Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Psychilis x raganii, the serendipitious discovery of a rarely photographed orchid

About a year ago I heard from a friend that he had found a population of Psychilis kraenzlinii in the southwest of the island.   He gave me the directions but it turned out that finding the plants was a lot harder than just arriving at the place.   Coordinating a joint visit to the site turned out to be an almost impossible task due to our very different work schedules and the fact that we live pretty far away from each other.

But recently we managed to find time to visit the place.  The orchids are not located in an area legally protected by the state as a natural area, but paradoxically, it is better protected that some orchids in state forests by simple dint of being located by the treacherous terrain and the difficulty getting there. No, I won’t reveal where it is, as I am sure collectors would clear the spot in a hurry. Even a single determined person could severely damage this population.

When I arrived at the area where the orchids live I found it was quite unlike any other orchid habitat I had visited before.  Rather than pristine habitat, it turned out to be a crazy kilt landscape of secondary scrubby vegetation, patches of woodland, cow pastures and places where (for inexplicable reasons) every bit of plant cover has been scrapped away until the bedrock as exposed.    Amid all this a reasonably healthy population of plants survived. 

How could this be so?  I think there are several reasons for the survival of this population of orchids.  First, the plants are not visible from the road.   My suspicion is that any plant that blooms near the road is quickly collected.   Second, the area has an impressive density of poisonous, spiny and toxic plants, making even a short hike a thoroughly unpleasant not to say unhealthy experience.   Third, the ground in the spot where the orchids grow is uneven and covered everywhere with a loose rocky soil that makes walking hard and that can cause a nasty fall. By the way, did I mention the rocks are sharp edged, I learned this the hard way.  In essence the plants survive because they are not collected and the spot where they grow is inimical to human presence.

I was overjoyed when I saw the plants thinking I had found Psy. kraenzlinii, but when I got closer to them it was clear to me that some were different from the typical kraenzlinii under cultivation.   Their orange-red color of the flowers and the yellow tint of the columns was unlike anything I seen before.  Intrigued, I took photos of the flowers of as many plants as I could to get an idea of the variability of the population.  When I got home I checked the volume six of Carl Withner’s book, Cattleyas and their relatives.¹  From there I got the ID of these orchids.  It turned out that at least one of the plants was not Psy. kraenzlinnii but Psy. x raganii.

Psy. x raganii is a hybrid of Psy. kraenzlinii and Psy. krugii, it occurs where the distribution of both species overlap.   I have never seen any plant of this hybrid under cultivation and I could locate only a single photo of this species on the Internet.  This hybrid was described in 1988 by Ruben Sauleda.     Psy x raganii. has a smaller flower size than kraenzlinii, the callus of the midlobe of the labellum is yellow or pale rose carmine to white and basally broader.²

¹ Withner, Carl. 1996. Cattleyas and their relatives, volume VI, The Bahamian and Caribbean species.

² Sauleda, Ruben. 1988. Phytologya 65(1): 1-33.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bulbophyllum Doris Dukes (Bulb. fascinator x Bulb. rothschildianum)

I saw this Bulbophyllum hybrid in the Mayaguez Orchid Festival of September 2013.    It is a hybrid of Bulb. fascinator and Bulb. rothschildianum.  It produces pretty red flower that look intermediate between the parents.  Both species are relatively easy to grow in Puerto Rico although they are not often seen outside the collections of specialists growers.  

Coelogyne ovalis

This orchid was seen at the Mayaguez Orchid Festival of September 2013.  This was a large plant with several flowers open at the same time.  I have seen a number of specimen plants of Coelogyne ovalis in shows in Puerto Rico.  I have observed a variation in the size of the flowers of different plants, some have flowers that are significantly larger than others.

Catasetum Frilly Doris x Catasetum Lucius Dane ‘Bird of Paradise’

I saw this Catasetum hybrid in the Mayaguez Orchid Festival of September 2013. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The largest flock I have seen to date of Puerto Rican parrots (Amazona vittata) in the Rio Abajo forest.

Since the first releases of the Puerto Rican parrot in the Rio Abajo forest, it has become almost commonplace to see, in certain parts of the forest, small flocks foraging or roosting.  These flocks can vary in size, but in my experience, 20 to 30 birds together has been the upper range for these groups.  Sometimes I walk in the forest to enjoy the clear afternoons that follow the thunderstorms of that start after noon and to see if I can catch a glimpse of the wild birds. 

Seeing PR parrots fly over the forest, during these walks, is always an inspiring sight.   Today, as I was walking around the forest just before nightfall I saw a flock sitting on a leafless tree.  The moment I saw the group of birds I was thrilled.  It was clear this was a very large group for the species.   From the photos I took I can count 45 birds on the tree.   I took several photos but since light was falling quickly and the birds kept moving, this one probably has the most birds together.   In my knowledge this is the largest flock ever documented on a photo.

I could not help but recall an article that I read many years ago, in which the authors said “…we personally doubt the current population exceeds 50 individuals and may even be much smaller.  We predict that Puerto Rico is about to lose another of its native birds.”¹  I am happy to say that thank to the work of many, many highly dedicated people, this is one prophecy that didn’t come to pass.   Of course our work is not done yet, but as this photo attest, we are on our way.

Recher Harry F, and  Recher, Judy T.  1996.  A contribution to the knowledge of the avifauna of the Sierra de Luquillo, Puerto Rico.  Caribbean Journal of Science.  Sept-Dec. 1966

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bulbophyllum echinolabium J.J. Sm. 1934, a plant product of the cross of two selected clones

The flowers of Bulbophyllum echinolabium are among the largest of the genus Bulbophyllum.   This orchid appears regularly at orchid shows in the island, usually represented by one or two plants.  I the past I have not been interested in this plant, mainly because I didn’t like the color of the flowers.  Those plants that I had seen had flowers with muddy yellowish colors that I found unappealing.  But this plant I saw at the 2013 Mayaguez orchid festival changed my opinion.  Not only the flower is large and well-presented but the color (at least in my view) is much nicer than I had seen previously.  This plant is the product of a cross of two selected clones.  Unfortunately I forgot to write down the names of the parents of this particular plant.   But for now on I will be on the lookout for plants product of crosses of superior parents.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Oddly beautiful, a hybrid of Cycnoches haagii and Mormodes lawrenciana

This oddly beautiful hybrid between Cyc. haagii and Mormodes lawrenciana was seen at the Mayaguez Orchid society Orchid Festival in September 2013.

Dendrobium Chan Chao, an impulse buy at a hardware store

Note the flower with the yellow callus on the lip

One day I was in a Hardware store in the town of Mayaguez when I noticed there was for sale a Dendrobium hybrid of the type called “antelope”.  The term “antelope” is given to species of the Sphatulata (previously Ceratobium) section of the Dendrobium genus because of a fancied similarity between the petals and the horns of antelopes.  This Dendrobium hybrid was clearly a descendant of a cross of Sphatulata species.  The flowers were nice enough although the color looked paler than I liked.  Nevertheless, I brought the plant, once I was out of the fluorescent lamps of the store, I discovered that the color was far more pleasing under natural light.

This orchid is not difficult to cultivate as long as one follow some simple guidelines.  First the media has to allow for ample air to reach the roots, this means they do better in coarse media.  The second is that they need regular fertilizing while producing their canes, any slacking in this matter and the plant will produce smaller canes which will not bloom to the full potential of which this hybrid is capable.  Third, this plant needs plenty of light, I don’t give my plant full sun to avoid sunburn, but I grow it just under the saran shadecloth where it gets strong light all day long.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Puerto Rican parrots, Amazona vittata, in captivity feeding on Sierra palm (Prestoea montana) fruits.

Brian Ramos, Piel Jonas Banchs, Ana Estrella, Jong Piel Banchs
Planting sierra palm

Although the diet the parrots receive in captivity is designed to furnish all their nutritional needs, from time to time we add seeds, fruits and leaves gathered from the forest to the parrot's food.  These foods collected from the wild fulfill an important role in the wellbeing of the parrots in captivity. 

Wild collected fruits, seeds, and leaves play a role as environmental enrichment for the birds in captivity, as they offer the opportunity to manipulate and feed on food that is different in size, shape and texture from the standard captive pellet diet.   Because we put the whole inflorescence with the fruits inside the cage, the birds get to interact with the food in a way that is similar with what would happen in the wild.  In simpler terms, environmental enrichment is a way of saying these food help relieve the boredom of the parrots.

Puerto Rican parrots relish eating the fruits of various species of palms.  Although sierra palm is a favorite, they also eat royal palm (Roystonea borinquena) and corozo palm (Attalea cohune).  In the El Yunque forest the puerto rican parrots favor the sierra palm to the point that it is said that its breeding season is influenced by the availability of sierra palm seeds. 

The staff of the Puerto Rican parrot project collects these wild fruits from the forest around the aviary.  This means that when the birds are released they are quite familiar with the foods available in the forest.  In the Rio Abajo forest, sierra palm Prestonea montana is an uncommon plant we don’t feed the birds with them frequently.  In place of sierra palm we feed the birds royal palm fruits.

Aside from caring for the birds in captivity and monitoring the birds in the wild, the puerto rican parrot project staff works in a variety of endeavors of which the general public is generally not aware, one of these is improving the habitat by planting a variety of trees the parrot use as food. In the past decade the aviary staff has planted, among others, hundreds of seedlings of sierra palm, corozo palm and even the endemic manaca palms (Calyptronomas rivalis), in the aviary and nearby areas.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The largest, most massive, reproductive organ in the world, the inflorescence of the Talipot palm, Corypha umbraculifera

That is me under the palm, to add scale

There is a Talipot palm in the Mayaguez campus that is in bloom right now.   What makes this particular plant special is that you can look at this one from a variety of perspectives. Because it is growing just beside a hill, you can actually able to look down on it, a rare thing indeed given the height of this palm.  I was able to photograph the inflorescence, the largest of the plant kingdom, from an almost level plane.

These palms bloom only once and then die.  It can take from 30 to 80 years for a plant to reach blooming size.  Full adults of this species are enormous by palm standards and can reach up to 80 feet high with massive trunks that can be over four feet in diameter.  The branched inflorescence of this palm can, in itself, be 20 to 26 feet high.  It can produce millions of tiny flowers.  The fruits take a year to mature.  

I fully recommend making a trip to see this wonder of nature.  Visiting on weekend is highly recommened as during the week, when the students are present, finding a parking space can be an impossible dream.  The grounds of the Mayaguez Campus have a number of interesting plants that are well worth a visit, if you are really into plants you can also visit TARS, a research station that is devoted to tropical agriculture and that in next to the university.  

A Puerto Rican parrot, Amazona vittata, feeding on the fruit of the guava tree Psidium guajava

Those that keep Amazons in captivity are quite familiar with the messy feeding habits of these birds.  It is not rare for an Amazon to take a tiny bite of a piece of fruit and then drop the rest on the floor of the cage.    The birds behave the same way in the wild.  However sometimes, if the mood strikes them, these birds will take a piece of food and manipulate it with surprising delicacy and dexterity.

Some years ago I was able to photograph a Puerto Rican parrot in the wild eating a fruit from a guava tree Psidium guajaba.  Holding the fruit firmly with one leg, the parrot first cut a groove around the middle of the fruit to expose the pulp.  Then it proceeded to consume the fruit slowly and deliberately.  After it had finished the top half it ate the bottom half.   The fact that nothing disturbed this bird during its feeding bout is probably the reason that it ate almost all the fruit.  Birds that feel even slightly alarmed will immediately drop any food they are eating.

Wlid guava Psidium guajava, is a common tree in the Rio Abajo forest, particularly in disturbed areas.  When the local trees are fruiting, the Rio Abajo staff sometimes collects the fruit and gives it to the captive birds.  The captive birds not only relish the fruits but will also eat the leaves and sometimes will also strip the bark of branches after all the fruits and leaves have been eaten.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rlc. Haadyai Delight ‘Bangprom Gold’ a cadmiun yellow Cattleya hybrid

I saw this orchid at the October 2013 Mayaguez Orchid Festival.  The plant won an award from the AOS.  The flowers were cadmium yellow, you got to love that color description.  The flowers were large and had good texture.   The flowers were just a bit less than six inches tall and wide, which gave the flower a nice round shape.  The presentation of the sepals and petals was also very good.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bulbophyllum biflorum Teijsmann & Binnendijk (1853)

This orchid has been reported from Thailand, Sumatra, Java, Malaya, Bali, Borneo and the Philippines.¹  My experience with this plant was very positive, it grew very well under the climatic conditions in my locality in the Rio Abajo forest in Puerto Rico.  This orchid bloomed in its season and give me no problems.    Sadly, I lost this plant, for the same embarrassing reason I lost a few other Bulbophyllum over the year, but more about this later.

I planted this orchid on medium bark, in shallow dish, so it would have ample space to roam as it grew.  And grew did, it filled the dish with its growths and started spilling out of the sides.  Since the plants seemed to be all right, I was not concerned.  Much to my distress the pieces that grew out of the sides failed to grow once detached from their old stems.    I found out that all the pseudobulbs and stems in the dish were old and would not produce new growths. 

Although I could not perceive any fragrance, it was clear the orchid was producing something that attracted flies.  The flies would perch on the flowers and stay there for long spells of time.  One surprising thing was that the flies would fight over the flowers and some flies would fiercely defend the flowers they were sitting on from other flies.   The flowers were successful in attracting flies, but the flies were apparently the wrong size and shape to pollinize the flowers since I never found any seedpods.

What is the lesson here?  It is that you need to keep a sharp eye on where your plant is producing new growths so that you don’t end with a mass of old growths incapable of regenerating.   It is also important to make divisions of the plants so you have more than just a single one.   Sharing a few pieces with friends can also be a good strategy.

¹Siegerist, Emly S. 2001. Bulbophyllums and their allies: A grower’s guide