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…… ”

Orchid Spring Discussion List
Orchid Guide Discussion List

Looking for wartime gardening stories

The January 2004 Newsletter contains an interesting article about someone who is looking for gardening stories from the 1939-1945 era:

“During the years of WW1 and WW2, Canadian gardeners were asked to support the war effort by planting gardens to produce food for the war effort. I believe part of the program was called Patriotism and Production , and was an organized effort to help the Canadian war effort by food production both rural and urban.

I am looking for information and stories, and any other information I can find about this time in our Canadian gardening history. I am also interested in any organizations which participated in the program and perhaps grew out of it.

Anyone with stories or resources about the WORLD WAR I – CANADA FOOD BOARD and the Canadian War Poster Collection I would love to hear from them in particular. If you have a story to share, a memory, a picture, particularly media releases (newspapers, flyers) , I would appreciate the opportunity to learn more. If you know of Canadian resources about wartime gardening I would be very excited to locate them.

I am gathering this information for personal interest, although I may eventually create a display for our local Agricultural Fair Archive and Museum if I find enough information. I am also interested in learning
more about the school gardening program across Canada and its roots and history. This is an intriguing time in the history of gardening in Canada and our national development. Thanks for sharing your information and any resources you may have.”

Contact Ann Marie at if you can help her with this.

Regency Life and a Rose Garden

Christmas at my house is the season of Jane Austen, and repeated showings of all five tapes of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. This year we watched the entire series twice, augmented with an airing of “Sense and Sensibility”. I then plowed through the novel “Persuasion”, and yep, tonight I just finished reading “Pride and Prejudice”. It’s an odd tradition for the Christmas season, I suppose. I can’t explain the attraction, though Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy does speak for itself.

Curious about the cause of Jane Austen’s early death at 41, I did a little searching on the internet. I came across a site that is loaded with interesting background information on Regency life, including biographical details of JA’s life. Check out the page on Regency Rose Gardens.

While you’re there, don’t miss the page on “a History of Pain”, and the story about the tough soldier who was annoyed by the screams of the fellow in the next bed, “so much so, that as soon as his arm was amputated, he struck the Frenchman a smart blow across the breech with the severed limb, holding it at the wrist, saying, ‘Here, take that, and stuff it down your throat, and stop your damned bellowing!’ “

Flower power

Hey, plants aren’t for sissies!

1. Name three plants that were contributing causes of wars.
2. What two plants helped spread the ideas and philosophies of major civilizations?
3. What plant helped build a new industry?
4. What two plants are the greatest food staples of the world?
5. What large grass has been used to build fleets?
6. Name three plants that played a role in colonization.
7. What plant is a symbol for architectural elegance?
8. Can you name any of the plants found in King Tut’s tomb?
9. What plant caused an economic collapse?
10. What plant is the greatest boon to humanity?


1. British tariffs on tea became a symbol of taxation without representation, and the Boston Tea Party set the stage for the American Revolution. Cotton, one of the cornerstones of the old American South, increased the demand for slaves, which some historians believe contributed to the Civil War. The opium poppy was behind the Opium Wars, 1839-42 and 1856-60, with England and France on one side and China on the other.

2. Olives and olive oil were the chief export of ancient Greece and, through their trade, the Greeks spread ideas that became the foundation for Western civilization. We also know a great deal about the ancient world thanks to the Phoenicians and Egyptians, who used paper made from papyrus. This ready source of writing material helped promote and spread literacy.

3. Christopher Columbus brought the vegetable gum we call rubber back to Europe after he saw natives tossing an elastic substance collected from caoutchouc trees (Hevea). It took 300 years before rubber was widely used commercially, and eventually rubber came into its own with the automobile industry.

4. Rice has the edge over wheat as the most widely consumed food from a plant. Both are steeped in history. For example, Alexander the Great introduced rice to the Western world when he brought it back from India. Seeds of wheat have been found with Iron Age implements. Columbus introduced the grain to the New World.

5. In Asia, the world’s largest grass, bamboo, has been used to make everything from flutes to boats. Bamboo seeds and sprouts also are a food source.

6. The spice trade, particularly pepper, led to development of great merchant fleets, which in turn led to colonization. Later, sugar cane played a role in colonization. A South American tree, the cinchona, helped make possible colonization of tropical countries. Quinine, a cure for malaria, is produced from its bark.

7. Leaves of bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis) decorate the top of Corinthian columns and are often used to symbolize elegance and grace.

8. Plants found in King Tut’s tomb include cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), mandrake (Mandragora), lotus (Nymphaea), olive (Olea), willow (Salix) and nightshade (Solanum).

9. In the 1630s, prices of fancy tulips reached such staggering sums that investors lost entire fortunes on bulbs and often were forced into bankruptcy. The phenomenon, while most rampant in The Netherlands, spread to England and France.

10. No contest. It’s a product of beans from the Theobroma cacao tree. Chocolate.

by Dulcy Mahar
Garden Writer, The Oregonian

The first plant virus

A little cerebral — but, if you’ve ever wondered if the ancients pulled their hair out over virus’ in prize plants, or whether it’s a modern phenomenon, you may be interested in this article about this possible early reference to plant virus, in a poem written by a Japanese Empress in 752 AD.

A.J. Hicks of the OGD writes, “flower break in tulips dating back to the early 1600’s was discovered by Carolus Clusius, but the disease (tulip breaking potyvirus) wasn’t pinned down until the 1930’s. Before this was known, it was considered a valuable characteristic. Of course, in the middle of “tulip madness”, just about everything tulipiferous was considered more valuable, the same way that unprofitable tech stocks were until a couple of years ago. 

Article from The Scientist

The first plant virus

Was a poem written over a millennium ago the first written record of a plant virus? | By C L Bishop

The Man’yoshu (meaning “collection of ten thousand leaves”) is the oldest anthology of poetry in Japan. One poem, written by the Empress Koken in 752 AD, describes the unusual autumnal appearance of eupatorium plants during the summer — they exhibit a characteristic yellow leaf pattern on their leaves, attributed to the presence of a geminivirus called eupatorium yellow-vein virus (EpYVV). In a Brief Communication in the April 24 Nature, Keith Saunders and colleagues at The John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK, show that a geminivirus and accompanying satellite component are responsible for the foliar patterns of eupatorium plants. This finding suggests that the poem also represents the first known
record of a plant virus (Nature, 422:831, April 24, 2003).

Saunders et al. investigated the possibility that, in addition to EpYVV, a DNA β-satellite component was required for the aetiology of eupatorium plants. Cloned tandem repeats of β-satellite DNA components and of geminiviruses were used to infect wild-type eupatorium plants. Diseased plants exhibited the characteristic phenotype, and analysis confirmed that both the β-satellite DNA and the EpYVV DNA were required. In addition, the disease and phenotype could be transmitted between plants by the whitefly Bemisia tabaci.

“[This] implies that such disease complexes were prevalent before the advent of modern intensive agriculture practices. Similar disease complexes have now been found in weeds, ornamental plants, and economically important crops throughout Africa and Asia, indicating that they are diverse and widespread, and represent a serious threat to
agriculture in the Old World,” conclude the authors.

Links for this article:

M. Onuki, K. Hanada, “Genomic structure of a geminivirus in the genus begomovirus from yellow vein-affected Eupatorium makinoi,” Journal of General Plant Pathology, 66:176-181, 2000.
K. Saunders et al., “The earliest recorded plant virus disease,” Nature, 422:831, April 24, 2003.
The John Innes Centre

Cattleya Portia, or Porcia?

Cattleya Portia, or Porcia? For a while I thought they were the same thing — just two different spellings. The mystery is solved:

Cattleya bowringiana’s contributions to hybridization, however, go well beyond the coerulea. Its two most famous contributions are Cattleya Portia, its hybrid with the autumn-flowering, large-flowered species Cattleya labiata, and Cattleya Porcia, its cross with Cattleya Armstrongiae (Hardyana x loddigesii). Both C. Portia and C. Porcia are intermediate in size between their parents. They are beautifully colored, vigorous growers with tall heads of flowers and they make an impressive display. They are considered by many Cattleya experts to be among the finest and most spectacular Cattleya hybrids ever bred.

Cattleya Portia was registered by James Veitch & Son in 1897 and C. Porcia by H.G. Alexander in 1927. Both have received many awards from the RHS and AOS. Cattleya Porcia ‘Cannizaro,’ which received AMs from the RHS in 1936 and the AOS in 1951, actually received an FCC/AOS as late as 1988 in recognition of its excellence.

Thanks, Jocelyn Bertrand of Beaver Valley Orchids!