The Deceptive Ways of the Calypso Orchid

Posted June 27th, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Cool Growers, Fragrant Orchids, In the News, Mini Orchids, Orchids in the Wild, Photos

In Defense of Plants exposes The Deceptive Ways of the Calypso Orchid. This dainty, charming species grows in northern forests of North America, Europe, and Asia, where it’s pollinated by bumblebees. The bees are attracted by the orchid’s sweet fragrance, yellow hairs on the flower lip which mimic pollen, and nectar spurs. But the yellow hairs have no pollen, and the nectar spurs are empty. Disappointed, the bees quickly learn not to waste time at these blooms. That means Calypsos need naive bees which haven’t been tricked before. And, these insects must be slow learners to get fooled twice: once to pick up pollen, and again to deposit it on another flower. With the Calypso Orchid’s deceptions, it’s a complicated relationship.

Calypso bulbosa, Fairy Slipper flower, North American native orchid species, miniature orchid, growing wild in Southwestern ColoradoCalypso bulbosa, Fairy Slipper flower, North American native orchid species, miniature orchid, growing wild in Southwestern ColoradoCalypso bulbosa var. americana, Fairy Slipper flower, North American native orchid species, miniature orchid, growing wild in Montezuma County, southwestern Colorado, Four Corners region

The photos above show Calypso Orchids growing wild in the mountains of southwest Colorado.

Summer Solstice Orchids

Posted June 20th, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Cool Growers, Photos

Masdevallia Charisma 'Pink Glow' AM/AOS x Masd uniflora 'Cow Hollow' HCC/AOSMasdevallia Royal Monarch 'Golden Glow' AM/AOS, orchid hybrid flower, yellow flower, pleurothallid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2015, San Francisco, CaliforniaMasdevallia Jaime Posada 'Patriarch' AM/AOS, orchid hybrid flower, pleurothallid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2020, San Francisco, California

Here on the Northern California coast, summers are often cool and foggy. Right on schedule for today’s summer solstice, we were greeted this morning by a heavy fog bank. It’s the perfect weather for Dave’s and my favorite orchids, Masdevallias, which live in high mountain cloud forests. These tropical, triangular beauties feature stunningly brilliant colors. The first photo in this post comes from my garden; the rest are from orchid shows. Have a happy, healthy, and peaceful solstice.

Masdevallia Mandarin Gold 'Orange Crush' HCC/AOS, orchid hybrid flowers, orange flowers, pleurothallid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2020, San Francisco, CaliforniaMasdevallia orchid flowers, pleurothallid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2017, San Francisco, CaliforniaMasdevallia rosea, orchid species flowers, pink and orange flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2016, San Francisco, California

Masdevallia Catherine West 'Natasha', orchid hybrid flower, pleurothallid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2020, San Francisco, CaliforniaMasdevallia caudata, orchid species flower, Pacific Orchid Expo 2016, San Francisco, CaliforniaMasdevallia MacInnes Golden Heart 'Isis', orchid hybrid flower, yellow flower, pleurothallid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2017, San Francisco, California

Angraecums, the Shining Stars of the Orchid World

Posted June 17th, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Conservation, Fragrant Orchids, Growing, Intermediate Growers, Photos, Warm Growers

Angraecum sesquipedale, Darwin's Orchid, Christmas Orchid, Star of Bethlehem Orchid, white orchid species flowers, Angraecoid, fragrant flowers, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Papaikou, Hawaii Island, Big IslandAngraecum sesquipedale, Darwin's Orchid, Christmas Orchid, Star of Bethlehem Orchid, white orchid species flower, Angraecoid, fragrant flowers, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Papaikou, Hawaii Island, Big IslandAngraecum sesquipedale, Darwin's Orchid, Christmas Orchid, Star of Bethlehem Orchid, white orchid species flowers with long nectar spurs, Angraecoid, fragrant flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2016, San Francisco, California

Sparkling white flowers make Angraecums look like shining stars. This fascinating genus is native to Madagascar, tropical Africa, and islands in the Indian Ocean. They are sometimes called Comet Orchids, because thin nectar tubes hanging from the backs of their flowers inspire thoughts of comet tails. The most famous is Darwin’s Orchid, Angraecum sesquipedale. It’s shown in the first row of photos, and also called the Star of Bethlehem Orchid. Its large, tropical blooms inspired Charles Darwin to predict that a moth with a 12 inch (30 cm) tongue lived hidden in Madagascar’s jungles. This insect species would be able to reach nectar at the bottom of the long nectar spurs, pollinating the flowers in the process. The famous scientist was ridiculed at the time, but the moth was discovered decades later, helping to confirm his ideas about evolution.

Angraecum germinyanum, orchid species flowers, Angraecoid, white fragrant flowers with curvy petals, Orchid Society of California Show, Oakland Orchid Show 2010, Oakland, CaliforniaAngraecum germinyanum, orchid species flower, Angraecoid, white fragrant flowers with curvy petals, Pacific Orchid Expo 2011, San Francisco, CaliforniaAngraecum magdalenae, orchid species flowers, Angraecoid, white fragrant flowers, Orchid in the Park 2016, San Francisco, California

Angraecum florulentum, orchid species flowers and leaves, Angraecoid, white fragrant flowers with long nectar spurs, grown indoors in San Francisco, CaliforniaAngraecum equitans, orchid species flowers, Angraecoid, white fragrant flowers with nectar spurs, Pacific Orchid Expo 2013, San Francisco, CaliforniaAngraecum didieri, orchid species flower, Angraecoid, white fragrant flower with nectar spur, Pacific Orchid Expo 2011, San Francisco, California

There are over 220 Angraecum species and a growing list of hybrids. Sadly, most species are highly endangered and at risk of extinction. Habitat destruction, climate change, and theft of wild plants are the greatest threats to their survival. Some types are large plants, while others are miniatures. They all have flowers with nectar spurs which are fragrant at night. In cultivation, they require regular water, high humidity, good air movement, winter dormancy, and bright light, but no full sun. Most don’t like to be repotted, so they’re usually grown on mounts. That makes these orchids best for advanced growers, or for those in the tropics who can more easily accommodate them outdoors.

Angraecum urschianum, orchid species flower leaves and roots, Angraecoid, white fragrant flower with nectar spur, miniature mounted orchid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2011, San Francisco, CaliforniaAngraecum longiscott, orchid species flower leaves and nectar spur, Angraecoid, white fragrant flower with nectar spur, grown outdoors in Mission District in San Francisco, CaliforniaAngraecum orchid flower, Angraecoid, white fragrant flower, Pacific Orchid Expo 2006, San Francisco, California

Angraecum superbum, orchid species flowers, Angraecoid, white fragrant flowers with nectar spurs, Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyAngraecum eburneum, orchid species flower, Angraecoid, white fragrant flower, Princess of Wales Conservatory, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, London, UKPossibly Angraecum eburneum, orchid species flower, Angraecoid, white and green fragrant flower, Cloud Forest Conservatory, Gardens by the Bay nature park, Singapore

It’s tough to capture the beauty of these white flowers in photos. Some Angraecums boast crystalline white blossoms. Their sparkling petals glisten like a collection of tiny gems reflecting the light. Others sport a cream or light green color. Angraecum relatives with similar traits include Jumellea, Mystacidium, and Oeoniella.

Australian Scientists Finally Unlock Queen of Sheba Orchid’s Secret

Posted June 13th, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Conservation, In the News

In Australia, a country full of extraordinary plants, the Queen of Sheba Orchids stand out. Their brilliant displays of purples, pinks, and gold make them Australian orchid royalty, and their admirers refer to them simply as “Queens.” The Sydney Morning Herald reports that this rare and endangered native of Western Australia may be making a comeback. After years of difficulties starting them from seed, scientists have finally cracked the tricky formula. In addition to precise soil conditions, the seeds need extra nutrients, unlike most orchids which only draw food from fungal partners. That breakthrough means they can now grow Queens in large numbers, and someday return them to the wild.

Samurai Orchids Fight to Survive in the Wild

Posted June 7th, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Conservation, Cool Growers, Fragrant Orchids, In the News, Mini Orchids, Photos

Samurai Orchid, Vanda falcata, Neofinetia falcata, Furan, Fukiran, orchid species flower, white flower, mini fragrant Japanese orchid, Orchids in the Park 2016, Hall of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CaliforniaSamurai Orchid, Vanda falcata Higashidemiyako, Neofinetia falcata, Furan, Fukiran, orchid species flowers, white flowers, mini fragrant Japanese orchid, grown indoors/outdoors in San Francisco, CaliforniaSamurai Orchid, Vanda falcata, Neofinetia falcata, Furan, Fukiran, orchid species flowers, white flowers, mini fragrant Japanese orchid, Orchids in the Park 2019, Hall of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

Display of 3 Samurai Orchids in front of gold floral Japanese screen, Vanda falcata, Neofinetia falcata, Furan, Fukiran, orchid species, mini fragrant Japanese orchid, Orchids in the Park 2018, Hall of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CaliforniaSamurai Orchid, Vanda falcata Amami variety, Neofinetia falcata Amami variety, Furan, Fukiran, orchid species flower, white flower, mini fragrant Japanese orchid, Orchids in the Park 2017, Hall of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CaliforniaSamurai Orchid, Vanda falcata, Neofinetia falcata, Furan, Fukiran, orchid species flowers, white flowers, mini fragrant Japanese orchid, Orchids in the Park 2014, Hall of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

In Japan, BotanyBoy describes the plight of the Samurai Orchid. Cultivated for centuries, they’re now endangered in the wild. Populations have shrunk as native habitats have been destroyed or altered by humans. Old growth forests only remain in small, disjointed pockets. They include areas around temples, shrines, rivers, and the very tops of mountain ridges. Near a shrine in Kyushu’s Fukuoka Prefecture, he and his wife found a large colony thriving on a Ginkgo Tree.

The Samurai Orchid is still popular in cultivation, demonstrated by the photo examples above. Long known as Neofinetia falcata, the species has been moved into the Vanda genus. It’s now Vanda falcata, but the previous name persists. Whatever perils it faces in the wild, many orchid lovers are keeping it safe from extinction. Read more about the Samurai Orchid’s history at Atlas Obscura. The American Orchid Society has a detailed article about them with care info.

Spending Time in the Garden Linked to Better Health and Wellbeing

Posted June 1st, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: General Gardening, In the News, Misc

It’s well-established that gardening is good for our health, and a new British study augments the evidence. Researchers from the University of Exeter and the Royal Horticultural Society analyzed data from almost 8,000 people.

The study found the benefits of gardening to health and wellbeing were similar to the difference in health between people living in the wealthiest parts of the country, compared to the poorest. The benefits applied whether people spent their time gardening or simply relaxing. People who regularly spend time in their garden were also more likely to visit nature elsewhere once a week.

Spending time in my indoor and outdoor gardens has always helped my own mental and physical health. As we continue to shelter at home during the COVID19 pandemic, occasional immersions in nature feel essential. Of course, flowers can’t solve the world’s problems, but they can restore our strength and sanity. Even for those who don’t have ready access to gardens or green spaces, it’s easy to keep an orchid, or two or three, on a windowsill to enjoy the same advantages. For more, read how Gardening Could Be the Hobby That Helps You Live to 100.

Pacifica Gardens

Posted May 26th, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: General Gardening, Growing Orchids in San Francisco, Photos

Cymbidium hybrid orchid flowers, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaIochroma grandiflorum, purple tubular flowers, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaWatsonia flower, growing outdoors in Pacifica, California

Bright red passionflower, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaStrelitzia reginae, Bird of Paradise flower, exotic tropical flower, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaLeucospermum flower, Pincushion flower, growing outdoors in Pacifica, California

As we continue to shelter in place and stay close to home, Dave and I have been taking walks around nearby neighborhoods, and enjoying great Pacifica gardens. Of course, we follow public health guidelines, keeping a safe distance, and wearing masks when we’re near other people, but these areas aren’t crowded, so it’s easy.

While walking, my eyes are always peeled for orchids. Many of our neighbors grow Cymbidiums outdoors, like those in the first photo. They usually bloom over winter and spring, and a few still sported fresh blossoms. Occasionally, we passed houses with more Cymbidiums than me.

Canary Island Date Palm, tall palm tree, looking up at palm tree, view from below palm tree, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaCanary Islands Dragon Tree, Dracaena draco, Drago, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaCherry Tree flowers, pink flowers, growing outdoors in Pacifica, California

Northern California coastal gardeners are spoiled with great plants. Our mild climate is subtropical. Exotic beauties from South Africa, Australia, the Andes, and the Mediterranean thrive here. Old standards like roses are popular, too.

Red and yellow rose, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaRed white and pink roses, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaRed rose, growing outdoors in Pacifica, California

Blue iris flowers and bud, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaSucculents growing in rocks, growing outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaPurple flowers, growing outdoors in Pacifica, California

South of San Francisco, Pacifica spreads over 6 miles (9.7 km) of the coast, with communities separated by hills and lots of green spaces. It’s a land of microclimates. Amazingly, these gardens about 1 mile (1.6 km) away are growing some plants that we can’t. They’re in valleys which offer a little protection from ocean winds. These neighborhoods have more tall trees and lush growth. Our part of town has shorter coastal scrub, but we’ve managed to create a vibrant garden of our own.

Sneaky Orchids and Their Pollination Tricks

Posted May 22nd, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: In the News, Misc

From London, RBG Kew explains how sneaky orchids can be. Many orchid varieties offer nectar or fragrant oils for their pollinators, but others are tricksters. Their colors, shapes, or scents deceptively advertise rewards, but they have none. Some temporarily trap their pollinators, like the remarkable Bucket Orchid, which makes bees squeeze past its pollen to escape. The insects are duped, but may fertilize the flower during the affair. Since many orchids are pollinated by only a single insect species, they’ve evolved to become perfect lures for that bug. It’s an efficient strategy, increasing the odds that pollen will be picked up and dropped off in the right place. However, it also means that the process is more vulnerable to extinctions and climate change. By studying these sneaky orchids and their complex relationships, scientists hope to protect them for the future.

The Power of Local Orchid Conservation

Posted May 16th, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Botanical Gardens, Conservation, Cool Growers, In the News

The Pink Lady Slipper, or Cypripedium acaule, used to grow wild in the Philadelphia area, but now is uncommon. It’s one of the most enchanting and elegant orchids native to the Eastern USA and Canada. When local plants were discovered last June, experts from nearby Longwood Gardens jumped into action. They hand-pollinated the flowers, and collected the seed capsules. Now, Longwood has dozens of seedlings growing in their lab. They hope to return the young plants to the wild next year to bolster the population.

The Pink Lady Slipper isn’t considered endangered in other regions, but it is rarely grown, even in botanical gardens where it could be protected. Longwood is testing methods to learn more about cultivating these unusual plants. This will help with related Lady Slipper species, most of which are rare and highly endangered. In addition, this project has brought together several different groups. Longwood is cooperating with the University of Pennsylvania’s Morris Arboretum, Garden Clubs of America, and the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. They’re all working towards a common goal, and laying a path for future conservation work.

Mother’s Day Orchid Care

Posted May 10th, 2020 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Growing, Photos

Phalaenopsis Little Pink Gem, Phal, Moth Orchid hybrid flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2015, San Francisco, CaliforniaPhalaenopsis hybrid, Phal, Moth Orchid flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2017, San Francisco, CaliforniaPhalaenopsis Orchid World 'Bonnie Vasquez' AM/AOS, Phal, Moth Orchid flower and bud, Pacific Orchid Expo 2016, San Francisco, California

Are you staring with amazement at your gorgeous Mother’s Day orchid, and also wondering how to care for it? Don’t worry! Orchids don’t deserve their difficult reputations. It’s pretty likely that your new plant is a Moth Orchid, like those in the row of photos above. With a few basic care tips, it can continue to bloom for months.

Oncidium Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance', Dancing Lady Orchid flower, chocolate scented orchid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2014, San Francisco, CaliforniaOncidium splendidum, orchid species, Dancing Lady Orchid flowers, yellow and reddish brown flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2018, San Francisco, CaliforniaOncidium Wildcat 'White Lip', Dancing Lady Orchid flowers, hybrid orchid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2013, San Francisco, California

Dancing Lady Orchids, or Oncidiums, are popular, too. Pictured in the row of photos above, their clusters of small yellow, brown, or red flowers make great displays. Oncidium Sharry Baby is one popular hybrid, shown in the first photo, which smells like chocolate.

Paphiopedilum flower, Lady Slipper, Paph, hybrid orchid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2014, San Francisco, CaliforniaPaphiopedilum appletonianum, Paphiopedilum flower, Lady Slipper, Paph, orchid species, Pacific Orchid Expo 2012, San Francisco, CaliforniaPaphiopedilum Stone Lovely 'Tierra' x Paphiopedilum Ice Castle 'Mystic', Lady Slipper, Paph, hybrid orchid, Pacific Orchid Expo 2013, San Francisco, California

Lady Slipper orchids boast some of the most incredible flowers in the plant world. The third row of photos presents a few examples, but there are many more varieties. They can also keep their blossoms for months. If you’re enjoying one of these orchids for Mother’s Day, basic care info will help your gift stay happy and bloom again.