Saturday, August 31, 2013

Caminando por Isla de Mona en pantalones cortos, circa 1984 con la asociación de estudiantes de biología del recinto universitario de Mayaguez

Los pantalones y el calzado, "do not try this at Mona"
Foto usada con permiso de Gerardo Camilo

Hace unos días un amigo comentó sobre unas fotos que tome en Isla de Mona allá para la década de los ochenta y que están en uno de mis álbumes de Facebook.   En la foto, que está arriba, aparezco en la colonia de bobas de patas rojas (Sula sula)  que se encuentra en la cara norte de la Isla de Mona.   Un detalle particular de esta foto es que estoy en pantalones cortos y tenis.   En la siguiente historia explico cómo fue que esto llego a ocurrir.
Como saben los que han visitado Isla de Mona, la vegetación de la isla se distingue por la abundancia de plantas espinosas y venenosas.  No debemos dejar de contar las que aun no siendo ni venenosas ni espinosas, tienen unos tallos y ramas leñosos que te laceran la piel si ocurre un leve roce.  Jamás me habían preguntado cómo era posible que alguien hubiera llegado a un lugar tan remoto de Mona, en pantalones cortos, en unos tiempos en que, para los acampadores, no había nada que se asemejara un camino para llegar al lugar. 
En adición a lo hostil de la vegetación, está el detalle de que la superficie misma del camino está compuesta de caliza erosionada por los elementos y que tiene la forma que se conoce como “diente de perro”.  La caliza “diente de perro” es justamente temida entre los caminantes porque  destroza hasta el calzado más resiste y porque es capaz de infligir heridas cortantes a aquellos que tienen la desgracia de tropezar y caer sobre ella.
¿Entonces, como es posible que en varias ocasiones llegáramos, yo no era el único en pantalones cortos, a la colonia de Bobas sin más protección que unos pantalones cortos y unos tenis?
La razón es que la vegetación en el lado de noroeste de la isla (por lo menos en esos tiempos hace décadas que no paso por ahí) era extraordinariamente baja en estatura por una combinación particular de factores.    El primero de los factores es el viento.  El viento en el lado noroeste de mona viene del mar y es constante y en ocasiones fuerte.  Cuando uno camina al lado mismo del farallón, puede ver a las aves marinas acercarse al mismo desde el mar y ser empujadas por el viento hacia arriba cuando el viento choca con la pared del farallón.    En esta parte de la isla la mayor parte de la superficie es roca caliza, el suelo se encuentra aquí y allá en pequeñas y medianas oquedades en la superficie de la roca.  Es en estos “bolsillos” de suelo donde la mayoría de las plantas puede crecer.    A esto se suman temperaturas altas, resequedad y un nivel de exposición solar que retan severamente la fisiología de la mayoría de las plantas.   Finalmente, no debemos olvidar el impacto de las cabras salvajes.  En ese tiempo las cabras salvajes eran mucho, muchísimo más abundantes de lo que son ahora.  Una de
Ay que añadir que aunque la vegetación era de baja estatura, esto no significaba que algunas las plantas fueran pequeñas.   Recuerdo mi sorpresa al descubrir que algunos árboles habían crecido hacia el lado siguiendo el contorno de las irregularidades del terreno para extender sus ramas.  Por lo tanto, lo que a primera vista parecía ser una serie de arbustos en realidad eran las ramas de un mismo árbol.
Los arbustos, algunos bastante substanciales, estaban separados por extensiones de piedra sin vegetación alguna, eso es, si no contamos a los cactus copo de nieve que en algunas partes crecían en gran profusión en los hoyos de la piedra caliza que tenían una mínima cantidad de suelo.   Un observador cuidadoso podía reconocer en la vegetación trillos de cabras que estas mantenían abiertos por virtud de un constante uso. 
Por todos estos factores, una persona segura en sus pies y con buena condición física, podía recorrer varias millas de la isla en el norte usando pantalones cortos y zapatos totalmente inapropiados para cualquier otra parte de la isla.  Si todo fallaba y la vegetación se tornaba impenetrable, siempre se podía recurrir al trillo de cabras que estaba justo al borde del farallón.   Esta singular ruta casi siempre estaba abierta pero la cercanía del borde del farallón podía causar un cierto nerviosismo hasta en el más valiente.   
Sin embargo, caminar por el noroeste de Mona en pantalones cortos no siempre terminaba bien.  En una de estas caminatas mi amigo Fermín termino con tantas laceraciones en sus piernas que hubo que confeccionar unos pantalones largos usando fundas de basura plásticas para protegerlas de la vegetación ya que el dolor de los cortes era casi inaguantable. 

Hace décadas que no visito el lado noroeste de Mona, así que no se si las cosas han cambiado.  Hace poco más de un mes visite el lado Noroeste y encontré a la vegetación más espesa y quizás más alta de lo que la recuerdo en mis primeras visitas a Isla de Mona en el principio de la década de los 80.  Sin embargo gracias a que se han abierto caminos entre puntos clave de la isla,  caminar es mucho más fácil, además de seguro, que en los tiempos de mis primeras visitas.

Pantalones largos, bien, tenis, mala idea!  Vea la caliza "diente de perro"
Otros camaradas en la cofradía de los pantalones cortos
Foto usada con permiso de Gerardo Camilo

Friday, August 30, 2013

Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann 'Jean'




This plant was a gift from a friend.  He gave me a bare root two pseudobulb division.    I received the plant from the USA in January 30.  The date is important because it means that I had to help establish a bare root Bulbophyllum in the low humidity environment of the local dry season.  Potting this plant in a wire basket, as I prefer to do with Bulbophyllum, was out of question as the basket, even if watered daily, would dry much too fast for the needs of a plant trying to grow a new root system.  So I planted the Bulbophyllum in a one inch deep, eight inches wide plastic dish of the kind that is put under pots to hold water.  I filled the dish with sphagnum moss and kept the moss moist all the time.  The plant didn’t show any activity for months, near the end of the dry season it started producing new growths.  The backbulb produced a side branch and the leading bulb produced two growths.

By the time the new pseudobulbs were growing at their fastest pace the rainy season had arrived (by this time it was May) and low humidity was no longer an issue.  The new pseudobulbs were smaller than the original ones, which is understandable considering the orchid produced these growths without the benefit of an established root system.  The new pseudobulbs produced abundant roots when they reached the end of their development.

All the new pseudobulbs pleasantly surprised me by producing inflorescences.  But not all inflorescences were of equal quality.  The new pseudobulb that grew from the older pseudobulb of the original plant was stronger and produced a full sized inflorescence.  The inflorescences from the two smaller pseudobulbs were also small and some of the flowers were aborted.  But I was not disappointed since the flowers from the larger inflorescence were so nice.


This particular Bulbophyllum can grow into a large specimen plant if given good consistent care.  You can find photos of impressively large plants in the internet.  I find this plant easy to grow.   Unfortunately the length of the internodes between pseudobulbs means that this plant will outgrow most pots and baskets in a relatively short time.  From what I have seen in the Internet, the best option for this plant seems to be to grow it mounted.  I plan to eventually move my plant to a tree fern pole.  I use tree fern poles because I planted a Bulbophyllum lepidum on one and the plant thrived for many years.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Papiliochromis ramirezi, espectacular y retante




Siempre me han gustado los Papilionanthe ramirezi, creo que combinan en un paquete pequeño muchas de las virtudes que hacen populares a los cíclidos.    En adición, no muestran algunos de los terribles defectos que hacen que mantener ciertos cíclidos sea un verdadero reto.   Mi experiencia con estos peces ha sido variada.  Los que más tiempo duraron en mi pecera vivieron casi un año.  Los que menos tiempo me duraron apenas sobrevivieron algunas semanas.  Comparen esto con el hecho de que un Hemichromis lifalili (pez joya) ya tiene cuatro años en mi posesión y esta tan gordo y feliz como siempre. Un grupo de Amatatilia siquia(convicto) está próximo a cumplir los tres.    Aparentemente los ramirezi no son particularmente longevos, se dice que su largo de vida es aproximadamente dos años¹.  Compartiré con ustedes mi mejor experiencia con estos peces con la esperanza que les sea útil en mantener en buena condición a estos hermosos y peculiares pececillos.
Tuve estos peces para 1995 cuando vivía en el pueblo de Mayagüez.  Los que conocen el lugar saben lo caluroso que puede ser, el agua de la pecera se mantenía cerca de los 85F (29C) sin necesidad de calefacción alguna.  La pecera era de treinta galones (66 litros)y media 36 pulgadas de largo (1.02 metros). El agua era suave con un pH entre 6.5.  La pecera no tenía un filtro, solo una bomba de agua pequeña que creaba una corriente suave a lo largo de la misma.
Ustedes se preguntaran, ¿Porque la pecera no tenía filtro?  Hay dos razones para la ausencia del filtro, la primera era que la pecera estaba literalmente llena de plantas, principalmente de Java moss.  La segunda era que la densidad de peces era bajísima, solo cuatro ramirezi y cinco tetras neon.   La baja densidad de peces permitía que las plantas pudieran absorber los desechos de los peces y que la calidad del agua se mantuviera buena.  Las plantas obtenían su luz de una ventana cercana.   Además de las plantas en la pecera había dos pedazos de madera que tenían espacios bajo ellos en que los peces se podían refugiar si se sentían amenazados.  La pecera llevaba meses establecida cuando los ramirezi fueron introducidos a ella. 
Cuando fueron liberados los ramirezi desaparecieron en la vegetación y por un par de días no volví a verlos.  Luego de este periodo de timidez inicial los peces se acostumbraron a mi presencia y, por lo menos los grandes, no se escondían cuando me acercaba a la pecera.  Los alimentaba con comida viva, mosquitos, Chironomus (bloodworms) y comida seca.   Para que los ramirezi pudieran comer primero había que saciar a los neones, los que demostraban una feroz voracidad cuando se trataba de comida viva.   Siendo peces pequeños la cantidad de comida que consumían era relativamente modesta.   Durante el día los podía observar explorando la gravilla y los recovecos de la pecera en busca de comida.   
La pecera tenía en el mismo medio una pequeña área sin vegetación que proveía un espacio donde los peces podían nadar sin obstáculos.   Los dos ramirezi más grandes tomaron como territorios los lados opuestos de la pecera y se encontraban en este punto para intimidarse mutuamente.  Era en estos momentos en que hacían sus demostraciones territoriales que los ramirezi mostraban sus colores más brillantes.   Luego de unos momentos de confrontación, ambos peces se separaban sin que hubiera ocurrido violencia.  A los dos ramirezi pequeños a los veía con menos frecuencia que a los grandes.
Aun cuando los peces se encontraban en excelente condición y la pecera poseía las características que los libros recomiendan para la especie, nunca los observe intentar reproducirse.    Es posible que todos hayan sido machos ya que nunca vi que alguno desarrollara la barriga rosa que es característica de las hembras de esta especie.  Otra posibilidad es que el pH del agua no haya sido el apropiado.  Aunque el agua tenía un pH de 6.5  inicialmente, les confieso que a lo largo del tiempo deje de prestar atención a este parámetro, por lo que es posible que haya cambiado durante su estadía en la pecera para hacerse más neutral.     Las fotos que acompañan este escrito son de una pecera de Kennth Orth, quien amablemente me permitió fotografiar sus peces.


¹Schliewesen, Ulrich.  1992.  Aquarium fish.  Barron’s Educational Series


Sunday, August 25, 2013

La boba prieta, Sula leucogaster, y la escalera del Terror


Durante la década de los años ochenta estuve visitando la isla de Mona todos los años a fines de mayo y principios de julio con el grupo estudiantil conocido como la asociación de estudiantes de biología del recinto universitario de Mayagüez de la universidad de Puerto Rico.    En uno de esos viajes para principio de los 80 visite la cueva del Lirio.  Justo debajo de una de las ventanas que miran a la costa de Mona, específicamente una desde las que se puede ver la playa de Pájaros, observe que habían unas bobas prietas anidando a cierta distancia debajo de la boca de la cueva (Sula leucogaster).   Las bobas estaban anidando directamente sobre la piedra caliza.  La piedra caliza sobre la que las bobas anidaban es una forma particular causada por erosión por la lluvia y los elementos y está cubierta de hoyos y filos.  Este tipo de caliza de llama “diente de perro” y es justamente temida por su capacidad de lacerar y herir a los que caen sobre ella.  Este tipo de caliza es notorio porque destroza lentamente (y a veces de forma no tan lenta) a todos el calzado que se usa para caminar sobre ella.

Las bobas que vi anidando eran de las primeras que había visto en tierra y me domino el deseo de acercarme a ellas.  Pero no parecía haber forma de bajar de la cueva hasta donde estaban las bobas, que era en una ladera en la cara del farallón.   Uno de mis compañeros me indico que justo debajo de la ventana que daba al mar, había una grieta en la que estaba encajada una viga que se podía usar para bajar a donde estaban las bobas.  La viga tenía unos pedazos de madera clavados a lo largo que formaban una primitiva escalera.  Sin pensarlo dos veces baje por la viga, que tengo que decir, no era exactamente una pieza de madera nueva.  Actualmente la idea de usar una cosa así para bajar unos ocho o diez pies verticales a una ladera rocosa con la consistencia de un enorme guayo,  me llenaría de espanto.  Pero en esos tiempos pesaba 130 libras, tenía la agilidad de un mono y una confianza sin límites en mi capacidad de lidiar con el peligro.

Esta foto fue tomada antes de que encallara el Alborada en Playa de Pajaros
Las bobas reaccionaron a mi llegada con cierto disgusto pero ninguna abandono su nido.   Pude notar que la ladera rocosa era virtualmente inaccesible desde el tope del farallón o la playa.  Me imagino que por eso las bobas la escogieron para anidar.  Para mi sorpresa también vi una iguana de Mona juvenil bastante pequeña, en esos tiempos ver iguanas juveniles no era algo común y corriente.    Le tome fotos a dos de las bobas. Ambas estaba protegiendo a su polluelos del intenso sol.  Siempre me he reprochado que no le tome una foto a la escalera.  Pero quizás fue lo mejor, si mis padres la hubieran visto les habría causado una apoplejía.  Me pregunto si alguno de ustedes, los que leen estas líneas, también recuerdan esa escalera en la cueva del Lirio.  



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gaeotis una semi lapa endemica de Puerto Rico



Personalmente siempre he asociado a los Gaeotis con los grandes bosques de palmeras Prestonea montana que dominan el dosel a ciertas altitudes de la sierra de Luquillo.   Es en los bosques de la Sierra de Luquillo donde he visto estos animales en su mayor abundancia y tamaño.   De vez en cuando me he encontrado uno de ellos en la cordillera central de la isla, pero nunca en la abundancia que lo he visto en las cercanías de El Yunque.  En Rio Abajo los asocio a áreas pantanosas y a la noche.  Por esta razón me sorprendió encontrar un Gaeotis en una de las canas de bambú que crecen en el aviario de Rio Abajo a plena luz del dia.  Es el caracol Gaeotis nigrolineata, digo a menos que le hayan cambiado el nombre de la especie  o hayan descrito otras especies recientemente.  Veo que hay algunas personas que la llaman Gae. flavolineata, pero no he podido encontrar la razón del cambio de nombre.  El área del aviario tiene periodos en que la lluvia satura el terreno y hay charcos por doquier, pero también hay meses en que deja de llover por varias semanas al punto que aparecen profundas grietas en el suelo.  Me imagino que la aparición de la Gaeotis fue causada porque el 21 de agosto de 2013 el aviario experimento 4.80 pulgadas de lluvia, casi toda en unas pocas horas entre el medio dia y las 6 pm.  Esta importante cantidad de precipitación causo la saturación del terreno y la aparición de niebla.   Aparentemente, por algunos días, el bosque de Rio Abajo ofreció las condiciones ambientales favorables como para que los Gaeotis estuvieran más visibles de lo usual.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Neobenthamia gracilis "Arps Snowball"





This unusual looking orchid comes from Africa.  Specifically from the Nguru and Uluguru mountain ranges in Tanzania¹.   I got my plant from the United States, not from a business but from a friend.   I planted this orchid in medium sized bark.  At first sight a group of canes of this orchid looks like a patch grassy growths, not the type of plant form most of us associate with orchids.  The plant started growing well but not particularly fast.  To my puzzlement the plant didn’t develop long canes right away, it spent a few years producing a number of relatively short canes before it produced some that were adult sized.   In this case adult sized means between three and six feet long (90 to 180 cm). 
Because I was unsatisfied by the plant relatively slow growth, I added a top dressing of manure to the pot.  The result was not what I expected.  Rather than producing longer canes, the plant produced several short ones and became an untidy mat of growths.  Happily it did eventually got around to producing large growths, one of them bloomed in August 2013.
My plant is growing in a six inch pot and frankly looks ridiculously underpotted.  The canes are floppy and are growing drapped over some other orchids and the houseplants that are around it.  Some canes hang more than a foot under the shelf that is holding the pot. 
This particular plant comes from a keiki of an awarded clone, Arps Snowball CHM.  This plant can be seen in Ed Merkle’s web site.  Ed’s orchid photography is truly outstanding, I recommend looking through his galleries.   Occasionally you can see plants of this species in local collections.

¹La Croix, I. F.  2008. The new encyclopedia of orchids: 1500 species in cultivation


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ionopsis utricularioides (Swartz) Lindley


This plant fell from a citrus tree, it was put in the branches of a guava tree.



This plant was attached to this branch of the same tree where it was originally growing after it fell from the canopy.

This orchid is found in North America, South America and the West Indies.  It is common in those parts of Puerto Rico where it’s climatic and moisture needs are met.  This means that it can be found in many places in the northern part of Puerto Rico where it is moister and that it is much rarer in the drier southern areas¹.  In my experience I have always found this plant in places where moisture is consistently high such as near the sea shore and in the proximity of watercourses and swampy areas.  I have seen it in the area of Manati, Arecibo, Utuado and Morovis.   The plants have been growing in Guava, Crescentia, Randia, and in assorted citric trees. 

When I take a walk thorough places were this orchid is abundant, I can almost always count on finding one or two plants that have fallen from the canopy.   It is not rare to see plants hanging by its roots from a dead twig.    I used to take home these fallen plants to see them bloom and to try to grow them.  Keeping these plants proved to be an exceedingly frustrating experience.  All the plants I collected eventually died.  The way they died was in every case the same, the plants would bloom, sometime after that, the leaves would start showing signs of yellowing or rot, defoliation and death would follow.  The plants I normally find in the ground, except for one case, have been small.

After a few plants had departed to the great tree fern plaque in the sky I gave up on keeping them with my orchids and started putting them in twigs of the guava trees that grow wild around my house.   None of the small plants I found ever grew large enough to produce the impressive inflorescences that large specimens of this plant are capable of producing in the wild.  The typical inflorescence was relatively small, had one or two branches and was comparatively few flowered.  In only one case in my experience a plant lived a few years, but this was probably because the circumstances of that particular plant and the things I did to try to keep it alive.

One day, after an especially nasty thunderstorm that also brought some uncommonly strong winds for the area, I found a large plant of this species in the ground under a guava tree.  The canopy of this tree was about sixteen feet tall and hosted a number of large plants of this species of orchid.  The twig where the orchid was growing had snapped during the storm.  I carefully tied the plant to a lower branch of the same tree, trying to approximate the way it was growing when still on the tree branch. In time the plant sent roots into the branch and seemed no worse from the wear.

When the plant bloomed it produced a large inflorescence. The inflorescence it produced was not as large in size as that of the plants growing near the canopy.  Because I had read (sadly I can’t recall where) that if the plant was allowed to set seed this hastened its demise, I ruthlessly pinched off any flower that seemed to have been fertilized.  The plant survived a second year and I then produced a smaller inflorescence than its first one.   I also cut all possible developing seed pods out that year.  The plant survived a third year.  I was not paying close attention to the plant and several seed pods were produced.   The plant died that year. 

In the years between 2005 and 2007, this plant was plentiful where I live and large plants could be seen blooming magnificently on the tops of guava trees.  But after 2007 this orchid decreased greatly in abundance, to the point that right now no large plant can be found anywhere on the guava trees around the house.  Even small became scarce.   A few days ago I found a small plant in an orange tree.  This is the first one I had seen in more than two years.    The guava trees that hosted the plants back in 2005 are now completely free of them. 
It is common to see this plant in local orchid collections.  Some people mount them in tree fern along with the twig in which they are attached.   I read in an old American Orchid Society Bulletin, that some growers have been able to keep this plant alive for years, even in the absence of a living host for the plant.  Locally I don’t know if anyone has been able to maintain these plants alive for an extended period of time.   I have seen photos in the Internet of specimen plants with several huge inflorescences, the most likely explanation for these specimens is that they are wild collected plants potted together.

¹ Ackerman, James D.  1995.  An orchid flora of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Stanhopea panamensis N.H. Williams & Whitten 1988,






I got this Stanhopea orchid many years ago as a two bulb division, it was a gift from a friend.  I planted it in a basket filled with small pieces of coconut husk.  I watered and fertilized it weekly.  Under the climatic conditions in Aguadilla the plant grew slowly.   Originally this plant was in a garden of my mother’s house, which is in Aguadilla, in the northern coast of Puerto Rico and about a mile from the Atlantic Ocean.  This part of Puerto Rico is characterized by often windy conditions as well as warm to hot weather.  In these environmental conditions the plant didn’t do too well, probably because I was watering it less than it needs in this warm climate.
When I moved to Arecibo, to a location about 1,000 feet above the sea, the plant started doing much better.  To me the main reason is that in this location it rains more than in Aguadilla, but maybe it helps that the new location is cooler.  During spring, summer and fall the media in which this orchid is growing stays moist just from the water it gets from rain. During some particularly rainy periods it remains wet for weeks or even months.   Sometimes it rains so much that the media becomes absolutely waterlogged. I these very rainy times, here and there, patches of white cottony fungus appear in the media.  However the plant doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fungus.  The fungus dies off when drier weather returns.  The climatic conditions in this part of Arecibo are more moderate than in Aguadilla and it hardly gets as hot.  Only for a few months in the summer the temperatures in my location in Arecibo become hot during the day.
In Arecibo, this orchid grew into a large and heavy plant, but it would not bloom.  The plant was moved to a sunnier spot than it had been growing and it eventually bloomed.   I thought I had found the perfect spot for this plant among my pendent Dendrobium, but this conclusion was produced by the fact that I moved the Stanhopea with them in the spring.  Because of the movement of the sun along the horizon during the seasons, the Dendrobium shadehouse is sheltered from exposure to full sunlight for most of the day during spring and summer.  But in fall and winter, the shadehouse receives full sunlight for many hours.  This is ideal for the pendent Dendrobium but the Stanhopea could not cope with so many hours of direct sun.  As a result of the increased exposure to sunlight the Stanhopea lost all its leaves,  happily the pseudobulbs were not harmed and the plant recovered quickly.   I had to experiment a bit to find the right place for this plant, one where it would bloom well but not get its leaves sunburned.   Presently my plant is in a place where it gets unfiltered sunlight until 10 am and dappled sunlight for the rest of the day.
In my garden this plant blooms in the summer, however it has also produced inflorescences at other times of the year, even in December, at the start of winter.  For some reason, every year it aborts one or two inflorescences when they are about half developed, it is not clear why that happens as it usually has other inflorescences at the same time that develop normally.    The inflorescences take six or seven weeks from the time I find them poking out of the media to the time the flowers open.   The inflorescences my plant produced carry from four to seven flowers.  The flowers last around three days.  The fragrance is reminiscent of chocolate.  My plant cannot be classified as a prolific bloomer.
The media in which this plant was originally planted decayed a long time ago.  The plant now has a root ball that grips the remains of the bark that I used the last time I refreshed the media.  Any kind of repotting is out of question as Tthe roots grow in all directions, sometimes even upwards, any attempt to remove it from the basket to change the media would result in severe root damage.  The plant produces new growths along the edges of older pseudobulbs, which are on top of the basket.   But in early in 2013, a new growth popped out from the side of the basket, about two inches under the top of the media.  This new growth has been developing normally, and even produced an inflorescence in spite of being smaller that the full grown bulbs on top of the basket.
This orchid is doesn’t need much attention with two exceptions.  One is that it resents underwatering, the other is that the basket where it is growing is a veritable weed magnet.  In the rainy season I have to weed the basket to prevent the weed growth from becoming too heavy.  Among the most persistent weeds are the ferns and begonias.

In Puerto Rico Stanhopeas have never been particularly common orchids in local collections.  Having said that I can attest that particularly knowledgeable growers have been growing them for many years.  I saw my first Stanhopea plant at an open house of the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Mayaguez about thirty four years ago.  The plant was the property of Dr. Rivero.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A hideous little pest of Bletia patula and other local orchids


The damage to the florar parts of Bletia patula flower betrays
 the handywork of a curculionid bettle that attacks the flowers of orchids.


Checking the flower shows that the bettle is hidden behind 
the lip of the flower, sometimes you find two bettles together.


If the bettle feels the flower is being handled, it tries to hide deeper between
 the lip and the petals.  If it is further annoyed it comes out of hiding and tries to flee.


If the bettle comes out of hiding, its usual strategy is to run to
 the end of a floral part and from there fall to the ground.

This particular flower bettle damages the flowers of many kinds of orchids in my garden.  Its local abundance varies seasonaly.  At certain times of the year I can find from one to five chewing in my flowers.  I think this might have to do with the peak of flower production by local plants, but this is just a guess.  Rather than use insecticide on them, I exploit their fleeing response by putting a cup with alcohol or dishwashing liquid under the flower and shaking the flower gently.  The usual result is that the bettle takes a dive into the liquid and then goes to the great orchid flower in the sky.  Thankfully for most of the year they are not present on the garden,    
These bettles are surprisingly hard for such a small insect.  It is not easy to crush them.   But if you are moved to squash them, they do produce a satisfying crunchy noise when crushed.  I have seen damaging flowers of Bulbophyllum, Cattleya, Dendrobium, Oncidium, Peristeria, Sphatoglottis and Bletia among others.

Dendrobium gone wild! Dendrobium crumenatum in San Sebastian Puerto Rico








Dendrobium crumenatum, known as the pigeon orchid, is ubiquitous in orchid collections in the island of Puerto Rico.   I suspect the two main the reasons it is so common in collections are, one, it can grow well under Puerto Rico’s climatic conditions and two, it is generous producing plantlets along its flowering stems.   Also, it can stand utter neglect and can survive a wide range of light exposures from full sunlight to deep shade.
The flowers of Den. crumenatum last only one day, but this is compensated by the fact that the plant blooms every time there is a strong shower that lowers the temperature 10 degrees Fahrenheit.    The flowers are strongly fragrant and a big plant can have dozens of flowers at the same time.    As a result of this orchid capacity to survive, and even thrive, with minimal or no care, many people simply tie a plant to a tree and essentially forget about it.   If the location is favorable Den. crumenatum can grow into a huge plant with many canes.
In 1984, I visited the garden of Dr. Juan A. Rivero, he had many types of orchids, growing both on trees and in pots.  I noted that there was a seedling Den. crumenatum in the trunk of a tree.  Dr. Rivero told me that the plants would set seed and that some plantlets had appeared spontaneously on the trees.  The next time I saw seedlings growing feral was in January 2012.  In January 2012, I visited the city of San Sebastian to participate in the Festival de la Novilla.   This festival is named because a young cow is adorned with ribbons and paraded through the streets of the city.  Needless to say lots of drinking and merrymaking happens, but I digress. As I was walking along a city street I saw a large plant full of blooms inside a fenced garden.    I stopped to take some photos and then I noticed that in one of the trees that lined the street there were seedlings of this Dendrobium.
The seedlings were growing on the trunk, from a little bit below eye level to high in the branches.  It counted a dozen seedlings on the tree.  Some were close to blooming size and others were only a few inches long.  The tree where the seedlings were growing was about twenty feet away from the site of the specimen plant, which I suspect was the parent.
As I explored the area, I noticed there were a number of orchids on the nearby trees, with the exception of the tree with the seedlings, all were in the gardens and clearly put there by humans.   There was a large plant of Dendrobium cucullatum, a clump of Dendrobium Jacqueline type, a strap leaf Vanda and many Arachnis plants, probably from their look Arach. Maggie Oei.  
Given that the seedlings of Den. crumenatum are becoming established with no human help, and that locals clearly love to see orchids on their trees, I would think it will stand little difficulty colonizing the area.   I checked other trees near the one with seedlings but no other had seedlings on them.  Maybe next year, as I go to the Festival de la Novilla, I will go and see how they are doing.

 If you notice any exotic orchid growing in the wild in Puerto Rico, please contact Prof. Ackerman of the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras.  He is studying invasive orchid species and will appreciate the information.   It is important that the information on the location of the plants be as precise as possible.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A yellow Epidendrum ciliare and an apparently fearsome night visitor


In January, I was in St. Croix and had the opportunity to see the wonderful orchid collection of Edna Hamilton, the President of the St. Croix Orchid society.  There I saw several plants of Epidendrum ciliare.  One of the plants has the peculiarity that its petals and sepals are not green as they are in the typical Epi. ciliare plant.  In this flower, which originated in Vieques, the floral segments are yellow.   At night these flowers are wonderfully fragrant.  It was nighttime when, as I was talking with Edna, I noticed a flash of bright red color moving among the flowers of this orchid.   Initially it appeared like a tarantula wasp was in the flower.  Edna was less than enthused with the insect, and with good reason, tarantula wasps can deliver one of the most painful stings in the insect world, only the bullet ant can deliver worse.  It has been described as "inmediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one's ability do to anything, except perhaps, scream.  Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations," - Justin Schmidt (see Schmidt pain Index).  But as I looked closely at the insect I realized that the "tarantula wasp" was in fact a moth. The mimicry was pretty good but the body proportions of the insect revealed that it was a deception.  The moth moved over the flower for a few moments and then left.




Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Psychilis krugii, a form of the species with no purple color.


Psychilis krugii is an orchid that is endemic of Puerto RIco, it is mostly found in the southwestern part of the island.  In the 2012 PR orchid society show there was an area dedicated to native orchids. Among the various species on display there was this plant of Psychilis krugii with white green flowers.  The flower lacked the characteristic purple red colors that typical Psy, krugii has on the column and the lip.   Typically plants that lack anthocyanins, and therefore are green/white are classified as albas.  But taxonomic rules are explicit, you just describe a plant as "var. alba" if there is just a single plant of the type, as this classification implies that there are a number of plants that share the alba characteristic, not just a single clone.   When I saw this plant I thought it was a very rare mutation, since I had never seen one on the wild, but since then, thanks to facebook, I have seen photos elsewhere of plants that look identical to this one, including a plant "in situ".   I have a botanist friend that is already interested in this orchid so we hopefully we will see a description of it in the future.

Psychilis macconelliae, a comparison between a plant seen in Puerto Rico and those seen in St. Croix.


In the above picture you can see a plant of Psychilis macconnlliae I photographed at an orchid show in Puerto Rico.  I have seen pink colored flowers like this in the island of Culebra, which is to the east of Puerto Rico.  When I visited St. Croix early in 2013, I found the Psychilis macconnelliae differed in color from those in Puerto Rico.  Particularly the sepals and petals had a different color from those that I have seen in Puerto Rico.  


The difference is interesting, however it has to be noted that the plants that usually show up at orchid shows sometimes are not typical representatives of the species. Orchid growers have a clear preference for strickingly colored forms and unusual plants and as a result  of this, the cultivated strains of certain species hardly bear even a passing resemblace to the average plant of the same species in the wild.  Hopefully in the future I will be able to visit Culebra and Vieques and take photos of Psy. macconnelliae in the wild.

Psytonia Caribbean Jewels 'E Orchids Little Ruby' AM/AOS, a rare hybrid of Psychilis macconnelliae and Broughtonia sanguinea


This interesting plant is an hybrid of Psychilis macconnelliae (which was the seed parent) and Broughtonia sanguinea (which was the pollen parent).  It was registered in 2004 by J. R. Fernandez..  We can see that the influence of the Psychilis parent was overwhelming, you would have a hard time guessing which was the other parent from looking at this plant.  The color is highly reminiscent of Psychilis kraenzlinii, however the flower size and shape clearly distinguishes it from that species.  The white spot on the lip makes me suspect that the Puerto Rican plant of macconnelliae was used on this hybrid rather than a plant from St. Croix.  Hybrids with Psychilis are uncommon, in the ones that I have seen, the Psychilis influence is very dominant.




This hybrid was exhibited by Edwin Alberto Perez.  I want to thank Irma Saldana because she helped me find the information and parentage of this hybrid as registed on the Royal Horticultural Society.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Psychilis macconnelliae, from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands


In January of 2013 I had the pleasure to visit the island of Saint Croix.  I was invited by Edna Hamilton (the President of the St. Croix Orchid society), to talk about the culture of Dendrobium species and hybrids.  I took advantage of the occasion to see the forests and beaches of St. Croix.  This, of course, included looking out for orchid plants in bloom to photograph.   I had the pleasure to spend some time talking to Mike Evans the wildlife manager of the Sandy Point national wildlife refuge.  We know each other from pretty far back, in fact he worked for the Puerto Rican Parrot project (the project in which I work now) when it was starting back in the seventies.  I also met Rudy O’Reilly (President of the St. Croix Bonsai Society), which studied at the Mayaguez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico at the same time I was studying there.  But I digress, let’s go back to the orchids.
I saw a population of Psychilis macconnealliae growing on low bushes over sandy soil.  Most of the plants were growing a few inches over the sand, perching near the base of low bushes.  The condition of the plants was variable, the healthiest ones I found were growing on larger bushes and were not too close to the soil.  The larger plants were those that were sheltered from the sunlight by a layer of leaves that was not so dense as cast a deep shadow.  Plants growing exposed to full sunlight looked stunted and had lots of anthocyanin in the leaves giving them a reddish coloring.  I didn’t find any really big, multi-pseudobulb plants, but this is probably a consequence of the fact that my schedule only allowed me to see a small patch of their habitat. 



I visited their habitat in the morning so that I didn’t experience the worst of the heat and sunlight, but it is clear that the climatic and environmental conditions in which the plant grow in St. Croix is pretty much the same as that in which other Psychilis grow.   From looking at the way the plants grow in the wild I can assert with confidence that these orchids would surely die under the care of the average hobbyist.   I can think of nothing more lethal for these plants than putting them in a bark filled pot and keeping them slightly moist (a common recommendation about watering orchids on older orchid books).   By the way, I don’t collect wild orchids, I prefer to enjoy them in their natural habitat.  If you are doing botanical research on orchids and want access to plants of these species, I advise you contact Prof. Ackerman from the University of Puerto Rico.

Although, from time to time, you can see clones of Psychilis macconelliae exhibited in orchid shows in Puerto Rico, all the ones I have seen are from Vieques Island or from Puerto Rico.  The St, Croix Psy. macconnelliae is quite distinct in color and easily distinguished from them.  To me the form from Puerto Rico and the form St. Croix look more different from each other than Psychilis monensis and Psychilis krugii from Puerto Rico.  But this is work for a taxonomist, perhaps one day someone will look at this question.