Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Polystachya foliosa (Lindl.) Reichenbach f. 1863, "in situ" in the Rio Abajo forest in Puerto Rico

This species is found in Central America, South America and the West Indies.  In Puerto Rico this is a common orchid in moist districts from sea level to high elevation (900 mts.), it frequently grows in roadside trees.¹   I have seen these orchids in many places in the island.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to know if the plants I see in the wild are foliosa or concreta if the plants are not in bloom.  Even when in bloom, the differences between these species are based on technical details of the lip and column that don’t exactly leap to the eye.  My best guess is that the plant and inflorescences in this article are foliosa.   I found this plant close to my home, in the Rio Abajo forest, this greatly facilitated taking the photos of the plant and the inflorescence.

The flowers of these orchids are small, yellowish green.  In the case of this particular plant, the flowers don’t open.  The flowers in the photos are cleistogamic, that is, they self-pollinate and never open.  As a result of this pollination strategy the plant produces many seedpods.

A few years ago, in an orchid internet forum, a person that had visited the island told me that it had collected seedpods from an orchid he had seen on the roadside.  From the description it was clear it was a Polystachya.   I told the person it was hardly worth the effort to spend time and money sowing seeds of Polystachia, given the possibility that the plants produced would never open their flowers.  The person, which appeared to have only a tenuous understanding of orchids, was clearly put off by the news that the seedpods were not of a rare or showy orchid.  I wonder if the person went ahead anyway and sowed the seeds.

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

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