Orchid discovery in Eastern Ontario

A species of orchid more commonly found on the Great Prairies, Spiranthes magnicamporum, has been discovered just 45 minutes outside of Canada's capital city of Ottawa, Ontario.

Eastern Ontario has a rich-smelling species of orchid never recognized here until now, the Great Plains ladies’-tresses which, as the name suggests, mostly grows from Manitoba down to Texas.

It's a long way from its nearest neighbour, and and has left botanists scratching their heads about why it lives here.

A likely explanation is that the orchids have been here since soon after the glaciers melted, leaving a scraped, rocky landscape 10,000 years ago. The orchids and dropseed grass may have covered a lot of the land back then, before being choked out as forests took over.

The alvars remained rocky and open, preserving isolated pockets of orchids.

Proof positive that even in 2014, there are new things to discover in the natural world right at our feet.

Source: Ottawa Citizen, “What is this rich fragrance?” Eastern Ontario’s new orchid

New orchid species discovered in volcanic ‘lost world’, very little news silliness follows

For years, there was only one formally recognized species of orchid on the Azores, a cluster of volcanic islands west of Spain, though some claimed there were two species. However, a recent, three-year study to describe these Azorean flowers found that three species of orchids exist on the islands, including two that are newly recognized. (via www.csmonitor.com)

I see that in my orchid-blogging absence, new species have continued to pop up. Sadly, this particular one hasn’t inspired much in the way of purple prose, the news articles I’ve read have all been matter-of-fact and somewhat scholarly.

The only snicker to be found is courtesy of The Daily Mail (where else); their article contains a photo of boring grocery-store variety phalaenopsis with the caption, “Each plant could be worth a substantial sum to collectors.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.48.20 PM

Many thanks, Daily Mail, for the smile.

Big find in Borneo

The Malaysia Times reports that a entire region of Borneo has just been explored, yielding unusual plants and animals that are new to science, including orchids.

This bonanza was discovered in an unlikely area covered in ultramafic forests; the soil is rocky, drains quickly, and contains toxic metals, and the terrain is prone to frequent landslides and floods.

…the expedition unveiled some fascinating findings. Researchers had initially forecasted low biodiversity in this low nutrient environment but found many exciting specimens,including several species of orchids and land snails believed to be new to science.

Two species of rheophytic (rheophytic : growing beside and periodically flooded by streams) orchids of the genus Malaxis and Appendicula which are rooted to river rocks were discovered; these are believed to be able to withstand flashfloods.

Other fascinating plants include the rare Slipper Orchid Paphiopedilum hookerae volonteanum,the endemic Borneodendron aenigmaticum and various species of the carnivorous pitcher and ant plants.

“Some of the plants found are endemic, meaning that they are confined to ultramafic soil only, mainly due to their adaptation to the area’s unique ecosystem,” said eminent orchid and herb expert Anthony Lamb.

Continue reading “Big find in Borneo”

Could they “bee” wrong?

65 million years ago, a giant asteroid hit Mexico and set off "nuclear winter" type climate conditions that is thought to have killed off the dinosaurs and most of life on earth.

Or so the story goes.

But if that’s the case, scientists are wondering how tropical honeybees managed to survive. It should have been too cold for them, and the flowers they survived on.

Was there a "nuclear winter", after all?

Continue reading “Could they “bee” wrong?”

Brainy Behaviour in the Vegetable World

Link: Plants do some very clever things.

Biologists are just now coming to the conclusion that plants are kind of intelligent, in a green growing thing kind of way:

To make smart choices, plant genes must take in multiple cues from their environment – light, temperature, moisture, gravity, etc. – and assemble them into a meaningful whole. That’s a rudimentary version of the way an animal’s brain integrates various signals from its eyes, ears, fingers and stomachs.

The article cites several examples of intelligent activity. I found this one kind of interesting:

When a plant is blown by the wind, flipped over or its roots are disturbed by an animal, specific genes responsible for keeping the plant stable” and roots growing respond very quickly, often within one minute of the disturbance…

I personally believe in talking to plants — I stand over mine in an intimidating manner and yell, “Grow!!! Grow!!!”. But after reading this article, I think I’ll give that up and just start blowing on them.

Continue reading “Brainy Behaviour in the Vegetable World”

Orchid Discovery in Peru

An important discovery of previously unknown orchid habitat was announced on the Orchid Digest list this morning.

“El Comercio, a Peruvian Newspaper, reports an exciting orchid habitat find by an engineer in the department of Huancavelica at 3700 m.a.s.l.

Reporter Raul  May Filio writes that the habitat has 145 orchid species in 42 genera, and that many of the species are unknown to science. It was estimated that there are some 70,000 orchid flowers per 2.5 acres.

President of the Huancavelica region, Salvador Espinoza, has stated that the area will immediately declared a National Reserve.”

Complete article in Spanish:

Hallan gigantesco bosque de orquídeas en Huancavelica

Vanda Re-Discovered in the Wild – Last Seen in 1907

5962On Saturday, July 17, 2004, noted Singapore orchid expert Peter O’Byrne wrote to the discussion boards of an exciting discovery:

“I’ve just returned from a trip to a remote part of Sulawesi, where I found a Vanda species growing in huge numbers on trees in 2 mountain valleys. I am fairly certain it is an undescribed species. When I have finished doing drawings & a full description, I’ll circulate it around various experts and see if they concur.

A few details: the largest plant I saw had a stem that was 175 cm long, and had leaves on the upper 80cm. Leaves are up to 34 cm x 42 mm; leaf apex is bilobed, truncated, but rather variable in shape. The largest inflorescence was 21 cm long with 8 flowers. The flowers are ~45 mm wide, lightly fragrant and have a highly mobile lip with a very short spur. ”

Then, on July 24th, Peter wrote:

“After several days of scouring the libraries and reading the original descriptions of all likely candidates, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Vanda species I saw in Sulawesi recently… is Vanda arcuata J.J.Smith.

Smith described V. arcuata in 1907 from a Jellesma collection, and it appears to have been “missing” ever since, so I’m delighted to have had a hand in re-discovering it. The plants I saw vary from the Type description in several ways: the flowers are larger, the petals wider and more rounded, the lip narrower, and the colours different (the Type plant had rows of yellow-brown spots on the lip), but these are minor differences, and none of these is a reason to doubt that they are the same species. There are not even enough significant differences to merit describing my finding as a new variety.”

Needless to say, this discovery has generated a great deal of excitement in the orchid community. Most aficionados dream of the prestige of discovering and naming a new species, and experts were quick to praise Peter for avoiding this temptation.

“I am still not going to divulge any information about the locality, but I have now acquired some fresh seed and am making arrangements to distribute it to people who can put it to good use. With a bit of luck, you’ll all be able to add V. arcuata to your collection in 4-5 years time.”

“There is a bit of a story behind the discovery of these plants. I first saw this species some 5-6 years ago; one plant was flowering under a shade-net in an orchid-collection in the garden of a house in a town in the Poso Valley. I took some photos of the plant & chatted to the owner for a while. She was from a different part of the island and had brought the orchids with her to remind her of home, which is a quite common thing for Indonesians to do. I came back to Singapore and, on the basis of the photos, decided that it was probably an undescribed species, so I’d have to go back and follow it up.

The civil-war, which was just starting in ’99, got much worse and for the next few years it was too dangerous to return to the Poso area. By early 2003 the war had died down, so last August I went back to the Poso Valley.

The house was still there, but it had been heavily machine-gunned and was standing empty …. there was no sign of the owner and her family. The shade-house was still there, but no orchids … someone else was using it to cultivate cocoa seedlings. The neighbours said the family had gone back to their village, and asking around produced the names of the village and it’s subdistrict.

The village is very remote, and getting there (and back) posed some major problems, so I waited until this year and organised a special trip. Yes, it was worthwhile … the first one I saw flowering in the wild was a real thrill. Then I saw the next one, and then the next one…… ”

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