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. 

1 comment:

Jyoti Patel said...

Dear Sir,
I read your article closely as I m one Orchid lover and Conservationist. Regret to say that all wild grown specimens were vanished slowly just after 2007. I think, was not due to impact of Global Warming. We should try for its insetu conservation at Wild.
Thanks a lot for your closed observation of this plant.
Mr.Jyoti Patel,