Paphiopedilum malipoense (and others)

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Paphiopedilum malipoense (jade slipper orchid).  First-bloom seedling in my greenhouse today.

Paphiopedilum malipoense is a slipper orchid from southern China (Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou) and northern Vietnam that somehow managed to escape the notice of orchid collectors and botanists until the 1980s–the species was described in 1984.  It isn’t the most exquisitely beautiful slipper orchid, but the green flowers with maroon spotting and tessellation have a certain bizarre charm.  The dark spots on the inside of the inflated pouch show through the thin tissue, making the pouch appear mottled.  Most Paphiopedilum flowers are scentless, but those of P. malipoense have a pleasant raspberry fragrance, a characteristic that seems to be passed on to its first-generation hybrids.

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While the flowers of P. malipoense are more bizarre that beautiful, the leathery foliage is simply gorgeous.

I haven’t been growing P. malipoense for very long, but I have had its primary hybrid, Paphiopedilum Lynleigh Koopowitz (P. malipoense x delenatii) for about fifteen years.  P. Lynleigh Koopowitz grows and blooms well in my greenhouse, as does its other parent, P. delenatii, so I have some hope that P. malipoense will prove equally reliable.

 

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Paphiopedilum Lynleigh Koopowitz

P. Lynleigh Koopowitz combines the best characteristics of both parents.  From P. malipoense, it inherits raspberry fragrance and fine markings on its petals, but P. delenatii genes convert the green/maroon color combination to white/purple.  Some P. delenatii specimens are also fragrant, though to my nose they smell quite different from P. malipoense and P. Lynleigh Koopowitz.

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Paphiopedilum delenatii

The history of P. delenatii in cultivation is a fascinating story.  A few plants were collected in Vietnam during the early 1900s, but the species was believed extinct in the wild soon after it was described in 1924.  For the next seventy years, all of the known P. delenatii were descended from a single plant grown at a nursery in France.  Not surprisingly, genetic diversity was almost nonexistent among the cultivated plants, and they all looked virtually identical.  Then, in the 1990s, the species was rediscovered in southern Vietnam, and large numbers of plants were collected (mostly illegally).  Cultivated P. delenatii now includes white (alba) and very dark (vinicolor) specimens.  My plant, shown above, is typical of the old cultivated type.

P. delenatii is now listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.  One might hope that artificial propagation has reduced collection pressure on the wild population, but somehow I have my doubts.

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First Narcissus

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Even in the dead of winter, a North Carolina garden isn’t completely dormant.  Birds are busy visiting the feeders during the day, and at night we can hear the barred owls calling to each other.  The local coyotes have also been noisy lately, and a couple of nights ago eldest offspring heard a harsh screaming that didn’t sound like a fox.  We are reasonably sure that it was a bobcat.  Among the flower beds, Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’ is still blooming, and the buds of Edgeworthia chrysantha are swelling.  The green foliage of winter growing bulbs like Lycoris radiata and Scilla peruviana add a little color to otherwise barren mulch, and today, the first Narcissus of the year is blooming.

Narcissus cantabricus is a miniature “hoop petticoat” narcissus native to southern Spain, Morocco, and Algeria.  As with most bulbs purchased from big bulb vendors, I can’t be certain that this plant doesn’t have some hybrid genes, but it generally matches the description of the species and blooms very early as expected.  The plant is tiny–certainly not a spectacular specimen that draws the eye across the garden–but it is a promise of good things to come.  The garden should have various Narcissus species and hybrids blooming most weeks from now until the last Narcissus poeticus fades in late April or early May.

Costa Rican nightlife

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Night in the tropics brings out a host of interesting animals that are rarely, if ever, seen during the day.  Hoping to see some of this nocturnal wildlife, I took a headlamp with me on our recent trip to Costa Rica and went out late at night to wander around an area of old secondary forest on the grounds of our resort.  With other family members, I also participated in two organized night walks, one at the resort, and a second offered by Manuel’s tours on a wooded lot near Quepos.

Here are some of the interesting creatures I saw.

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Gladiator tree frog (Hypisboas rosenbergi).  Males of this species build a water-filled nest  which they defend against other males. In combat, they employ sharp “prepollex” spines on their forelegs as weapons.
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While adults tend to be brown with a mottled appearance and a thin black stripe down the dorsal midline, juvenile gladiator tree frogs are green with black spots.
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Common rain frog (Craugaster fitzingeri)
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Another common rain frog
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Savage’s thin-toed frog (Leptodactylus savagei).  This guy was enormous.  In addition to insects, L. savagei eats small vertebrates such as other frogs, snakes, and mice.
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Glass frog posing on the lid of a tupperware container.  I think this is a granular glass frog (Cochranella granulosa)
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Northern cat-eyed snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis)
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Anolis species
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Many house geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus) gathered around the lights.  This gecko was about twice their size.  I think it is a very pale turnip-tailed gecko (Thecadactylus rapicauda)
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Male yellow-headed gecko (Gonatodes albogularis)
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Tree-climbing crab.  I have no idea what species this is.
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An amblypygid (tailless whip scorpion)
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Amblypygid closeup.
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bark scorpion (Centruroides species)
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Stick insect
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A conehead katydid, perhaps Copiphora rhinoceros (rhinoceros katydid)
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A sadly blurred picture of a tent-making bat (Uroderma bilobatum) eating a fig

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a sloth in a sea-almond tree.

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To celebrate my parents’ golden wedding anniversary, the entire family (my parents, my sister, our spouses and children) all went to Costa Rica for a few days between Christmas and New Year.   It was my first trip to that beautiful country, and I was totally blown away by…well, everything:  the friendly people, the great food, the beautiful scenery, the tropical flora, and the amazing wildlife.

We stayed at Arenas del Mar, a small resort in the lowland rain forest between Manuel Antonio National Park and the Pacific coast town of Quepos.  Several people told me that the dry season came early this year, so I didn’t see many orchids in bloom (sad face).  However, the wildlife exceeded all my expectations.  I expected sloths and frogs, but not crocodiles…

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American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) on the banks of the Tárcoles River

After flying into San José, we rode down to Manuel Antonio (about 170 kilometers) in a van provided by Arenas del Mar.  Just before we reached the Pacific coast, our driver stopped beside a bridge over the Tárcoles River so that we could stretch our legs and ogle the monsters on the banks of the river below.  Somehow they seemed much more menacing than American alligators, and I was glad that we were viewing them from the bridge.

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Arriving at the resort after dark, we got our first real look at the area the next morning, when we took a guided tour of Villa Vanilla, a spice plantation located a few kilometers inland from Quepos.  At Villa Vanilla, they grow vanilla (of course), cacao, true cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), black pepper, allspice, and turmeric.  The tour was fascinating and delicious–we tasted the spices in their raw forms and incorporated into various treats–and the location of the plantation in the foothills is unutterably beautiful.

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Vanilla planifolia vines
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Vanilla seed capsules drying in the sun
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Flowers of a Theobroma cacao tree
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The flowers and fruit of Theobroma cacao can sprout anywhere on the tree, including the trunk.
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Cacao pods ready for processing.

The Vanilla orchid is a heavy epiphytic vine which requires support.  Although some of the plants were growing on rough posts, many were trained onto shrubby trees whose flowers added to the beauty of the plantation.

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Flowers of an Erythrina species that was used as a support for the Vanilla vines.  This species was used a lot, perhaps because Erythrina grows rapidly and has a fairly open form, allowing lots of light to reach the vanilla.

The paths were also lined with Heliconia plants, ornamental gingers, and wooden frames supporting native epiphytes.

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Heliconia sp.
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Etlingera elatior (torch ginger)
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Zingiber species, perhaps Z. zerumbet
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Epidendrum stamfordianum, a native orchid species

While wandering the grounds of Villa Vanilla, we saw our first toucan…

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Chestnut-mandibled toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii)

…and a troop of squirrel monkeys

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Grey-crowned Central American squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus).  This endangered subspecies is restricted to the Pacific coast of central Costa Rica, around Manuel Antonio National Park

We also saw squirrel monkeys on the grounds of the resort and at Manuel Antonio National Park, which we visited the next day.  If you plan to visit Manuel Antonio, you will probably see recommendations to hire a guide.  I concur.  If we had wandered around by ourselves, we certainly would have seen monkeys and perhaps a few sloths, but we would have missed many of the smaller animals.  Our guide (from Manuel’s Tours) was enthusiastic and knowledgeable–he was happy to discuss taxonomy of sloths or cannibalistic behavior of basilisks–and he carried a large spotting scope with excellent depth of field which served equally well to enlarge a howler monkey fifty feet up a tree or a tiny bat tucked into a Heliconia just off the path.

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In addition to squirrel and howler monkeys, Manuel Antonio is home to white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus imitator) who hang out at the beach and are always ready to steal your lunch.

After a day or two, we got better at spotting animals, and it became clear that many of the species in the national park also lived on the grounds of our resort.  Here’s a small sampling of what I saw and photographed:

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Troops of white-faced and squirrel monkeys visited us every day.

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The trees around our room were home to at least half a dozen brown-throated three-toed sloths (Bradypus variegatus)
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The Hoffman’s two-toed sloths (Choloepus hoffmanni) seemed to prefer the sea almond trees (Terminalia catappa) beside the beach.
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Great kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) in the branches of a gumbo limbo tree (Bursera simaruba)
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A green iguana (Iguana iguana) that I spotted before breakfast on our first morning
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Common basilisk (Basiliscus basilicus).  At a mangrove lagoon adjacent to Playa Espadilla we watched juvenile basilisks running on water, just like they do in nature documentaries.
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Black spinytail iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) seemed to love the beach.

Perhaps the most unexpected and exciting wildlife sighting occurred while we were eating lunch at the beach on our third day.  A clutch of olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) emerged from the sand and began to make their way down to the sea.  It was something I never expected to see outside of books and television programs.

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After four days in paradise, we piled back into the van for the drive back to San José, but Costa Rica had one more treat in store.  When we stopped again near the Tárcoles River, I finally got a photograph of a wild scarlet macaw.

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Up next: Costa Rican nightlife.