need to breathe and decay quickly under anaerobic conditions.
The orchid grew vigorously right from the start and bloomed very well.  Since then it has bloomed every year for the last thirteen years, an impressive record considering that it has had its up and downs.  Since the leaves can grow quite large, this is not a plant for growers with limited space.  I fertilize this plant only when it is producing new growths, the rest of the year it gets plain water.  It is very important to fertilize appropriately when this plant is growing, the quality of the flowers is mightily influenced by the size of the mature pseudobulb.
But getting a good display of flowers from this plant is a bit tricky as you have to find the right combination of sun, watering and fertilizing that will bring out the best results under your own conditions.  My plant produces the largest flowers when it is under strong light with a fair bit of direct sunlight in the morning.   I have my plant in a spot where it gets the strongest light it can tolerate short of getting sunburned.  This has the unfortunate result that the leaves look yellowish and might have a spot of sunburn of two.  But the resultant flowers are so impressive that few people look at the leaves.
The best combination of size, color and presentation occurs when the plant is under conditions where it produces three flowers.  My plant generally produces three flowers on each new pseudobulb but it has also occasionally produced two and four at a time.  When it produces two flowers at time they are typically of an enormous size, quite a bit larger than normal, but presentation suffers as the flowers tend to be crowded and particularly the very large size of the petals means the flower are pressed closely together and don’t look their best.  Perhaps if I would take the time to gently and carefully separate the blooms so that they are far enough apart so that they can unfold fully without bumping into each other the flowers would much look better.  When it has produced four flowers the flowers are undersized and the fourth flower, at the tip of the inflorescence is much smaller than the others and sometimes misshapen and oddly colored.  The first time this happened I was dismayed and feared that the plant had become virused.  But when the plant bloomed again the next year the flowers were totally normal.
When this plant starts its growing season, I give it a high nitrogen fertilizer diluted according to the instructions on the label.  I pay close attention to the new growth as it is most vulnerable to damage when it is still young.  I water the plant every two to five days when it is in full growth depending on how dry the mix is, because my plants are outside and get drenched every time it rains (which can be every afternoon at the height of summer) sometimes I don’t need to give them supplemental watering for months. 
The most critical time, in my view, is when this orchid is developing its roots.  Root loss has been my bane when dealing with Cattleya, they tolerate wetness, drought and sundry pests, but if they lose their roots bringing them back is an uphill battle and the plant health deteriorates significantly.  So when the roots are developing I am extremely vigilant in regard to snails and slugs and will use, with the proper precautions, the various ways that are in the market to send slugs and snails to the great and happy lettuce leaf in the sky.
Another thing to watch for is the various insects that attack the leaves.  White flies can be persistent but they are very easy to control.  I keep a small spray bottle of rubbing alcohol and whenever I spot a some white flies trying to establish a colony a few spritzes take care of the situation in seconds.  Scale insects are more devious and harder to control, the key here is to eradicate them when they are few in number.  I carefully rub them off the plant taking care not to damage the leaf.  A bit of rubbing alcohol helps finish the deed.  Every month I take some time to check over the plants.  This is a practice that will go far in keeping your plants pest free, or as pest free as you can get if you grow them outside like I do.
I can’t give repotting advice on this plant for the simple reason that I have never repotted it.  It is still growing in the same basket where I planted it sixteen years ago.  It has gone across it and around it several times.  The original organic material in the mix decayed completely many years ago.  The plant is now growing in a mass that is composed of the remains of old roots and the rocks, which are still there but totally covered with mosses and old and new roots.
This orchid has been meristemmed and seedlings are available in many places, at times at surprisingly affordable prices.  One thing about this plant that is seldom commented upon is its fragrance.  It is the typical sweet Cattleya fragrance and I really enjoy it.  I have the impression that the flowers are particularly fragrant in the middle to late morning.  If you are looking for a lavender Cattleya and have ample space available, Lc. Drumbeat is one of the best alternatives. 

In the photos below, first photo:  A two flowered inflorescence, note the particularly large size of the petals, second photo;  A three flowered inflorescence with narrow petals.   Third photo; A four flowered inflorescence (see text) showing the somewhat oddly shaped flower with streaks of color reminiscent of virus symptoms.

Xylobium leontoglossum a rarely seen orchid growing in the Quito Botanical Gardens

One of the pleasures of traveling is finding things that are that surprise and delight with their mystery.  I had one of these experiences with this orchid.  This plant is the first Xylobium that I had ever seen.  When I saw this plant I was stumped as to what genera it could belong to, something that doesn’t often happens to me.  After checking a few books I concluded that it was probably a Xylobium.  I posted a photo in the Orchid Source Forum and in a short time one of the members had identified it as Xylobium leonthoglossum.  This plant was growing as a terrestrial on a bed on the orchid house of the Quito Botanical Gardens, Ecuador.  The flowers are relatively small, I didn’t measure them exactly, but because they are presented in a group, they are quite eye catching with their soft pink color.  These plants are sometimes kept by specialist growers but they are rare in cultivation.  In fact I have never seen one exhibited in Puerto Rico.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ada pozoi in the Quito Botanical Gardens

This orchid was photographed on the Quito Botanical Gardens, Ecuador.  So far as I know this genus is not cultivated in Puerto Rico.  The reason is probably the temperature requirements of the plants which need night temperatures in the middle forties to do well.  These temperatures are only seen in Puerto Rico for brief periods, at the highest elevations in the very “depths” of our winter.  The only place I saw this plant in Ecuador was in the Botanical Gardens.

An Oncidium species from the heteranthum group, maybe orthotis

I found this peculiar orchid in a fallen branch by the roadside on the area of Mindo, Ecuador.  In the heteranthum group of Oncidium the inflorescences usually have many aborted flowers, in some species only the flower at the very tip of the inflorescence develops normally.  In the case of this orchid, the plant producing the inflorescence was quite small and the inflorescence had only a single fully developed flower.    I have not seen these plants in cultivation locally.  I have tried to find the identity of this plant but so far have not found a clear match.  The flowers are reminiscent of the flowers of Oncidium orthotis, a member of the heteranthum group.  Unfortunately the illustrations I have seen are not good enough for a definite determination of the identity of this orchid.

An Oncidium species from the heteranthum group, maybe orthotis

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A large flowered red Maxillaria species from the Quito Botanical Gardens, somewhat reminicent of nigrescens

I found this orchid growing among the rocks in the display area of the Quito Botanical Gardens, Ecuador.  The plant was growing at ground level and I would have missed it entirely if I had not looked between the boulders.  It is a relatively small plant and it was overshadowed by the much larger plants that covered most of the display area.  The flowers are brightly colored and reminiscent of Maxillaria nigrescens, although the flower in this photo is not exactly alike the plant in the book “Orchid Species of Peru”.   But in orchids it is not advisable to make a definite identification of a plant just because of the color of its flowers.  

A white Maxillaria especies from the Quito Botanical Gardens

This large flowered Maxillaria has white flowers with a yellow lip.   The plant is growing at the side of the trail that is inside the orchid house.   It is a huge specimen several feet wide.  The flowers are quite showy but since the plant is planted at ground level you have to get on hands and knees to really appreciate their beauty.  Once you are level with the plant it becomes apparent that there are a number of flowers that are hidden among the leaves of the plant.  This orchid is among the most beautiful Maxillaria I have seen but the sheer size of the plant doesn’t recommend it much to greenhouse or windowsill growers.  Most of the flowers were pure white but there was a single one that had a red tint on the sepals.  It looked pretty much identical to the white ones except for the touch of color.   

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lockhartia species, seen in Mindo, Ecuador.

A Lockhartia flower

There are about thirty species of Lockhartia.  They are found in Central America, the Caribbean and in South America.  I found this one on a fallen tree in Mindo, Ecuador.  The plant seemed to be no worse for the wear for being in an exposed in a roadside.  The branch where it was growing was in poor condition, which is probably the reason why it fell from the tree.  This beautiful plant is an interesting subject for cultivation but it is almost sure this particular plant, which comes from a high altitude in the Andes, would do poorly in the average orchid collection.  But there are other Lockhartia species that hail from lowers altitudes that are more forgiving of high temperatures and low humidity.  I have seen Lockhartia species growing happily in collections in Puerto Rico.  These plants have been in areas of PR where the local climate provides the high humidity but I have seen plant in collections where the orchid grower supplies the watering and humidity that are lacking locally.

Cyrtochilum murinum growing in a tree in the Quito Botanical Garden, Ecuador

A newly opened flower to the right and a mature one to the left

I saw this orchid in the botanical garden of the city of Quito, Ecuador.  This orchid was growing as an epiphyte on a large tree.  The plant was growing at a height of about ten feet in the trunk of the tree.  The inflorescence was five or six feet long and reached down just enough to allow me to photograph the flowers near the tip.  In the Quito area temperatures vary between 45 F at night to 75 during the day.  There are no seasons and this temperature regime stays the same year round.  In the photo, in the right side, you can see a flower that has just opened.  This flower shows very well the color and shape of the floral parts.  In the mature flower the floral segments are strongly reflexed toward the back as can be seen in the flower on the left side of the photo.

Sigmatostalix picta, small epiphyte from Ecuador

Close up of a single flower, note the strongly reflexed sepals and petals

Sigmatostalix picta
I found this little plant in many places along the trails in the Mindo area in Ecuador.  Most of the plants I saw were in branches that had fallen recently during a storm that had very strong winds.  The flowers are brightly colored.  The floral parts are strongly reflexed so that the most notable thing at first sight is the colorful lip.  The plant was also seen grown on the trunk of trees by the roadside and on a citrus tree that was growing over a small creek.  The common feature of the areas where I saw this orchid is the high humidity.  The local temperature never varies from a regime of 45F nights and 75 F days.  The plant themselves are nice looking as those that were in places where they got very bright light had a reddish coloring in their pseudobulbs.  

The orchid growing in situ

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Amatitlania siquia, se reproducen. Es claro que no son Honduran Red points

La hembra (azul) enfrenta al macho con una actitud agresiva

El macho responde a la agresión dirigiendo fuertes aletazos en dirección de la cabeza de la hembra
La hembra atendió con gran dedicación la nidada de huevos

Se pueden ver alguno huevos que han desarrollado hongo  (son las esferas blancas)
 eventualmente la hembra los remueve de la nidada

La hembra siempre estaba muy alerta a mis movimientos mientras tomaba las fotos.  En ocasiones se colocaba sobre los huevos lo que arruinaba la oportunidad de fotografiarlos.

Cuando los huevos comenzaron a eclosionar la hembra removió los alevines
 y los deposito en pequeñas pilas en el fondo de la cavidad.

La hembra evito de todas las formas que pudo imaginar el que yo fotografiara los alevines.  Ni la mas fuerte intimidacion la alejo de los alevines por mas de unos pocos segundos.  Por lo tanto tuve que esperar que estuviera dormida para tomar esta foto.  La foto la tome en la noche.

Los Amatitlania llegaron a la madurez sexual como cinco meses después de haberlos recibido.  La hembra y el macho empezaron el cortejo de la forma usual en cíclidos neotropicales.  Me percate del inicio de la actividad sexual porque el pez más grande y el segundo pez más grande comenzaron a “besarse”.   Estos “besos” en realidad son una forma de forcejeo en el cual los peces se muerden mutuamente por la boca y empujan y halan con vigor para así constatar la fuerza y motivación del otro.  No es en esencia distinto de lo que se ve hoy día en los “pub” que patrocina la gente joven.  Después de un par de días de continuo pavoneo por parte de la pareja, súbitamente desaparecieron de mi vista.  Inicialmente me alarme pensando que podían haber brincado de la pecera, pero cuando examine uno de los troncos del interior de la pecera los encontré a los dos junto con una masa de huevos recién desovada.  El primer día ambos estuvieron junto con los huevos pero al segundo día la hembra expulso al macho de la cavidad.
La hembra ha demostrado un nivel excepcional de atención a los huevos y los alevines.  Esto es típico de los peces del grupo de los cíclidos neotropicales cercanamente emparentados con el cíclido antiguamente conocido como Cichlasoma nigrofasciatum.  Fotografiar los huevos y los alevines fue un verdadero reto debido al pronunciado instinto de protección de la hembra.