Sunday, 27 April 2014

Wild about orchids in Montenegro

If you’re a fan of wild orchids, and bee orchids in particular, check out a charming post by Marianne van Twillert about orchids in Montenegro.

Did you know that ophrys is Greek for “eyebrow”? According to a legend, these flowers provided a brown dye which the Romans used to day their eyebrows and hair. Ophrys was first mentioned in the book “Natural History” by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD).

Most ophrys orchids are found in the Mediterranean region. They are dependent on symbiotic fungi, so it is almost impossible to transplant then.

The most famous one is the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera), but there are also fly orchids, spider orchids, mosquito orchids and wasp orchids. This is commonly known, but I was unaware that such orchids can be seen in the mountains and forests of central Montenegro.

Marianne says she was lucky enough to find Bertoloni’s bee orchid near a small spring along the hiking trail from Lovćen to Kotor.

There are also super photos of the early purple orchid (Orchis mascula), the yellow elder-flowered orchid (Dactylorhiza sambucina). The specific Latin name “sambucina” refers to the smell of elder emanating by some plants of this species.

You can also read about the lizard orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum) and the monkey orchid (Orchis simia). I didn’t know they smelled like a ripe orange.

Marianne suggests in her blog that someone organise wildflower or orchid tours for foreign tourists. What a brilliant idea.

PS I have visited Montenegro. I loved it so much I began to write a six-part fantasy series based there. Book One, The Cloud Pearl, is now on Amazon.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Success in saving rare spider orchids

Any orchid expert will tell you how hard it is to germinate the seeds.

Yet, two threatened Australian native orchids have recently been germinated symbiotically for the first time.

They are the Crimson Spider-orchid (Caladenia concolor) and the Sand-hill Spider-orchid (Caladenia arenaria), from New South Wales.

The exercise is part of the Australian Network for Plant Conservation’s (ANPC) Orchid Conservation Program delivered with the Wimmera Catchment Management Authority (WCMA) in Horsham, Victoria.

All Australian terrestrial orchids rely on a specific mycorrhizal fungi to germinate and sustain their growth throughout their lifecycle. Researchers needed to find the right type – and they finally did.

To further complicate things, each species is pollinated by a unique insect. They don’t yet what pollinates the Crimson Spider-orchid, but interestingly the orchid has a distinctly mandarin flavoured smell.

The Crimson Spider-orchid is particularly rare, with fewer than 30 plants in the world in an area confined to granite ridge country near Albury, and is also found in north eastern Victoria.

For further information on the Orchid Conservation Program, visit the ANPC website.

Caption: Emily Pelloe: 'West Australian Orchids'

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Orchids back on track

Orchids and railways don’t mix.

In the late 1800s, when railroads first arrived in Florida, the plants were among the first resources exploited. Literally millions of orchids were picked to be despatched north as potted plants. Now, after more than a century of logging and harvesting, it’s rare to find them growing in the wild.

Researchers at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden hope to change that with their Million Orchid Project, encouraging flowers to bloom amid the hustle and bustle of city life.

According to a heart-warming report, “the basic concept is to get these orchids out into the community,” says Carl Lewis, Fairchild’s director. “We’re trying to get them into some of the most population-dense urban areas here in South Florida.”

The plan will start with three orchid species, cultivating from seeds in the Botanic Garden’s micro-propagation lab.

Volunteer scientists and others with lab experience will grow the orchids from miniature seeds. Currently, there are racks upon racks full of bottles, each containing dozens of tiny orchids.

Transferring them from one container to another as they grow ‘is a bit like building a ship in a bottle’, which is a wonderful image. Volunteers use forceps to move each little shoot, one by one.

Later, the orchids are moved to a greenhouse. In time, and commencing this spring, the team will start inserting them into trees throughout Miami. The idea is based on a similar orchid project in Singapore. Not all will survive, but there are high hopes that some of Florida’s most beautiful native plants will return to the wild.

Caption: The Florida Butterfly Orchid is one of the species that volunteers are hoping to reintroduce. Photo by Andrea Westmoreland.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Dublin delight

Whenever I visit a new city, I make a point of checking out the botanical gardens.

It all started when I was researching orchids for The Lost Orchid, a Victorian botanical adventure.

In April, last year, I was lucky enough to get to Dublin - and I finally got round to making a small video

The gardens are a little out of the way, but worth the trip - a single bus from the centre.

The National Botanic Gardens were founded in 1795 by the Dublin Society. The fine Glasnevin collection number over 15,000 species from a wide range of habitats from all around the world.

The stately glasshouses are beautifully restored and packed with luscious plants. They stand in a massive plot, featuring herbaceous borders, rose garden, an alpine yard, pond (more of a lake), rock garden and arboretum.

Conservation plays an important role in the life of the botanic garden and Glasnevin is home to more 300 endangered plant species from around the world including six species, which are already extinct in the wild.

The poet Thomas Tickell owned a house and small estate in Glasnevin and, sold to the Irish Parliament in in 1790, and then given to the Royal Dublin Society to establish Ireland's first botanic gardens. A fantastic double row of yew trees, known as "Addison's Walk" survives from this period. The gardens were the first location in Ireland where the infection responsible for the 1845-1847 potato famine was identified. Throughout the famine, research to stop the infection was undertaken here.

And, of course, the orchids. Boggling. Take a look at a small video I put together: some uplifting spring sunshine and flowers from April 2013. Later, I'll share the delights of botanical gardens in Heidelberg, Amsterdam, Berlin, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

By Pamela Kelt

READ THE BOOK! The Lost Orchid is a Gothic-inspired tale of intrigue set in 1880s, when orchidelirium was raging ... Out on 4 April from On Amazon and Smashwords.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Tracking down a royal orchid bouquet

Colourised photo of Queen Victoria.
It is full of qurky errors: see below
In the Victorian age, orchids represented power, wealth, glamour, exoticism ...

In a history of the Veitch seed merchants, botanical writer Sue Shepard waxes lyrical about the most magnificent bouquet people had ever seen, made of literally hundreds of orchids.

She notes that it was in honour of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and was composed of every variety of orchid ‘produced with Her Majesty's dominions’. Sadly, Ms Shepard did not reference this, but after some digging around, I found a fascinating article in the Sydney Mail of August 14, 1897, of all places, entitled ‘A Royal Bouquet’. This was for the Diamond Jubilee, ten years later, and this bouquet outdid the 1887 with style. It was a horticultural marvel. The golden jubilee bouquet had 50,000 blooms, according to the article, but the 1897 was even larger and better quality.
‘It is impossible to attempt the description in detail of the many thousands of orchids used in this, the most superb bouquet ever seen, endless spikes of all that is best and rarest from her Majesty’s dominion being used, together with almost priceless blossoms of the hybridist’s art raised in this country since our Queen’s accession, many of them unique and of great value, among the choicest varieties being Cattleya Empress of India, C. Our Queen, and C. Victoria Regina, which received awards at the meeting of the Royal Horticultural Society of the 15th instant.’ 

The false colourised image of Queen Victoria based on black and white photograph taken near the time of her Golden Jubilee over-painted with inaccurate hues. The dress should be black with white lace trimmings, not purple. The jewelry, which is of diamonds, has been painted gold by mistake. She is wearing the small diamond crown which is almost entirely diamonds: it contains very little gold. The orders on her left shoulder are also wrong: the most visible is the badge of the Order of Victoria and Albert, which has a white ribbon not a blue one, and should be surrounded by diamonds not gold. Oops.

Note the orchid bouquets carried by Queen Kapiolani and Crown Princess Liliuokalani of Hawaii at Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, 1887. Ruby Hasegawa Lowe, Robin Yoko Racoma (1993) Liliʻuokalani, Kamehameha Schools Press. Credited to Bishop Museum. 

By Pamela Kelt, author of The Lost Orchid, out Friday, 4 April. Search for Pamela Kelt on Amazon or Smashwords.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Zoom in on orchids

Orchids take centre stage in a new film called Darwin and his Fabulous Orchids.

It’s a polished nature movie about a naturalist’s journey through evolution, with the aim of introducing new audiences to the world of orchids in a novel and rather impressive way.

It is a ‘full-dome’ show that sheds light on their significance for Charles Darwin’s findings about the origin of species. Carl Zeiss has obtained exclusive distribution rights.

A joint production of the ‘Mediendom’ (media dome) of the Kiel University of Applied Sciences, the Botanical Garden of the Christian Albrecht University; and the Tilt Design Studio in Hamburg, it was supported by the Volkswagen Foundation and realised with assistance from German planetariums.

It represents a bid to enhance the aesthetic appeal of dome projections.

A total of 50 minutes in length, it is suitable for families, and features 3D computer-animated graphics in a new and engaging way. The trailer will make your head spin. It is in German and ‘English’, although the portentous voiceover may not appeal to all.

Carl Zeiss has obtained exclusive distribution rights.

By Pamela Kelt

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Rare 'lost orchid' discovered

One of the planet’s rarest orchids has been rediscovered in Scotland by the descendant of the plant collector who first found the bloom over a century ago.

An artist’s impression of the new ‘lost orchid’
with its tartan markings
Perth-born Bill McPhairson, great grandson of the famous Scottish plant hunter-turned-hybridiser John Telfer McPhairson, was walking his dog in local woods when he came across the scarlet and blue Pseudo-Phalaenopsis mcphairsoniana.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Bill is something of an orchidist and recognised the distinctive petals right away, with their striking striations reminiscent of the distinctive Kelt tartan.