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.