LN Landscape: Where the Wild Things Grow

Winter was slow to get started this year, but now that the cold has settled in, it’s pleasant to dream of the tropics and the wonderful, diverse orchids that fill the rainforests. I have countered the January “blahs” this year by bringing home a great big lime-green and butter-yellow Cymbidium. This monster plant is nearly 3 feet tall with a pair of full, elegant bloom spikes rising above the sword-like leaves. It was in early bloom when it followed me home in December, with promising big buds still covering the top two-thirds of each arching stem. Now, six weeks later, the flowers are nearly all open. Very satisfying for a housebound gardener to have such a delight to contemplate as the snow flies outside. With such long-lasting blooms, this one plant should keep me in flowers until the hellebores awake from their leaf-covered beds in late February.

This one stunning orchid makes me drool with anticipation for the 2016 Missouri Botanical Garden Orchid Show. The theme this year springs from the work of Garden botanists in Central Africa, Madagascar, Latin America and South America. Garden researchers are deeply involved in cooperative projects to save, classify and restore these wild things to their natural environments. Having visited some of the remote research sites personally, I know how rough the fieldwork is (and how dangerous) and have a deep and abiding respect for those members of the Garden team who have dedicated their lives to understanding and protecting the rarest plants of the world. In light of climate change and continuing deforestation, orchid species in nature are being lost faster than they can be identified. The important role the Garden plays in international plant taxonomy, conservation and restoration of orchids makes a compelling storyline interpreted now in a floral fantasy display. Come see thousands of rare, exotic and beautiful orchids from the Garden’s permanent collection, and learn more about the significance of our own St. Louis scientists in the global race to save our precious biodiversity.

After you enjoy the show, be sure to stop by the Garden’s Gate Shop across the hall. The shelves will be filled with a wide selection of live orchids for sale and other orchid-themed items to brighten a winter day. All plants for sale at the Garden have been propagated by modern methods of tissue culture and are never wild-collected specimens. Most orchids bloom once a year, with flowers lasting for a very long time, so select a plant with many buds for the longest display. Because of their unique and delicate flowers, many people assume orchids must be difficult to grow, but most of my orchids rebloom regularly with only minimal attention. As easy houseplants, all they need is a bright window, weekly watering and an occasional bit of plant food. The biggest risk is overwatering, which will cause leaves to yellow and drop off. To learn more about growing orchids, meet members of the Orchid Society of Greater St. Louis at their annual show on Feb. 6 and 7 in the Beaumont Room at the Garden. Admission to that show is free with admission to the Garden.

Where the Wild Things Grow

2016 Missouri Botanical Garden Orchid Show

Feb. 6 through March 27

Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

$5 plus Garden admission

Free for Missouri Botanical Garden members

Sandra Mason: Elegant orchids

Besides a Mother’s Day corsage or Tarzan’s jungle gift to Jane, most of us have limited experience with orchids. Orchids are an amazingly diverse plant family growing in deserts, mountains, marshes, northern woods, Illinois forests and even your home as exotic, elegant houseplants.

Many orchids don’t require special indoor equipment. Mine grow just fine in the east window of my office. Now if you killed off the last five houseplants, your best bet is the easy-growing (more forgiving) moth orchid.

The Phalaenopsis or moth orchids have dark shiny green leaves adorned with showy flowers of pink, white or yellow. Imagine a flock of fluttering moths dancing on an arching high wire.

Moth orchids are native to Asian jungles, but in the U.S., we find them in stores fluttering next to the apples and lettuce or lumber and nails. Intensely blue-colored moth orchids also greet us as we enter many stores, but sorry, these flowers have been dyed and will flower white in future years.

No other orchid is easier to maintain and to rebloom. Sussex Pearl, Femme Fatale or Southern Ruby are just some of the 12,000 hybrid phals available. The flowers will last an amazing two to five months. I had one flowering in my office for so long, visitors thought it was made of wax.

Moth orchids don’t live in soil but are epiphytes, so-called air plants. As Asian jungle natives, they cling with long thick roots to rocks and trees. Their moisture is gathered from rain, dew and humidity and their nutrients from decaying leaves and other debris that accumulates among their roots.

Hopefully, this does not describe your living room, but the conditions are fairly easy to reproduce.

Here are a few simple criteria for growing orchids as houseplants.

1. Orchids require bright light (but no direct sun) to bloom such as an east or shaded west or south window. Too much light will burn the foliage, and too little light will result in little growth or no blooms. Orchids taken outdoors in the summer should be placed in the shade of a tree or patio and should be moved indoors before the temperature drops below 50F. Lady slipper orchids and moth orchids can also be grown under fluorescent lights.

2. Generally, orchids bloom when the night temperatures are 10 to 20 degrees colder than the day temperatures, usually temperatures between 55 and 90 during the day and between 50 and 70 at night. Moth orchids prefer 70 to 80 during the day and 65 to 70 at night and happily rebloom in my office.

3. Orchids appreciate high humidity between 40 to 85 percent. Use humidifiers or fill a tray with pebbles, saturate the pebbles with water and place the pot on the pebbles.

4. Orchids appreciate good air circulation from small portable fans or ceiling fans.

5. They need thorough watering and regular fertilizer during their growing season. Think “weekly weakly.” In other words, fertilize in water every week with a weak (low) rate of orchid fertilizer.

6. Don’t overwater. Some orchid labels recommend watering with ice cubes. This works if you repetitively overwater plants; however, does ice cold water sound like something a jungle plant would want on its roots?

7. The potting mix should provide good air penetration and fast water drainage. Commercially prepared orchid mixes are available with a combination of shredded fir bark, peat moss, perlite or sand.

Discover more about orchids with The Central Illinois Orchid Society. Meetings are typically held on the second Monday of the month at Hessel Park Christian Reformed Church, 700 W. Kirby Ave., C.

Their next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Monday. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 5, the group will hold its annual Orchid Show and Sale. Check out their website, ciorchidsociety.org/.

*Source: The News Gazette

Haven: Thriving with their orchids

Taylor and Frank Slaughter moved to Philadelphia when he retired from a faculty position in mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh.

One of their goals in a new city was to find a home for their orchids.

Growing orchids is no idle hobby for the couple, who became enamored with them during a trip to South Florida about 30 years ago.

They can tell you the difference between warm-weather orchids and those that can thrive in the North, always at temperatures no lower than 75 degrees. In fact, Taylor works for the American Orchid Society’s National Capital Judging Center, serving as chair.

The move after Frank’s retirement was motivated by the couple’s desire to be near their daughter and grandchildren – and, of course, a community of orchid lovers.

“Philadelphia has a wonderful community of orchid collectors, and Longwood Gardens has one of the best orchid gardens in the country,” Frank says.

The house they ultimately settled on was a Realtor’s suggestion: a dilapidated 3,400-square-foot 1960s rancher in Chestnut Hill that had been divided into a series of awkward, tiny rooms.

Both Frank and Taylor acknowledge they were initially skeptical about the house. For one thing, it was dark. Also the five bedrooms were small, and the place lacked warmth.

“We turned it down several times, but finally agreed to buy it,” Taylor says.

The impetus for that decision? The property had room for a greenhouse and a garden. The Slaughters’ limited budget had to accommodate constructing the greenhouse and making sure it was equipped to be warmed or cooled to the right temperature.

“We were told the house actually had good bones, and we proceeded to hire an architect that my daughter knew and hoped for the best,” Taylor says.

Architect Elie-Antoine Atallah, of Studio of Metropolitan Design, took the assignment, using the rancher as the basis for his design.

“It made me feel it was a creative challenge, to have to work within the frame of the existing house,” Atallah says. “It is a different challenge than starting from scratch with a site and no existing building.

“The first thing we did,” he says, “was gut the inside of the house.”

New heating and air conditioning had to be installed, along with gas lines to the building. To improve insulation, Atallah designed additional padding on the outside of the house and covered the frame with stucco.

“We had the exterior painted light gray so it would be similar to the color of the Wissahickon schist buildings in the neighborhood,” he says.

Inside, he designed a great room from what had been the living and dining rooms. An 8-foot ceiling in the living room was removed, and a 12-foot vaulted ceiling created by “popping” up the space with support.

A fireplace anchors one end of the room, offering a modern slant – literally – to a space adorned with traditional furnishings.

A more contemporary dining set perches on an oriental rug, one of several the Slaughters own.

In the kitchen, warm wood embraces the refrigerator and the island as well as the cabinetry. Polished metal accents on the counter stools and lighting offer cooling balance.

Sustainable features were installed, such as bamboo flooring and double- and triple-glass windows.

The bedrooms were reorganized into a master suite, a guest suite, and an office each for Taylor and Frank.

The new heat and water connections helped assure that the greenhouse Atallah designed for the space outside the kitchen would function at the right temperature for the orchids.

He also designed a 9-foot-high black wooden box that functions as a closet. Now, when you enter the house, your eyes meet a colorful oriental tapestry suspended on the closet wall, which also serves to block a view of the great room from anyone outside the front door,

Looking on at the changes – approvingly, it appears – from the foyer wall is Eliza Rebecca Northrop, Taylor’s great-great-great-grandmother, whose portrait was painted in the 1860s.

Are the Slaughters happy, too?

“Yes,” Taylor says. “We have gained sunlight . . . and our house is suddenly full of color.”

*Source: Philly.com

 

Tip of Texas Orchid Society meets today at Valley Nature Center

Tip of Texas Orchid Society announces the agenda for the January meeting. Anyone interested in learning more about orchids and how to grow them in the RGV is invited to join us. The meeting is held at 2 p.m. today, Jan. 3, at the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco.

Our speakers will be Terri Singh and Joyce Erikson, TOTOS members. They will discuss Encyclia orchids and how to grow them successfully in our RGV climate. Encyclia orchids are rarely available in local nurseries and retail stores but they can be grown very successfully in our climate. The society will have a shipment of Encyclia orchids for sale at the meeting along with potting mix and other orchid growing supplies.

We will also be viewing an American Orchid Society podcast entitled “Orchids: Pests and Their Management” by Ron McHatton, followed by a comment and discussion session. Please join us.

*Source: The Monitor

Shelley Peterman Schwarz: Life as an orchid

With the days getting shorter and sunshine more elusive than at other times of the year, I can easily become melancholy and introspective, trying to keep positive in an overwhelmingly troubled world. Then, years ago I had an “A-HA!” moment that still helps me keep my life in perspective, even with all my challenges and limitations. It all started with a blooming orchid.

After attending an orchid show, two friends appeared at my door with a gorgeous gift for me: the most beautiful flowering orchid I had ever seen! It was a delicate phalaenopsis with a dozen white butterfly–shaped flowers with purple centers.

For more than four months, the flowers bloomed, remaining frozen in time, as perfect as the day I received them. Looking at that magnificent plant during those long, dark, winter months gave me hope that spring would come again.

In May, when the flowers finally died, I was shocked at how ugly the plant had become. It’s funny. While it was blooming, I never noticed how unattractive the other parts of the plant were. My phalaenopsis had only a few leaves: Some were a deep, intense, forest green — some faded and washed out. The roots — long, silver-gray nubby tendrils — crawled out of the pot looking like strange worms trying to escape confinement.

I didn’t know where to put the plant. It didn’t look like my other houseplants. It just didn’t fit in. I thought about throwing the orchid away.

I’m so glad I didn’t, because six months later, I saw a new green shoot emerge. Each day I watched that spike grow. Within three weeks, it was 18 inches long and had 16 tiny buds about to open.

Day after day, I watched the buds open like butterflies emerging from their cocoons. I marveled at the beauty, grace, and delicate features of each flower. When I gazed at the orchid, a peaceful, almost holy feeling came over me. How could this exquisite flower be an accident of nature or a random act of the universe?

To me, it reinforced my belief in a higher power and represented a beacon of hope for a better tomorrow.

When a friend admired my blooming orchid, she asked if she could bring over her non-blooming orchid to see if I could work my magic on her plant. Placing her plant next to my gorgeous orchid, I had a kind of clarity. The ugly, non-blooming orchid was my body with its limitations, awkward movements and tremors. It was out of place next to my (pretty) household plants, just like I often felt when I was with my “normal, able-bodied” friends.

Yet, looking at the magnificent flowering orchid filled me with gratitude and love. In a way, I saw my soul, my inner being. That’s when it dawned on me! Multiple sclerosis (MS) was the plant and the flowers were my soul. If that kind of beauty could come out of something so ugly, then maybe I, too, could make something beautiful come out of my illness. MS may have a hold on my body, but I won’t let it have the power to touch my soul.

I decided that day to keep “blooming where I’m planted” and to continue to create beauty in my life. I wish the same for you.

*Source: Author SHELLEY PETERMAN SCHWARZ for Wisconsin State Journal

Australian Plant Society visits rare native garden

Australian Plants Society members recently visited the property of Denise and Graeme Krake who own 40 hectares of predominately native bushland close to Wadbilliga and Biamanga National Parks.

They have diverse ecosystems including the significant plant communities of Brogo wet vine forest and dry rainforest which are listed as endangered ecological communities.

The garden is north facing on decomposed granite soils and was designed as an informal natural garden allowing local indigenous plants to take a foothold and with additional plantings of introduced natives.

“This is a garden for wildlife, peace and tranquility,” Denise said.

Members inspected the garden during morning tea.  Denise showed her collection of water containers and discussed the ponds while Graeme unveiled his vast collection of Hakeas.

As long time members of The Australasian Native Orchid Society (ANOS) Victoria, Graeme and Denise are experienced growers of terrestrial orchids.

At this meeting Graeme discussed their cultivation and growing requirements.

During the session Graeme repotted some orchid tubers of Pterostylis explaining the process as he went.

After lunch the group was guided down into the rainforest area to enthuse over the pristine nature of the blue gum forest and gully plants.

The Australian Plant Society South East Region aims to promote an awareness of Australian native plants in our community, inform its members about native plants and act as a social group for people with an interest in these plants.

Meetings are generally held on the first Saturday of each month except January. As our group covers the coastal area from Batemans Bay to the Victorian border and inland to the Monaro we meet at varying locations.

We currently have over 80 members making the group an active and friendly one.  Our members mainly live in the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley Shires but anyone can join.

Our newsletter contains details of meetings and trips as well as information on plants and habitats and tips on propagation.  It is produced every month except January.

*Source: Narooma News

Watering a passion

Orchids have fascinated people for long. Some people take to collecting and growing orchids as a hobby. Some find it therapeutic, while for the rest, it is serious business. Many say that growing orchids is like raising a child.

Most of the members of the Orchid Society of Karnataka are passionate about growing the plant. The members of the Society meet regularly and all the information they exchange and conversations revolve around orchids. SG Ramkumar, a businessman, finds it a rewarding process.

“It’s the flower of orchids that drew me to collecting them 15 years ago. Now, I have the rarest of orchids in my garden. Growing an orchid is like solving a puzzle,” he says. Sriram, a young professional, finds it a de-stressing affair and says that after a demanding work schedule, he finds the balm in his orchids. “It not only engages you in the most creative way, but also unravels the potential in you,” he says.

People also grow it within the limited spaces of their homes. “You don’t really need a large garden to grow orchids. “You need a large heart and the will to sustain it,” believe these orchid growers. Nageshwar, an employee with Tata Power, and a member, has been collecting and maintaining orchids for the last 28 years and has over 1,500 plants on the terrace. “My orchids have become prized exhibits as most of the people who come visiting us never leave without viewing them. When they ask me questions, I am more than happy to answer them all,” he says.

Growing orchids have a therapeutic value and has a meditative effect as well. Sanjeev wakes up at 5.30 in the morning to tend his orchids and spends quality time with them. “I always liked gardening and it is the rare flowers that attracted me to the cultivation of orchids,” he says. Rama, who runs a small-scale industry, says the hobby inculcates a sense of self discipline. “You can’t afford to relax when you are an orchid grower. These plants need the right amount of care and you can never have an excuse to not cater to them. Orchid growing also teaches you time management,” feels Rama.

Agreeing with Rama, Sandhya Mahesh, another avid orchid grower, says she wasn’t interested in orchids until she saw her father-in -law spend considerable time and effort on them. “I now spend a lot of time watering my orchids and in some ways, it is therapeutic,” she explains.

The members of the group meet regularly and all their meetings are abuzz with infectious energy with each member waiting to share something new. Gayatri, another grower, says that it has been a great experience thus far.

“I have about 200 to 300 orchids and spend a lot of time trying to understand the requirements of orchid growing and readjust my work according to the requirements,” adds Gayatri.

The group has people from all walks of life but Dr Parvathi, a medical practitioner, says that she took to orchid growing only after she retired from active medicine.

“My life revolves around orchids and everything to do with it. People may call it an “obsession” but I find it the most rewarding process,” says Parvathi. Orchids are expensive but orchid growers, like Nalini and Kalyanpur, call it a good investment.

“I shop for orchids wherever I go and believe that it is a good investment. I sometimes, save up to buy these orchids,” she says. Kalyanpur, who was earlier in the Army, says, his transferrable job made it difficult for him to sustain his hobby. “But, I took to it seriously, only after I retired from the Armed Forces. My house is full of orchids and I don’t know how time flies when I spend time with them,” he says.

*Source: Deccan Herald

The deceptive sex lives of orchids

In the 1930s, an amateur naturalist solved an evolutionary riddle that had flummoxed even Charles Darwin: how and why do orchids lure male wasps? Danielle Clode and Sue Double tell the story of Edith Coleman.

It is early January of 1927 and Mrs Edith Coleman is sitting at her desk, admiring a vase of native orchids by the window.

The pink labellum of the small tongue orchid curves upwards, studded with two rows of shiny dark spots, and surrounded by five thin leg-like spikes—the sepals and petals. The orchid hardly looks like a flower at all.

But the orchids attract more than just Coleman’s attention. Through the window comes a stream of insect visitors: small black ichneumon wasps. They bustle enthusiastically around the orchids, each anxious to be the first to enter the flower, not head-first as most nectar foragers do, but backwards.

After a time, individual wasps depart, each carrying a packet of pollen on the tip of its abdomen, ready, no doubt, to deposit their parcels into the next orchid that attracts their fervent attention.

What was it that attracted the wasps? Orchids produce no nectar or edible material. Wasps are normally predators, hunting caterpillars and other larvae. And all the visitors were male—they weren’t laying any eggs.

Coleman could draw only one conclusion. ‘They are answering,’ she wrote, ‘to an irresistible sex-instinct.’

The behaviour Coleman observed pseudocopulation, attracting pollinating insects through perceived sexual favours.

Coleman wasn’t the first to observe this; in an earlier century, Charles Darwin had been puzzled by the frequent ‘attacks’ made upon orchids by their pollinators. ‘What this means I cannot conjecture,’ he declared.

Coleman, however, was the first to explain the strange approach of the pollinating wasps.

Her experiments proved beyond any doubt that the wasps were pollinating the orchids, and that the orchids were mimicking female wasps—in effect, persuading the insect to mate with flowers.

Coleman was not a professional scientist, but rather an avid amateur naturalist and prolific nature writer. Her early work was published in the pages of The Victorian Naturalist—the journal of the Field Naturalist’s Club of Victoria, which she joined at the age of 48.

Over the course of 27 years, Coleman contributed 135 articles and notes to that journal, and had her scientific work published internationally. In addition, Coleman wrote regularly for The ArgusThe Age and The Australian Women’s Mirror. In 1949, all these contributions were recognised when Coleman became the first woman to be awarded the Australian Natural History Medallion.

But it was for her work on pseudocopulation that Coleman became best known. Her publications attracted international attention, and earned her the respect and admiration of eminent orchidologists worldwide

Dr R.S. Rogers presented her work in his address to the Australian and New Zealand Science Congress of 1932. ‘Perhaps I lingered longer over your discovery than on the other papers as it brought so prominently before the world one of the strangest and most weird devices in the history of pollination,’ he noted.

‘It will prove a worthy supplement to Darwin’s classic study on the same subject,’ he added later.

Another eminent orchidologist, H.R. Rupp, put it even more directly. ‘Your name ought to be Darwin,’ he wrote.

Coleman hypothesised that the orchid’s mimicry worked on several levels. To the human eye, the pink tongue of the orchid, with its shiny spots and long, spiky legs does look a little wasp-like. But in wasp-vision, the orchid is uncanny: it mimics the precise dimensions and shape of a female wasp’s body.

Wasps are sensitive to UV reflection, and the orchids’ reflection mimics the wings and abdomen of a female wasp. This is not to say that the orchids neglect the wasp’s other senses—they even use tactile features to stimulate the male wasps into mating or guide their bodies into the correct position.

Coleman knew that there had to be more than visual and tactile mimicry at work, however. The wasp’s attraction operated even at considerable distance—wasps rapidly locate flowers even when they are inside a house. She suspected scent—but to our nose, the orchid gives off no discernible scent at all.

It would be three quarters of a century before the mystery Coleman identified was finally solved using a combination of two new technologies: gas chromatography, which identifies individual compounds in a chemical, and electroantennal detection, which measures the electrical activity present in an insect’s antennae when exposed to a chemical compound.

In 2004, Florian Schiestl and his team at the Australian National University put these two technologies together and discovered that the odour produced by the orchid exactly mimics the sex pheromone of the female wasp. Even more astonishingly, different species of orchids have reproduced the identical single compound present in the pheromone of its specific pollinator.

These compounds are so attractive that a drop placed on the head of a pin is enough to stimulate copulation. So persuasive is the orchid’s mimicry that the wasps will even discard a real female wasp in favour of the alluring flowers.

Pseudocopulation is a relatively rare phenomenon amongst Australian orchids. Of our 1,300 named orchid species, only 14 are known to practice sexual mimicry to effect pollination. It is not only wasps that are deceived into providing this service, but also ants, gnats, bees and flies.

The orchid’s sexual deceit and the strategies it uses to ensure the transfer of its genes is so detailed and complex that it is impossible to conceive the evolutionary process that might have given rise to it. It seemed a great mystery that such a process, so beneficial to the orchid, so exploitative to the wasp, could possibly have evolved.

Coleman noted as much, remarking that male wasps often emerge before the females, and it is these early-season enthusiasts that are most vulnerable to the lure of the orchids. Orchids are relatively rare, so the momentary distraction of a few male wasps is unlikely to have any long-term impact on the wasp population. In any case, male wasps can mate multiple times and females are self-fertile. Like the orchids themselves, which can reproduce vegetatively, the wasps have many ways of ensuring the continuation of their species.

Modern scientists, like Coleman’s contemporaries, continue to acknowledge the importance of her work. Her studies are still cited in scientific papers today, not just for her contributions to the study of orchids and pollination, but also for her research on birds, spiders, phasmids and echidnas, as well as the impact of mistletoe.

Coleman herself had no anxieties about stepping into the territory of professional biologists. ‘We nature lovers,’ she told The Age in 1950, ‘may open our windows on all aspects of nature, even though we may sometimes abut on the preserves of the specialist.’

Her influence on others has been broad and indirect. She kept up a voluminous correspondence with other scientists around the world, sending them an abundance of samples with which to continue their work, and she supported other up-and-coming students of nature, particularly women.

Amongst her protégés were Rica Ericson, who wrote: ‘[Coleman] helped me in many ways, yet always treated me as an equal, and not as the learner I was. We loved the same things, and that was what mattered to her. I shall always remember her keen interest in all living things, and her enjoyment of beauty.’

Lisa Galbraith, another student, related the story of a walk with Coleman. After seeking out orchids, Coleman stopped at the fence of a bush garden and watched honeyeaters dance among the salvia flowers.

‘Sometimes,’ Coleman said to Lisa, ‘when I see a garden like that, I find out who it belongs to and post them some roots or a packet of seeds.

‘They don’t know who sends them, but I like to think of their surprise, and of my seeds growing in so many different gardens.’

And the seeds Coleman planted are almost certainly growing still in more gardens than she could ever have imagined.

 *Source: ABC

Looks like a bee, but is really an orchid

PUNE: Taking a stroll through the forests of the Western Ghats in February and March, one might spot a bee on a plant growing on tall trees or it might just have been the

flower of Cottonia penduncularis, commonly called the Bee orchid because of its ability to perfectly mimic the insect.

When in full bloom, the flowers of this orchid resemble the back of a bee. Scientists believe the modification helps to lure pollinators to the flower enabling more efficient cross-pollination.

The Bee orchid is one of more than 300 species of orchids that are found in the Western Ghats. While this orchid is found in Sri Lanka as well, nearly one-third of them are endemic to the Western Ghats (they are not found elsewhere), said Jeewan Singh Jalal, senior scientist at the Western Regional Centre of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI).

“Orchids usually require high rainfall and humidity for their habitat. Nearly 40% of orchids are found in evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. With the high levels of rainfall received by the slopes of the Western Ghats, they offer an ideal habitat for orchids,” Jalal said.

The geographic location of the mountains could also explain the high degree of endemism. On one side of the mountains lie the coast and the sea. The plains on the other side of the mountain chain comprise dry areas that don’t offer a habitat conducive for orchids. Thus over the centuries many unique species have evolved in isolation, he explained.

Perhaps the second largest group of flowering plants in the world, orchids are one of the most ecologically and morphologically diverse families. They thrive on the diverse habitats available within the Western Ghats. There are three kinds of orchids – those that grow on dead and decaying matter, terrestrial orchids that grow on the soil and the epiphytic orchids that grow on other trees, Jalal said.

he laterite plateaus of the Western Ghats for instance are home to several species of terrestrial orchids including endemic species like Habenaria grandifloriformis and Habenaria suaveolens. In the extreme climatic conditions on the plateaus, these plants bloom only in the rainy season, usually in June and July. The tubers of the plant remain underground for the rest of the year and new shoots emerge the next season. On the other hand, the vegetative parts of the epiphytic orchids can be seen throughout the year, he said.

The terrestrial orchids have two modes of reproduction, through these tubers as well as through seeds like other orchids. However, the seeds of orchids are microscopic and do not contain endosperm that nourishes the budding plant. Instead, orchids rely entirely on a group of fungus to provide the germinating seeds with nutrients. This symbiotic relationship is called Mycorrhiza, he added.

“Some orchid species require unique habitat and microhabitats so they are confined to particular elevations and forest types. Some are naturally rare; others are so because of geographic distribution, narrow habitat requirements, and low-density populations,” he said.

Some species that were reported earlier from the region have not been found recently, indicating their gradual disappearance due to habitat changes. For instance Paphiopedilum druryi, which was once found in plenty in Agastyamalai Hills in southern India is now difficult to locate, Jalal said.

*Source: The Times of India

Orchids of the future grow in Salinas

Some might call orchids low-maintenance: They require water only once every three weeks. But Floricultura Pacific greenhouse in Salinas has elevated orchid care to a Space Age science.

“We probably have more technology in here than in any other U.S. greenhouse,” general manager Don Howell said, gesturing to a maze of conveyor belts and cranes suspended from the ceiling.

This center of innovation began in 2006, when the Dutch company Floricultura bought an old complex of greenhouses off Esperanza Road. In greenhouse circles, Holland means innovation, according to Howell.

Dutch conditions require creative approaches, he explained. The Netherlands’ high wages make automation an attractive investment, and the cold climate demands temperature-controlled greenhouses.

When the company began the search for an American location, the East Coast initially seemed attractive because, Howell explained, many American buyers live along the Atlantic. But the weather proved too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, poisonous ingredients for keeping utility bills low.

Salinas offered a much milder climate, but even here, not all sites suited the company’s connoisseur tastes. Billowing fog discouraged Floricultura from purchasing a nearby greenhouse — orchids must have their sun.

“This location is very unique,” Howell said. “It’s ideal for what we’re trying to do.”

It’s ideal, in other words, for producing 5 million orchids of top quality per year to send to growers across the country, including Puerto Rico and Hawaii. Pioneering technology makes that possible.

Labs in the Netherlands breed orchids through tissue cultures. Scientists shave off a piece of stem from a desired plant and clone it in a petri dish. They then ship samples to the Salinas greenhouse for further growth. For charismatic plants like orchids, cloning offers critical predictability.

“People used to cross two whites and get a pink,” said Howell.

Now the greenhouse can develop orchids to maximize the color, flower size, and number buyers want.

Bright red cranes stretch down from the ceilings and move the orchids along metal pathways, to an orchid photo booth that sorts the crops by size. Since orchids take a relatively long time to grow — roughly two years — the plants must be clustered in groups of similar age and size so they can be flagged for sale to growers 12 weeks before they flower. Growers then take the plants and sell them directly to customers.

In a carefully maintained 80°F expanse with insulating blankets hanging overhead, Howell pointed to dozens of rows of potted green leaves. They ranged from short, stubby 6-month-old pots to those over a year old, with banana-sized leaves. No workers lugged the plants around.

 “We take plants to people, rather than people to plants,” Howell said, looking up at the omnipresent cranes that shoved the pots along the conveyor.Howell worked for much of his life growing roses until the market crashed. He said that orchids are more resistant to such crashes because of the challenges newcomers face. Growers must be willing and able to invest in greenhouses fitted for orchid needs, while waiting at least two years before they reap their first profits.

This year, white orchids constituted 35-40 percent of the greenhouse’s sales, thanks to the ravenous demands of brides and grooms. Howell says he’s never seen a comparable white orchid mania.

That’s saying something. Howell has been working in greenhouses a long time. But the novelties of Floricultura Pacific offered him fresh entertainment.

“I’ve been working in greenhouses all my life,” said Howell. “To get into something brand new with all the latest technology was pretty exciting.”