Wild Orchids Are Being ‘Loved to Death’

Posted November 28th, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Conservation, In the News

The allure of orchids inspires bad behavior from some, and sadly, the problem seems to be growing worse. In Australia, orchid lovers are sharing info online, causing lots of people to search for the flowers in real life. Social media has expanded sharing of location information, which leads to a crush of visitors. Plants are being trampled, and others are being stolen from the wild.

Orchid hunter Mark Wapstra from Tasmania suggests that the best way to collect orchids is with a camera, unless you have a special scientific permit. Be careful where you tread, don’t share locations on social media, and never trespass on private property. As for plant theft, he adds “Most, if not all of them, will not survive. They don’t survive being dug up and put in a pot on your windowsill. You’ll get a day of joy out of it and then hopefully weeks and months of guilt about what you’ve done.”

Learn more about how to enjoy wild orchids responsibly with photography tips.

Darwin’s Orchid Fascination

Posted November 22nd, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Books

The famous scientist Charles Darwin was fascinated with orchids. Three years after releasing his groundbreaking work, On the Origin of Species, his next book was all about orchids. It was published in 1862, back when book titles were much longer, and was called On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects, and On the Good Effects of Intercrossing. Nowadays, its name is usually shortened to Fertilisation of Orchids. It’s full of meticulous botanical drawings and detailed evidence for his theories of evolution. Darwin breaks down how orchids, including native British species he had observed since childhood, convince pollinators to carry their pollen to other flowers. The book includes Darwin’s famous prediction that Madagascar was home to a moth with an extremely long tongue, capable of reaching the bottom of the very long nectar spur of Angraecum sesquipedale. That prediction was proven true decades later when Morgan’s Sphinx Moth was identified. Fertilisation of Orchids has had a tremendous influence on many fields of study, and established Darwin as an expert botanist. For those interested in the history of orchids, and their importance to modern science, Darwin’s master work on orchids is essential.

Meet Three Australians Who Are Obsessed with Orchids

Posted November 15th, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Conservation, In the News, Videos

Orchids can inspire obsessions and lifetime devotions. These three Australians are perfect examples, and have great orchid tales to share.

Julian Pitcher braves poisonous snakes, stinging trees, and other jungle hazards to hunt for orchids in tropical Queensland. He studies and photographs rare species, and always promotes conservation. Check out his Wild Orchid Adventures YouTube channel. Two of his videos are below, with lots of beautiful and unusual Australian orchids.

Katharina Nargar is an orchid biologist who researches Australia’s spectacular species. Ninety percent of the continent’s orchids grow nowhere else. Many are terrestrials from drier areas, including beauties like the Queen of Sheba Orchid, and bizarre plants like Rhizanthellas, which live entirely underground. Although she’s an orchid expert, she doesn’t have a green thumb. Rather than growing them herself, she enjoys them in their native environments.

Gerry Walsh is an orchid hobbyist whose nickname is “Rock Lily Man,” after the showy and fragrant Rock Lily, Dendrobium speciosum. The retiree spends a lot of time in his greenhouse, where’s he’s lost count of how many orchids there are. Since he prefers the company of plants to people, it’s not a problem.

A Wild, Weedy, and Intoxicating Orchid, Part 2

Posted November 8th, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Cool Growers, Orchids in the Wild, Photos

Epipactis helleborine, orchid species flowers, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species flowers, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species plant growing among pine needles and lichens, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, California

The Broad-Leaved Helleborine is indeed a wild, weedy, and intoxicating orchid. It’s an invasive species in North America, with nectar that drugs its insect pollinators. On the coast, just south of San Francisco, the plants near us grow in a tough botanical neighborhood. Their small patch of woods on a steep hillside is full of invasive species, such as ivy, Pampas Grass, and ice plant. Probably the most common native is Poison Oak. Local deer and other herbivores eat much of the greenery. After two years of bad drought, the forest is dry. Fortunately, since these pictures were taken, we’ve had rain, but these orchids grew with very little rainfall. Instead, they must have relied on fog dripping from the tall conifers above them.

Epipactis helleborine, orchid species leaves and young flower buds, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species with flower buds, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species with seedpods, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, California

When these photos were shot in late summer and early fall, there were over a dozen plants in different stages of growth. Some had maturing seedpods, others were in full bloom, while a few more were just starting to send up young flower buds. The mature plants were about waist high, with blooms less than 3/4 inch (1.9 cm) wide. Without fail, every flower formed a seedpod. While this is partly due to that intoxicating nectar, it’s also a trait of self-pollinating plants. Undoubtedly, reliable masses of tiny, windblown seeds help this orchid to conquer new areas.

Epipactis helleborine, orchid species with seedpods, close up of seedpods, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species leaves, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species plant with leaves and seedpods, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Coast Redwood forest in Memorial County Park, Loma Mar, San Mateo County, California

This final photo in this post wasn’t taken in Pacifica, but in San Mateo County Memorial Park, about 40 miles (64 km) south of here, and further inland. In early October, growing under enormous Coastal Redwoods, the Broad-Leaved Helleborines had all finished flowering, and sported maturing seedpods. While it was exciting to see orchids growing wild, it was also sad to see these invasives, but no native species. Still, under the shadows of giant trees, they seemed very much at home.

November Orchid Events

Posted November 1st, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Events

This month’s events with health precautions include the virtual Orchid Digest International Speakers Day. It features a great group of experts discussing orchids in India, Peru, Borneo, and the Philippines.

November 5 – 7
Central Coast-Hunter Regions Cymbidium Society Show, Tuggerah Super Centre, Wyong Rd. & Bryant Dr., Tuggerah, NSW, Australia
November 7
Tiny Jungle Nursery Tour, Daly City, California; $10 per person; all proceeds benefit the San Francisco Orchid Society; proof of COVID vaccination and mask required
November 12 – 14
Exposition d’Orchidées, Église Saint Pierre, Pl. Saint Pierre, Touques, France
November 13
Orchid Digest International Speakers Day: A Virtual Experience, live speakers and Q&A; registration fee $30 USD; registrants will also receive a link to event recording that will remain active for two weeks
November 13 – 14
Deerfield Beach Orchid Society Show & Sale, Safe Schools Institute, 1790 Spanish River Blvd., Boca Raton, Florida
November 13 – 14
Ft. Pierce Orchid Society Show & Sale, River Walk Center, 600 N. Indian River Dr., Ft. Pierce, Florida
November 13 – 14
Niagara Frontier Orchid Society Show, Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 S. Park Ave., Buffalo, New York
November 19 – 21
Atlanta Orchid Society Show & Sale, Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave. NE, Atlanta, Georgia

A Sweet Little Caucaea Orchid

Posted October 27th, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Cool Growers, Fragrant Orchids, Growing, Mini Orchids, Photos, Watering

Caucaea phalaenopsis, orchid species flower, Phalaenopsis-Like Oncidium, fragrant miniature orchid, grown outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaCaucaea phalaenopsis, orchid species flowers, Phalaenopsis-Like Oncidium, fragrant miniature orchid, flowers with water drops, grown outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaCaucaea phalaenopsis, orchid species flowers, Phalaenopsis-Like Oncidium, fragrant miniature orchid, grown outdoors in Pacifica, California

This Caucaea was a great find at a San Francisco Orchid Society sale last year. It’s a cool-growing miniature with a strong, sweet fragrance. Caucaeas are in the Oncidium family, and they’re named after the Cauca region of the northern Andes. Caucaea is pronounced “kaw-KAY-uh.”

Caucaea phalaenopsis, orchid species flower, Phalaenopsis-Like Oncidium, fragrant miniature orchid, grown outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaCaucaea phalaenopsis, close up photo of orchid species flower, Phalaenopsis-Like Oncidium, fragrant miniature orchid, grown outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaCaucaea phalaenopsis, close up photo of flower column and lip, orchid species flower, Phalaenopsis-Like Oncidium, fragrant miniature orchid, grown outdoors in Pacifica, California

This species is Caucaea phalaenopsis, named for its resemblance to moths. It shouldn’t be confused with Phals, or Moth Orchids, which belong to a different genus. Caucaea phalaenopsis is native to cloud forests in Ecuador, at elevations above 2700 feet (823 m.) My plant seems to have settled into our back garden quite happily, enjoying the morning sun, cool temps, and regular fog. The blooms on its first flower spike survived several weeks, and swelling flower buds on a second spike promise more to come. It even emerged unscathed from last weekend’s powerful rainstorm, when we had over 6 inches (15 cm) of rain in a single day, and wind gusts exceeding 65 miles per hour (105 km/h.)

Caucaea phalaenopsis, orchid species flower, Phalaenopsis-Like Oncidium, fragrant miniature orchid, grown outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaCaucaea phalaenopsis, orchid species flower with water drops, Phalaenopsis-Like Oncidium, fragrant miniature orchid, grown outdoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaCaucaea phalaenopsis, orchid species flowers, Phalaenopsis-Like Oncidium, fragrant miniature orchid, grown outdoors in Pacifica, California

The flowers aren’t very large, but they pump out a lot of fragrance. Their scent is pleasant and floral, like a rose. These plants should be watered regularly, and never allowed to dry out completely. They don’t enjoy warm weather, but seem to tolerate short periods of heat, as long as there is high humidity. The last row of photos below shows three other charming Caucaea species. For growers with cool temps and good humidity, Caucaeas are sweet little orchids.

Caucaea nubigena, orchid species flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2019, San Francisco, CaliforniaCaucaea olivacea, orchid species flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2016, San Francisco, CaliforniaCaucaea sanguinolenta, orchid species flowers, Asuka Orchids, San Bruno, California

Orchidelirium: How a Modern-Day Flower Madness Is Fueling the Illegal Trade

Posted October 20th, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Botanical Gardens, Conservation, In the News

All over the world, rare plants are being stolen from the wild, and from botanical gardens. London’s legendary Kew Gardens employs security officers and cameras 24 hours a day. Its orchids, however, need extra protection. Many are displayed in locked glass cabinets to prevent theft. The rarest aren’t put out for visitors at all. Spurred on by social media, with orchid influencers and unboxing videos, illegal global markets are sadly thriving. The true size of the illegal trade isn’t known, but many varieties are being driven into extinction. Before species can be scientifically described, they’re stripped from the wild by poachers. As a result, botanists must hide locations of new finds, and work to reintroduce and protect endangered varieties. Kew scientist Mike Fay explains why orchids inspire such delirium: “They don’t have a normal lifestyle. They indulge in strange pollination, they have to have a relationship with a fungus for the seeds to even germinate, they have weird and wonderful flowers that are incredibly variable. Some are difficult to keep going, so it’s a way of showing you are a good horticulturist.”

Researching Fungi to Save Orchids from Extinction

Posted October 13th, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Conservation, In the News, Videos

Orchid seeds don’t carry nutrients. Instead, they rely on a specific fungus to supply food so they can germinate and grow. In the video below, Dr. Viswambharan Sarasan explains how this impacts Kew Gardens’ work to save rare British orchids. Scientists must collect fungi from orchid roots, take months to cultivate them, and identify which one each orchid needs. It’s like they’re matchmaking for endangered species.

A Wild, Weedy, and Intoxicating Orchid: Epipactis helleborine

Posted October 7th, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Cool Growers, Orchids in the Wild, Photos

Epipactis helleborine with wasp, orchid species flower, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine with wasp, orchid species flower, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species flower, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, California

Have you ever seen a drunk wasp? I have. Dave and I recently spotted one while were on a trail in a small wooded area near our home in Pacifica. The insect, shown in the first two photos above, was intoxicated from the nectar of a wild orchid, the Broad-Leaved Helleborine. The wasp hung upside down from a flower, moving slowly and erratically, and barely responding to our presence. We both spent a few minutes taking pictures, and then left it to sober up.

Epipactis helleborine, orchid species flowers, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species flowers, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species flower, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, California

That intoxicating nectar is only one of the reasons why the Broad-Leaved Helleborine, Epipactis helleborine, is a fascinating orchid. It drugs its pollinators so they’ll stay on the flowers, too drunk to fly away, and therefore more likely to pick up and drop off pollen. The intoxicants in the flowers are far too weak to affect humans, but pack a wallop for the insects. Yet, that’s only part of this orchid’s successful strategies. In fact, it’s so successful that it’s become an invasive plant in North America. The species is native to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa, but has become established in the USA and Canada as well. As a result, it’s earned the nickname “weedy orchid.”

Epipactis helleborine, orchid species plant with seedpods, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species flower, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, CaliforniaEpipactis helleborine, orchid species flower, Broad-leaved helleborine growing wild in Pacifica, California

There’s definitely a lot to say about this intriguing species. Check back here soon for more photos and info about this intoxicating orchid.

October Orchid Events

Posted October 1st, 2021 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Events

This is the busiest month of orchid events since the pandemic began. More in-person shows are including health precautions, like mask requirements, in their publicity. There are still others which fail to do that, but they’re not listed here. Miami’s big annual show is a welcome return this month.

October 1
PhalFanatics Phalaenopsis Symposium, online speakers, auction, and workshop; USD $35 members/$45 non-members registration fee
October 1 – 3
Tamiami International Orchid Festival, Redland Fruit and Spice Park, 18701 SW 248 St., Homestead, Florida
October 1 – 3
Exposition et Vente d’Orchidées, Abbaye de Fontfroide, Rd 613, Narbonne, France
October 2
Wairoa Orchid Society Show, Presbyterian Church Hall, Queen St., Wairoa, New Zealand
October 2 – 3
Oklahoma Orchid Society Show & Sale, Will Rogers Gardens Exhibition Center, 3400 NW 36th St., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
October 2 – 3
Northwest Orchid Society Fall Show & Sale, Volunteer Park Conservatory, 1400 E. Galer St., Seattle, Washington
October 2 – 3
Canterbury Orchid Society Show, Mineral & Lapidary Club Hall, 110 Waltham Rd., Christchurch, New Zealand
October 6 – 17
Central California Orchid Society Show at the Big Fresno Fair, Fresno Fairgrounds, 1121 S Chance Ave., Fresno, California
October 8 – 10
Exposition d’Orchidées, Salle du Broustic, 11 Esp. du Broustic, Andernos-les-Bains, France
October 9
Taller Virtual: Cultivo de Orquídeas, Sociedad Colombiana de Orquideología; online workshop in Spanish; $28.000 Colombian Pesos registration fee

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