What’s in a name?

laelia1
Laelia species, perhaps L. undulata.  These flowers are already starting to collapse, a few days after they opened, because some insect has neatly removed the pollinia from the front of the column.

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” –William Shakespeare

Once upon a time, there was a small genus of orchids called Schomburgkia whose species grew in the Caribbean islands, Central America, and South America.  Schomburgkia was divided into two subgenera distinguished by pseudobulb morphology:  some species had solid pseudobulbs, while others had hollow pseudobulbs inhabited by ants.  All of the species had smallish flowers clustered at the end of a long inflorescence.

In the 21st century, DNA sequencing has demonstrated that the two groups of Schomburgkia aren’t very closely related to each other [1].  The ant-house species were reclassified into genus Myrmecophila, an old name that previously hadn’t been widely accepted, and the solid-pseudobulb Schomburgkia became part of the genus Laelia.  Bummer.  I kind of liked saying “Schomburgkia.”

This orchid came to me labeled Schomburgkia schultzei, which would make it Laelia schultzei now.  Unfortunately, the flowers don’t match that species.  Based on the photos in volume 3 of Carl Withner’s The Cattleyas and their Relatives, I think it may be Laelia undulata (formerly Schomburgkia undulata), a species native Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, and Trinidad [2].  According to Withner, L. undulata grows in open forest with a pronounced dry season and is found in both lowlands and highlands up to about 975 meters.  As one might expect, based on this habitat, the plant has well developed pseudobulbs and rigid foliage that resists desiccation and sunburn.

laelia2
L. undulata pseudobulbs and leaves

I grow my plant in an 8″ square wooden basket, empty except for a couple of chunks of treefern fiber.  I water it about once a week, year round, and hang the basket high in the greenhouse where it gets bright light and dries rapidly.  When it starts to spike, I lower the basket to the bench, because the stiff inflorescence extends a good six feet before producing its cluster of flowers.

References

1. Van den Berg, C., Higgins, W.E., Dressler, R.L., Whitten, W.M., Soto-Arenas, M.A., and Chase, M.W.  (2009) A phylogenetic study of Laeliinae (Orchidaceae) based on combined nuclear and plastid DNA sequences. Annals of Botany 104: 417-430

2. Withner, C.L. (1993) The Cattleyas and Their Relatives: Volume III. Schomburgkia, Sophronitis, and Other South American Genera, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

One thought on “What’s in a name?

  1. Nomenclature used to make more sense. In the 80s, there were only a few plants that violated the rules, and only because they had not been completely identified. Hybrids were rare. Nowadays, it is common to omit specie names. Plants are known by their cultivar names preceded only by a genus name. We do not know or care who the parents are anymore.

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