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.

Gardening as an extreme sport

Remember the orchid collectors who were kidnapped back in 2000 by Columbian guerillas? One of them, Tom Hart Dyke, is returning to the country where he was held hostage for 9 months.

Tom recalled the day his captors announced that he would be killed,

Tom spent his ‘final day’ designing a dream garden that contained plants he’d collected from across the globe.

His determination to garden against all odds drove his captors crazy:

It was perhaps Tom’s jungle antics that made his captors glad to see the back of him.

“Building gardens in the mountains was much to the annoyance of our kidnappers,” said Tom.

Now if this isn't gardening as an extreme sport, I don't know what is.

Read the article: Orchid hunter Tom Hart Dyke returns to Colombia 14 years after guerrillas kidnapped him in Darien Gap region

In all beginnings dwells a magic force

A funny thing about orchids — they don’t die willingly. In a burst of energy one Sunday not too long ago, I pulled the feral grocery store orchids out from their neglected corner of the patio, and repotted them. Watered them and brought them indoors. It’s the first time I’ve paid any attention to my orchids since I threw them outdoors last spring after a winter of neglect on the windowsill.

Not only are they not dead, one of them is going to put out blooms. Three fat and defiant inflorescences.

It’s kind of like this blog. Neglected, ignored, but still… not dead.

And apparently (heart-swellingly), not forgotten either.

Just a few days afterward, I received an email from an orchid hero and blast from my botanical past, Aaron J. Hicks. He wrote to say hi and to tell me that a 4 year-old blog post of mine was “Boing-Boinged“. Today, another nice note came out of the blue from my favourite Herbal Wise Woman of the Northern Light Centre, to say hello and tell me that she’d had a laugh over some of my blog posts. A laugh! Awesome.

It’s been 5 years since I moved to Munich, and my horticultural/writing impulse has gone into a deep slumber. But these sweet nudges are encouraging me to come out of hibernation. To come out and play. I don’t have a garden. The vast majority of my flower pots are upside down under a bench, and the only greenery I lay claim to are a few stubborn and unremarkable orchids. Orchids that have life in them still, and a few flowers – like this blog.

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.

– from the poem, Stufen (translation)
Hermann Hesse

Never mind orchids… asparagus?

Cool. Now there is evidence that orchids have been in existence since dinosaurs were running around the earth.

A 15-20 million year old bee has been discovered preserved in amber, with orchid pollen on its back. Apparently this helps end a certain amount of debate over how long orchids have been around:

Proponents of an older age for orchids had cited their ubiquity around the world, their close evolutionary kinship with the ancient asparagus family, and their bewildering diversity: Some 20,000 to 30,000 species strong, the showy plants comprise some 8 percent of all flowering species worldwide.

By applying the so-called molecular clock method, the scientists also estimated the age of the major branches of the orchid family. To their surprise, they found that certain groups of modern orchids, including the highly prized genus Vanilla, evolved very early during the rise of the plant family.

Putting orchids back in the forests

Commercial orchid growers from America are working with Costa Rica’s Monteverde Conservation League (MCL) to re-introduce native orchid species to the wild.

We found both Cattleya skinneri (the national flower) and Cattleya dowiana in full bloom as we traveled the countryside, and it was nothing short of a religious experience. …Much to our surprise, however, the orchids were not growing in the cloud forests along with the other impressive and diverse biological varieties as we were expecting. Instead, the cattleyas had been removed from the jungle trees and were now blooming in local residents’ yards

…In Costa Rica, laws have been passed recently that make it illegal to collect wild cattleyas. This action, though well-intentioned, is too late, because the plants are almost extinct in the forests.

Kudos to Chadwick & Son Orchids Inc. They’re in business to make money, to be sure, but also because they love orchids.

Continue reading “Putting orchids back in the forests”