Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Orchids in amber

It is known that beetles can pollinate plants, but thanks to new fossil evidence, it seems beetles were pollinating certain orchids in particular a staggering 20 million years ago.

Fossilised amber from the Miocene epoch in Mexico and the Dominican Republic reveal beetles with orchid pollen attached to the thorax.

Scientists know that some beetles use orchids for nectar, but no fossil evidence had been uncovered showing beetles in the distant past pollinating orchids until now.

The first specimen is a 0.4mm long hidden-snout beetle (subfamily Cryptorhynchinae) found in a piece of 20-45 million year old amber from the Dominican Republic. Orchid pollinaria from the Cylindrocites browni can be seen attached to its thorax.

Larvae breed in stems or wood and the adults are known to visit flowers. Cryptorhynchinae were quite diverse in the Dominican amber forest, say experts in the report.

The other specimen was a toe-winged beetle (family Ptilodactylidae) that was found in a piece of 22-26 million year old Mexican amber. This toe-winged beetle (1.4 mm in length) had pollinaria from an orchid described as Annulites mexicana attached to the body.

No current-day hidden-snout beetles have been seen visiting orchid plants, and no current-day toe-winged beetles have been seen with pollinaria.

Another clipping to add the amazing role of orchids in science. 

As I sit here, on a constant vigil to stop beetles eating my patio lilies, I wonder if beetles consumed orchids, too.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Hanging gardens of botanicum

Majestic Victorian conservatories filled with rare orchids and ferns are simply one of my favourite things. I suppose it was a way to replicate the exciting jungle or temperate rain forest in a more domestic setting.

Courtesy of Pinterest, I’ve become a fan of more modern ways to enjoy orchids and other rather traditional species. I've been collecting for years, but for some reason (global warming?), my orchids and ferns are all suffering. Perhaps I haven't been sensitive to their needs. 
Some of the modern gardening ideas seem impossible to achieve, but every so often, I am lured into the possibility of creating an aerial Hanging Garden of Botanicum.

A New Zealand website has been inspiring: How to make a kokedama which can ‘bring a delicious delicacy to an indoor space’.

Kokedama, I understand, is a Japanese term that translates as ‘moss ball’, involving freeing a plant from a pot, popping its root system into a ball of a growing medium, wrapping that up in moss held together with string and hanging the whole thing from the ceiling.

Happily, it works especially well with epiphytes, including orchids. And, music to my ears, you can also use ferns.

Get some moistened sphagnum moss, bark chip or a specialist orchid mix and a mesh bag. Cut open the bag and cover it with said sphagnum moss, then add enough bark chips or orchid mix so you can roll the bag around it to make a ball. Tie the ball with a rubber band then wrap the orchid roots around it.

Wrap fishing line around the ball to anchor the roots, add another layer of orchid mix and wrap that in more moss.

Using decorative string around the outside, hang the kokedama in a suitable spot.

If it starts to dry out, take it down and soak it in a bowl of water for a quarter of an hour, then drain and replace.

The tough bit is to persuade partner to affix hook in ceiling, because I'm not safe to be let loose with a drill and a ladder at the same time. Could take a while.

PS When researching The Lost Orchid, I found a recipe for restoring tired orchids. It required Epsom salts and gin. I haven't tried this yet, but it sounds more applicable to tired authors.