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.