Monday, January 31, 2011

Myrmecophyla (Schomburgkia) humboldtii an ant orchid from Venezuela

A fully expanded mature flower

A paniculate inflorescence

Note that several of the flowers are partly closed, this is normal
A plant on a wire after one year of growth
The same plant as before but after three years of growing hanging from a wire

Roots are produced in a single massive burst
An ant patrolling the plant, the pseudobulbs are hollow and house ant colonies

When I was given this plant as a gift, many years ago, I had little information on its blooming habits, growth patterns and cultural needs.  In those ancient “pre-Internet” times finding information about an obscure species of orchid meant going to a university library and hoping they had a book about orchids that would give you some guidance.  Unfortunately even when you found some information about your plant often the information was in the form of a taxonomic description with no details of its cultural needs.
As a result of this lack of cultural information this orchid remained a mystery to me. The issue was that growing this plant proved easier than pie, however getting it to bloom seemed an impossible dream.  So year after year my plant would grow into an ever expanding gargantuan specimen plant with no blooming ever.  Eventually the Internet entered my life and through places like The Orchid Source forum I began to exchange information with people that actually grew this plant in its natural habitat in Aruba.  Myrmecophylla (Schomburgkia) humboltii is native of Venezuela and can also be found in the Netherland Antilles.  
Then I found that I had misunderstood what this plant needed to bloom and was growing it too shady.  It needs full sun to bloom but it also needs to produce large and strong pseudobulbs.  Also I found that the roots and the inflorescence are extremely vulnerable to insects and snails which will travel long distances to attack the tender parts of the orchid as they are growing.
To get the best out of this plant you need to give it particularly careful attention when it is in the growing part of its seasonal cycle and when it is producing roots.  Full sun has to be accompanied with frequent applications of fertilizer and abundant watering.  If these are neglected during this plant growing phase the pseudobulbs will be small and most probably will abort their inflorescences if they even try to produce them.  Medium sized pseudobulbs will produce racemose inflorescences that will have a few flowers open at the same time.  But if you manage to get this plant to produce the largest pseudobulbs possible the inflorescence will become paniculate with several flower bearing branches.
I have discovered that under my conditions potting this plant is not a good strategy.  It grows well and flowers acceptably when growing on a dead tree where it gets abundant sun.  But my best growing plants and the ones that bloom best are growing hanging from wires with no material or slab to grow on.  I have no idea why this is so, it seems counter intuitive but there is no denying that the ones growing completely in the air do better under my climatic conditions.
My plants bloom between winter and spring if the inflorescences manage to develop without being damaged.  It has been my sad experience that the inflorescences of this plant in particular seem to be an irresistible treat to insects, millipedes and snails.  Even hanging the plant high doesn’t deter the pests from attacking the tender inflorescences.  So when I see an inflorescence start to develop I give the plant a light dusting of an insecticidal dust.  It has been darkly satisfying to find the dead insects that strived to make a savory dish from the inflorescences.  Since there are many fish tanks around where I grow the orchids I use insecticides with extreme caution and precision and follow the label indications to the letter.
The flowers of this orchid are lovely and among the most full of the genus.  But someone visiting the garden around the hottest hours of the day could be excused if he/she found the flowers disappointing.  The reason is that the flowers are at their best in the early morning and when the day turns hot they turn floppy and partially collapse, only to perk up the next day.  Because the inflorescence produces just a few flowers at a time this plant can be blooming for a few weeks as the inflorescence elongates.  The flowers of this orchid continue expanding in size for the life of the bloom and achieve their largest size just before collapsing.
This plant is highly esteemed in horticulture and due to its ease of culture it is fairly common among local orchid collections.  A an often heard complaint is that it is shy blooming but this comes from growers that keep their plant under shadier conditions than those conductive to blooming or that have undersized plants due to lack of proper fertilization and watering during their growing season.  There is a rare white flowered variant of this species but I have yet to see a plant in bloom of this variety even though I know of people that have grown it successfully.
This orchid has hollow pseudobuls which are colonixed by ants. My plants host several species of ants but usually the one that is most conspicuous is a yellow one with a particularly nasty sting.  Unfortunately the presence of the ants doesn’t seem to deter the pests.    

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Epidendrum boricuarum a native orchid species described in 1993.

Some of the flowers have a slight whitish tint that appears more pronounced under flash photography

A recently fallen branch with a clump of orchids, note that there are the dried stems of several dead clumps around the living plant.
There is a developing seed pod in the right lower corner of the photo

A large healthy clump flowering profusely, this one is growing in the sierra palm forest

This plant is growing in the lower part of the elfin forest

This orchid native in PR was described in the year 1993.  Before that year it was commonly known as Epidendrum difforme.  But research on the identity of the original species revealed that there were dozens of green flowered Epidendrum species that were classified as difforme because the flowers and the plant body were similar.  One of the species that was revealed as a distinct entity was Epi. boricuarum, the name alludes to the name that is applied to the people of Puerto Rico.  This orchid has been found in the islands of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Guadaloupe.
In Puerto Rico this species is widespread and at times quite common in areas of favorable habitat.  I have found it growing in various settings from the trunks of palms, branches and rotten tree stumps.  It seems to favor the edge of the forest where light penetrates considerably deeper into the forest than in areas of continuous canopy.  But perhaps this is just a byproduct of the places where I find easier to move through the forest.
The canes of the plants are about ten to twelve inches tall and often form clusters of growths.  The plants tend to open all its flowers at the same time.  The flowers are green, they are said to become fragrant at night and to produce a fragrance reminiscent of cucumbers.  In the wild it is common to find plants that have fallen to the ground when the branch they were growing on died and decayed.  If the branch falls in a reasonably sunny, well drained area the orchids will survive (at least until the branch decays completely), if they fall in a shady wet spot they die.
From time to time you see plants of this species in captivity but healthy well grown plants are a rarity.  I asked a few orchidist about the culture of this species and they remarked that it usually dies in captivity.  I have seen impressive specimen plants of this species on shows but I suspect the reason is that some people grow this plant in areas where it is native and therefore in its optimum environmental conditions.
Although this plant has obvious horticultural merit it is rarely seen mainly because local orchid grower tastes tend to run toward hybrids which are inexpensive, easy to find and spectacularly colored.  Green flowered orchids are not popular locally.  I recall that a local orchid hybridizer from Utuado, Mr. Eli Santiago did some hybridizing with this species, but I have not seen the hybrids in orchid shows.
Since there seems to have been some importations into Puerto Rico of other species under the “Epi difforme” label there may be some confusion as to the appearance of the flowers of boricuarum when seen in orchid shows.  Since these flowers were photographed from plants in situ, there is little doubt as to their identity.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pleurothallis aristata, a highly beautiful but pretty small native orchid of Puerto Rico

A head on view of a flower

The fingertip in the photo can give a sense of scale to judge the size of the flower

Plants of this species growing in a dead branch that had fallen from a tree but was held up in the air because it had become tangled in a mass of vines

I have found Pleurothallis aristata in the upper reaches of the Luquillo Sierra.  Although it is considered uncommon I have not confronted much difficulty finding it.  I have seen it from time to time growing in trees and twigs alongside some roads.  The thing is that I have not found it for long in any particular place.  For a time many plants could be found growing on the trunks of the tree ferns in the higest of the visitor’s areas of the Caribbean National Forest of El Yunque but the last time I was there they all had disappeared.  I found a good cluster of plants on a tangle of fallen branches but these are doomed to die in the long run as the twigs decay in the eternal heat and moisture of the rainforest.  But I am sure I will find it again elsewhere if I keep a sharp eye out for it.  This plant has a vast geographical distribution which includes Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the Windward Islands and Central and South America. 
The flowers of this plant are quite good looking but their tiny size and the fact that the flowers are displayed facing downward practically guarantees that in its natural habitat it will remain unnoticed except for a very few orchidists that are exceedingly fond of miniatures.  This plant makes small clumps that usually have a few inflorescences with open flowers or seed pods.  It is said to bloom from spring into summer.
I have not seen this plant in cultivation locally and very few orchidists in PR seem to be aware or interested in this plant.  The only photo of a flower similar to those I have seen in the wild in PR was from a plant growing in a collection in Paris, France.  Photos from other sites, such as, show flowers with somewhat different patterns that the ones I have seen in PR.
I suspect that with proper care this plant would be able to grow satisfactorily in the warmer coastal areas of Puerto Rico if someone desired to grow it.  But at the moment there seems to be absolutely no interest in this plant from the local horticultural community.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Grammatophyllum scriptum the most common Grammatophyllum, it has a plethora of varieties and forms

The green form sometimes called var. Crinitum

A particularly nice flower of the most common form

An oddly shaped flower with more green than purple

A small flowered type sometimes called multiflorum, which may be a different species or just a small flowered form

A well grown plant of Gramm. scriptum

I have not been able to grow this species with the same success as the other species of the Grammatophyllum genus that I have.  I am starting to wonder whether this has to do with the particular plants of this species that I brought.  So I probably will be trying to grow this species again in the future.  When well cared for this species can grow into a specimen plant of hernia inducing, disk slipping proportions.  Basically it can grow into as large an specimen plant as you are willing to carry around.   There are so many varieties and forms of this species available in the market that you can go all the way from gargantuan plants with towering inflorescences to tiny few flowered plants with inflorescences barely one feet long.

In my experience scriptum produces some of the largest root baskets I have ever seen.  I have concluded that successful care of this species depends on mantaining these root baskets in good condition.  You can read about the culture of these plants under the heading of Gramm. elegans.

Grammatophyllum Tiger Paw, a hybrid of Gramm. elegans and Gramm. fenzlianum

The flower of my plant is unusually full, until recently
 most Tiger Paw sold had spindly flower segments
An inflorescence showing the flower arrangement

A photo using full sunglight, the upper sepal has been reflexed from its natural position

The red toucan key chain serves to give a scale to these inflorescences

The plant stayed in this pot until it was ready to bloom

The mature plant in its new plastic pot.  Note that a relatively small plant is producing three inflorescences

I brought my plant of Grammatophyllum Tiger Paw at a show in Ponce about ten years ago.  The plant was quite tiny with finger sized pseudobulbs but I decide to take a chance on it.  The orchid was planted in a tall plastic pot made from a soda pot bottle.  This plant grew well but relatively slow, the pseudobulbs grew in size but not too much from year to year.  Because it was so small when I purchased it the plant took about five years to reach blooming size, however it has never stopped blooming since that date.  

I find this hybrid is more forgiving of lapses in its care than the elegans parent.  However as in all the Grammatophyllums I have, blooming is mostly determined by how well the plant was cared for when the pseudobulbs were growing.  When I have helped the plant produce large fat pseudobulbs then blooming is all but assured, spindly and skinny pseudobulbs don’t bloom.  My Tiger Paw blooms more reliably than my elegans.

One curious thing my plant has is that its root basket is much smaller than what one would expect given its parents both of which can produce sizeable root masses.  The flowers of my Gramm. Tiger Paw are quite round, this used to be a rare thing in the Tiger Paw hybrids that were available locally but lately plants with nice round flowers are becoming more common. 

An unexpected thing is tha the inflorescences of my plant are smaller that those of either parent that I have seen locally, maybe it's parents were selected from plants with shorter inflorescences.  Its cultural needs are exactly like those of elegans.  This orchid seems much more vulnerable to snail and slug damage in its pseudobulbs than elegans and I have found holes eaten in their pseudobulbs made by snails, something that I have never seen either on elegans or scriptum.

Enormous numbers of this plant, of several varieties of scriptum, and other related Grammatophyllums have been put for sale in the last few years at most orchid shows I have attended in the island.  But apparently their survival locally is poor.  My suspicion is that they are killed when people try to confine their massive root systems to unventilated pots producing inevitable root loss and the death of the plant.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grammatophyllum elegans a delightful representative of this genus that doesn't need a gigantic space to grow and bloom

This is the normal flower of the species

An incomplete flower, the first few flowers to open
 at the base of the inflorescence tend to be this way

An inflorescence that has been allowed to grow in a pendulous manner

A mass of pseudobulbs showing a very modestly sized root basket

A mature plant blooming, the inflorescence has been trained horizontally
 for better display.  Notice the heftly log needed to keep
 the plant upright against the weight of the inflorescence.

Grammatophyllum Tiger Paw a hybrid (elegans x scriptum) 
just after its removal from a plastic pot

The tree fern plaque in which Gramm. elegans grew originally, notice the 
large ferns and begonias and sundry plants growing on the plaque.

I brought this plant as a seedling around 1990, I think I brought it from H&R orchids in Hawaii.  Following the recommendations of other orchid growers and from seeing plants in orchid shows, I planted mine in a slab of tree fern.  The plant thrived and by 1993 it was flowering.  But them the plant started to decline.  At first I was puzzled because there had been no significant change in any parameter relating to the care of the plant and it had not been attacked by any pest.  But then I noticed that the fern plaque was becoming harder and harder to keep clean of ferns, begonias, and other assorted plants that would grow with wanton abandon anytime I became careless in weeding them out.  The reason for the decline became clear when I noticed that the base of the root basket these plants make had died and was decaying.  It turned out that the fern plaque, as it decayed, was holding too much water.  This meant that the root mass of the Grammatophyllum would never dry at the base; this meant death for the active roots and accelerated decay for the dead ones.

In the end, my formerly large plant, became three clusters of sorry looking pseudobulbs with few live roots.  I decided to try something different with this species.  I potted the plants in plastic pots that had a small reservoir of water at the bottom.  The pot was filled with rocks, Styrofoam and bark pieces.  The plants were tied on top of the pots because they had few living roots to anchor them in the media.  With time the little plants sent their roots into the pots and then began producing their characteristic root basket.  I repotted these plants in 1994 and they are still in the original plastic pots.  However, at the same time they are not in the pots at all, what happened was that as the plants grew in size they produced a large root basket and as pseudobulbs grew upward the living roots essentially abandoned the pot and grew into the mass of the root basket composed of the previous year root growth.  Nowadays the plants are still attached to the plastic pots by their massive root mass but the living roots are all independent of the pot.  I have not removed the pots because they are a convenient counterweight when the plants produce their massive inflorescence.

If there is any advice that I consider most important in the care and culture of this plant is that you should strive to keep the root basket that these plants naturally produce around their pseudobulbs in a good state.  This means that you should allow the root basket to dry between waterings to avoid killing the roots.  If the root basket decays  this can cause a severe setback for your plant.  Actually the key is allowing the best possible drainage and plenty of air flow around the root mass as it is not excess water that kills the roots but lack of oxygen.

This plant can produce an impressively large, massive inflorescence that can seem at odds with the size of the plant.  I recommend this orchid to those that don’t have space to grow Grammatophyllum speciosum but can accommodate a smaller plant.  So far Gram. elegans has proved to be relatively easy to care as long as you respect its need to have exposed roots that are not kept wet all the time.

Unlike Gramm. speciosum, Gramm. elegans doesn’t take a decade to grow to blooming size, its blooming seems to be controlled by the size of the last mature pseudobulb.  It has been my experience that large pseudobulbs that are at least four or more inches tall will bloom, smaller ones won’t.  The larger the size of the pseudobulbs of a given plant the more spectacular the inflorescence.  A relatively small plant with pseudobulbs five or six inches tall can produce an inflorescence five or six feet tall with dozens of large flowers.   Inflorescences can grow to such size and weight that they can destabilize the plant so care is needed to fasten the pot of the plant firmly to its basket or base.  Inflorescences can be staked or allowed to grow in a pendulous manner.  I have both trained inflorescences upright and allowed them to hang naturally and I personally prefer the trained ones.  The only significant problem when this plant is blooming is the need to keep the inflorescence safe from snail and slugs which seem capable of sensing the tender tip of the inflorescence from afar.

Media: Any material that resists decay, after the root basket formed, none.

Potting: First on well drained plastic pots, then on a very strong metal basket.

Fertilizing: 20-20-20 every week during the growing season. When it has a root basket of a significant size I put a few pieces of very dry horse manure on top of the root mass at the start of the growing season and keep replacing them as they degrade and are washed away by the rain.  Feeding this plant conscientiously during its growing season is the key for producing the large pseudobulbs that are the key to blooming this species.

Light: Full morning sun, light shade after midday, It gets this regime because it is what is available on the only spot that I had to put this plant.

Temperature: From 95F high during the day in summer to 60F during the night in winter.   

Saturday, January 22, 2011

El cultivo del copepodo Cyclops para uso como suplemento alimentario para peces larvales.

Los Cyclops que se ven en esta foto con dos objetos ovalados a los lados del rabo son la hembras con sus sacos de huevos

Los objetos que se ven en el agua junto con los Cyclops son restos de camarón machacado.
Una corta pelicula que muestra la forma de nadar de los Cyclops

Muchos peces de agua dulce comienzan su vida como alevines muy diminutos.  Criar estos peces en cautiverio es todo un reto ya que el acuarista tiene que ofrecer a los pececillos alimentos que sean adecuados para que los mismos los consuman en cada una de sus etapas de desarrollo.   Una de las técnicas que he usado es los estanques con agua verde.  Pero, qué pasa cuando el pececillo ya ha superado la etapa en que solo podía comer los microorganismos más pequeños?
La recomendación usual es que se alimente a los pececillos con la larva recién nacida del camarón de las salinas conocido como Artemia salina.   Esta es una recomendación excelente, sin embargo requiere que el acuarista compre una cantidad apreciable de los huevos secos de la Artemia lo que puede ser costoso.  Otra alternativa que tiene mucho merito es el uso de los nematodos conocidos como “microgusanos”.  El problema con los “microgusanos” es que los cultivos de estos animales pueden ser invadidos por otros insectos y en ocasiones son capaces de producir una pestilencia realmente impactante si no se les cuida como es debido.
Ambos métodos antes mencionados son extremadamente útiles si uno desea producir un número apreciable de crías.  Por mi parte debo confesarles que generalmente no siento la inclinación de criar cientos de pececillos al mismo tiempo.  Me siento feliz si puedo criar como una o dos docenas.  La razón es muy sencilla, criar cientos de pececillos requiere una inversión de tiempo y dinero significativa.  Con algunas muy raras excepciones, generalmente alimentar un grupo grande de peces hasta el tamaño en que se pueden vender comercialmente puede costarle al acuarista más de los que jamás conseguirá si los intenta vender.  Además si se intenta criar demasiados pececillos siempre hay el riesgo de que ocurra el enanismo debido a alimentación inadecuada o condiciones de agua desfavorables para el desarrollo normal.  Por mi parte no uso la Artemia,  uso un cultivo relativamente pequeño de “microgusanos” combinado con suplementos de Cyclops y “vinegar eel” (una especie de nematodo que vive en el vinagre).  Como mi interés consiste en criar un grupo pequeño, no me veo en la obligación de hacer grandes cultivos para producir una gran cantidad de alimento para las crías. 
Una forma de alimentar las crías que ya han pasado la etapa de alimentarse con “infusorios” es proveyéndoles de organismos de un tamaño adecuado.  El organismo del zooplancton que uso para asistir en la alimentación de mis pececillos es un copépodo.  Los copépodos son crustáceos decápodos que forman una parte integral de las comunidades planctónicas en agua dulce y salada.   Los copépodos están entre los organismos acuáticos mas abundantes del planeta, si se extrae una muestra de agua de mar o de algún lago o laguna existe una buena probabilidad de que en la muestra de agua estén algunos de estos crustáceos.  Debido a su abundancia y generalmente pequeño tamaño, los copépodos son consumidos por una fantástica variedad de animales que van desde las agua vivas y los tenóforos hasta las formas larvales de innumerables especies de peces.  Casi siempre son transparentes, pero en algunas ocasiones están presentes en el agua en una cantidad tan tremenda que cambian su color meramente debido al efecto de la difracción de la luz al pasar por sus cuerpos.  Uno de los géneros de copépodos que habitan agua dulce que es más conocido es Cyclops.
El Cyclops es común en los cuerpos de agua dulce e incluso se le puede encontrar hasta en peceras bien establecidas que poseen vegetación y no tienen una población de peces numerosa.   Se han descrito numerosas especies de Cyclops pero casi todas son muy parecidas y solo distinguibles por los especialistas.  El cuerpo es translucido y ovalado, de la parte frontal del animal salen dos antenas y de la parte trasera sale un rabo, los apéndices mas pequeños del animal, tales como las patas no son visibles a simple vista.  Las hembras son fáciles de distinguir ya que tienen adherida a la parte trasera del cuerpo unos sacos con sus huevos.  Los machos tienen las antenas modificadas como apéndices para agarrarse a las hembras.  Los Cyclops tienen un solo ojo en el centro de de la parte frontal del cuerpo.  Por eso recibieron el nombre Cyclops, en referencia al Ciclope de la mitología griega que tenía un solo ojo en el medio de la cara.  Estos crustáceos miden de ½ mm a 5 mm.  Las larvas, conocidas como nauplias son aun más pequeñas y prácticamente invisibles a simple vista.
Los Cyclops distan de ser las indefensas criaturas del zooplancton que la gente imagina flotando pasivamente hasta que llega un pez o una ballena y los devora.  Al contrario los Cyclops están muy alertas a cualquier disturbio en el agua que los rodea y reaccionan con impresionante rapidez a la menor señal de peligro.  Su respuesta de alarma es nadar a una velocidad pasmosa por algunos segundos lo que los aleja al crustáceo de cualquier depredador potencial (ver video).  Se ha reportado que los Cyclops son capaces de atacar y matar a larvas de peces muy pequeñas así que no se recomienda su presencia en la pecera donde ocurre el desove ya que pueden hacer presa en los pececillos larvales cuando estos aun son muy pequeños y por lo tanto vulnerables al ataque de estos crustáceos.
No sé como los Cyclops llegaron a mis peceras, note su presencia un día que me encontraba observado con una lupa la fauna microscópica de una pecera llena de la hierba acuática Echinodorus tenellus.   Desde entonces siempre he mantenido algunos en las peceras plantadas que no uso para desovar pececillos.  Los Cyclops sobreviven muy bien en presencia de peces si estos son demasiado grandes para prestarles atención o considerarlos una presa aceptable.
Estos crustáceos se alimentan de desechos vegetales y de carroña.   Tengo un cultivo de estos en una pecera de diez galones que recibe el sol directo y cuya agua es de un intenso color verde. Para estimular su reproducción lo que hago es que los alimento con el liquido producto de la maceración de un pedazo pequeño (como del tamaño de la uña del dedo mas pequeño) de camarón.  Los copépodos se alimentan de los pedazos mas diminutos que flotan en el agua.  Para evitar que los pedazos más grandes de camarón, que no son consumidos contaminen el agua, en la pecera hay una pareja de Mexalpiques (Xenotoca Eiseni) como de dos pulgadas que consumen el camarón en exceso con entusiasmo y que también evitan la presencia de mosquitos en la pecera.   Evitar los que los mosquitos invadan el cultivo de los Cyclops es importante ya que más rápido de lo que se dice Dengue ya habrá alguien cuestionando porque usted mantiene un potencial foco de infección a despecho del peligro potencial para la vecindad.
Los copépodos pueden ser capturados usando un cedazo con una tela que forme un tamiz muy fino.  Los copépodos tienen la ventaja de que no mueren en la pecera de las crías (como las Artemias y los “microgusanos”) y por lo tanto permanecen vivos en el agua hasta que uno de los pececillos los captura.  La desventaja es que si se quiere tener una población grande copépodos para alimentar a los pececillos con frecuencia pues es necesario tener el cultivo en que envase mucho más grande que una pecera de diez galones.  Nunca he usado los Cyclops como alimento único de los pececillos, los he usado en combinación con “vinegar eels” y “microgusanos” ya que su población no se regenera rápidamente ni produce grandes cantidades de individuos en los envases relativamente pequeños en que los he cultivado.  Tienen una ventaja particular sobre los “microgusanos”, no se van al fondo si no que permanecen en la columna de agua donde los pececillos los pueden cazar.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Epidendrum? Encyclia? Anacheilium? Prosthechea? by whatever name Prostechea cochleata is a lovely orchid

Wild plant in situ, Rio Abajo Forest

Wild plant in situ, Rio Abajo Forest

Wild plant in situ, Rio Abajo Forest

Large flower form in an orchid collection

A close up of the lip of the previous flower

Many flowered plant at an orchid show

Close up of the lip of the plant in the previous photo
The much coveted alba form of the species
Prostechea cochleata is an orchid that is native of Puerto Rico, unlike it is relatively common and not hard to find in its favored habitat.  In the forests of the island it can be found growing in trees, on boulders and on the ground in well drained slopes.  I have seen it growing on top of boulders exposed to full sun in areas of high humidity but this is rare, most common is to see it growing on trees.   The flower is showy and quite distinctive due to its habit of orienting the lip of the flowers upward unlike most other orchids in which the flower rotates on the axis of the flower stem until the lip is at the bottom.  This orchid is part of a distinctive group of orchids formerly known as cockleshell Epidendrums or Encyclias due to the shape of their lips.  I have seen plants of this species from the foothills of the Luquillo mountains and also from the mountains of Maricao.  About fifteen years ago I visited a local dam and noticed that there were a few plants of this species growing on the boulders at the roadside on top of the road.  Intrigued by finding these plants in such an unlikely location I started looking around and soon realized that there were thousands of plants growing in the boulders that covered the face of the dam.  Many of the plants had flowers but most of the flowers were small and unremarkable.  Some of the plants had lips that were smaller than any I have seen.  These small lips have a shape reminiscent of a shovel rather than the typical cupped lip.   It you think you could go there collect to your heart content and then sell the plants there are two things that will pop your bubble.  First the flowers were smaller than most and any grower will be displeased at finding, when the plant blooms that his plant is inferior to almost all plants in cultivation.  But there is a more weighty reason why these plants will never be collected.  They were all killed.  Someone felt that the face of the dam should not have all that vegetation growing on it and killed everything with herbicide.  When I returned, years later, there was not even a single plant was in evidence
I have had this orchid for many years and it both easy to keep and to flower. The pseudobulb is spindle shaped and topped with two leaves.  I have seen two types of plants of these species.  One type produces an inflorescence that blooms with a few flowers, another produces a inflorescence that elongates and keeps producing flowers for an extended period.  Most of the plants that I have found in the wild are the type that produces the few flowered inflorescence.
The only thing that has been a threat to my plants is snails and slugs which in my garden find these plants irresistible and will feast on them.  Another plant had a slight case of star scale but this pest is easily controlled.  Low humidity and erratic watering can stunt this plant.
This species has entered horticulture and are many prized clones in cultivation.  The alba form is particularly sought after.  The flowers of the alba forms I have seen have been small and aside of the fact that they have a pleasing combination of white and yellow their shape and size has been nothing special.   I have seen some exceptionally large flowers of this species at orchid shows but large flowered plants are not common.  I have also seen plants with densely packed many flowered inflorescences that seem the product of some degree of selective breeding but these are rare.  There are triandrous, cleistogamic forms reported from Puerto Rico but I have never found one of them in flower in the wild.  James Ackermann says in his book on orchid of PR and the Virgin Islands that the triandrous forms are the type most common in Luquillo.
I used to have two clones of this species, they had unexpectedly different fragrances.  One had a slight pleasant fragrance, the other had a strong unpleasant urine – like smell.
This plant has been known in the last few years as an Epidendrum, Encyclia, Anacheilium and as a Prosthechea.  So you will find information on this orchid under all those names.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Coilostylis (Epidendrum) ciliare, a night fragrant moth pollinated orchid native of Puerto Rico

Coilostylis ciliare, this is the presentation of the lip of a newly opened flower

Inflorescence, top view

Inflorescence, side view

A flower that has been open for a few days

A flower that has been open for more than a week, the reason for the color change is unclear but may be a signal for pollinators

The flower of a cross of Blc. Toshie Aoki and Coi. ciliare

Coilostylis ciliare is part of a group of green and white flowered orchids that have similar - looking flowers which are native of Puerto Rico.  This group of orchids is comprised of Epidendrum caphoporum, Epidendrum tridens, Epidendrum nocturnum and Coilostylis ciliare.  Of all these orchids the only one with a fringed lip is Coilostylis ciliare.   Coilostylis ciliare has a wide distribution on the island of Puerto Rico, I have seen plants from several places in the island.   Lately this plant has been renamed Coilostylis ciliare.
 I received as a gift a plant that originally came from the area of Utuado.  This plant had pseudobulbs only five to six inches tall and produced inflorescences of two to four flowers, it bloomed in the spring.   Sadly this I lost this plant which was among the smallest of all Coi. ciliare I have ever seen.  I also have a plant that hails from the east of the island and whose pseudobulbs reach nine to ten inches tall and that produces inflorescences that have four to nine flowers.  This plant ranks among the hardiest of my orchids.  It has survived everything that I or the weather has thrown its way from drought and deep shade to overwatering, neglect and very bright light conditions.   My plant usual response to adversity is to produced dwarfed pseudobuls that don’t bloom.  James Ackermann  says in his book that the plants of Puerto Rico might represent a conglomerate of sibling species.  He suggest that the population of plants of the Karst area in the north may be a different species, however this issue remains unresolved as far as I know.
My plant blooms between December and January.  I have seen large moths flying around the flower but have not seen them actually take the pollinia away from them.  The care of this plant is among the simplest.  It demands a well drained, airy media and strong light to do well.  However it will survive  under and grow reasonably well shady conditions but blooming will be poor if the shade is too deep.  In my experience it will grow and bloom even if not fertilized as long as it is planted in some sort of organic media but the pseudobulbs will be smaller than those of a well cared plant.
Some of these orchids are reported to have nice fragrances, but my plant is not one of those.  The way I perceive the fragrance of my plant is as if I was smelling a bunch of upset stinkbugs.  When there are many flowers open at the same time I find the smell overpowering but not in a good way.
In the early eighties I visited the island of Culebra and found an enormous population of this plant growing along the sides of a ravine in one of the most remote and little traveled sections of the island.  I haven’t forgotten the sight of thousands of plants of this species blooming at the same time.  None of the plants were growing on trees they were all growing on large boulders at the sides of the ravine.  Some of the boulders were covered with masses of plants that were several feet wide.  Unfortunately at the time I saw all these plants growing and blooming together I was not interested in growing or even photographing orchids so I regarded it as an interesting but not a particularly photo worthy subject.  How I have come to regret that judgment!
In 1989 hurricane Hugo went over the island of Culebra as a category four hurricane.  The damage to the vegetation and the infrastructure was severe.  I returned to the island and thought about visiting the colony of orchids, but it turned out that reaching the colony was an impossible dream.  I managed to get to nearby hill from which the area of the colony could be glimpsed with binoculars.  The colony showed the most pitiful aspect imaginable.  Practically every large tree had fallen exposing the whole colony to harsh sunlight.  As a result you could see the remains of thousands of sunburned, bleached, dead stems among the shrubs that had managed to survive the tremendous force of the winds.  Reaching the colony was impossible due to the tremendous damage the forest had received which rendered the whole area nearly impassable due to the large quantity of fallen branches and trees quite a few of which were fearsomely spiny.
But even among the destruction and carnage you could see here and there a few plants that had survived because they had been growing in narrow crevices between the huge boulders and had been sheltered from the worse of the winds, the falling debris and the sun.   By the time I visited Culebra many months had passed since the hurricane and already the vegetation, although mightily beaten, was showing signs of recuperation.
It has been many years since the last time I was in the island of Culebra, I wonder if I returned to the ravine whether I would find the orchids thriving again.  The area where the orchids grew is a protected area so the chances that the surviving plants managed to reseed the whole area are high.  The orchids of the Caribbean have live for millions of years on the island and probably have endured many cycles of destruction and rebirth.  I only hope one day I can return to the nearby hill where I last glimpsed the orchids to see how they have fared and maybe even glimpse their blooming even if from afar.
I have seen this orchid from time to time in local collections but, judging from the times I have seen exhibited at orchid shows, it seems it has become rarer in the last few years as orchid hybrids have become the focal point of many collections.  Some of the plants of this species at I have seen at orchid shows appeared to be from commercial sources outside the island.  There have been a few plants of this species that have exceptionally fine flowers but they are not often seen.  I saw a hybrid of Blc. Toshie Aoki and Coi. ciliare at an orchid show.  I also saw a photo of a Rhycholaelia digbyana/ Coi. ciliare cross.  But both plants are unavailable commercially.  Eli of Utuado had cross of Coi. ciliare with pastel pink flowers but I don’t remember which plant was the other parent.