Loooooong petals

inflorescence of Paphiopedilum Michael Koopowitz
Seedling of Paphiopedilum Michael Koopowitz flowering for the first time. Its petals are at least 40 cm long.

Paphiopedilum Michael Koopowitz is a primary hybrid of Paphiopedilum philippinense and Paphiopedilum sanderianum, the two species in the genus with the longest petals. P. philippinense var. roebelenii has impressively long twisted petals (see photo 1 in Six on Saturday #55), but P. sanderianum is in a class by itself–its petals can be up to one meter long. The petals of P. Michael Koopowitz are intermediate between the two species, never approaching the length of P. sanderianum but still long enough to impress. Various fanciful explanations for the long petals of these slipper orchid species have been devised (ladders for ground-dwelling insects?!), but the current hypothesis (if I correctly remember a paper I can no longer locate) is that they make the flower more visible to flying insects. Insect compound eyes aren’t great at making high resolution images, but they readily detect the motion of petals twisting and drifting on the slightest breeze.

P. philippinense var. roebelenii was described in 1883 and P. sanderianum in 1886, but their hybrid was not registered until 1993, despite it being an obvious cross to make. The reason for this century-long delay is that P. sanderianum was lost in cultivation and believed extinct in the wild for most of the 20th century. It was rediscovered in northern Sarawak in 1978, and plants started trickling into cultivation in the 1980s. When I started growing orchids in the mid 1990s, seedlings of P. sanderianum and its hybrids sold for eye watering prices–far out of the reach of my student budget–but near blooming-size seedlings can now be readily obtained for less than $100. That’s still expensive for a plant, but on par with other multifloral slipper orchids.

This seedling P. Michael Koopowitz has grown much faster and flowered earlier than a seedling P. sanderianum that I purchased at the same time (hybrid vigor, yeah!). The inflorescence has three flowers with 40-cm petals, which isn’t bad for a single-growth plant. If all goes well for the next few years, I can hope for inflorescences with four or five flowers, and perhaps longer petals, when the plant has a few more growths.

Another view. The parents of this plant are P. philippinense ‘Super Twister’ and P. sanderianum ‘Lady in Red’

Six on Saturday #62 (January 2, 2021)

flowers of Macleania sp. aff. smithiana
Macleania sp. aff smithiana

2021 has started cloudy and damp, and since we have already had several hard freezes this winter, there isn’t much that’s growing outside apart from a some cold-weather greens in the vegetable garden. This Six on Saturday is, therefore, a grab bag of tropical plants from my greenhouse.

1. Paphiopedilum purpuratum

Paphiopedilum purpuratum flower

Paphiopedilum purpuratum is a small slipper orchid native to Hong Kong and adjacent mainland China. According to the IUCN Red List, it is critically endangered, with fewer than 250 individual plants surviving in the wild. Despite its rarity in the wild, it is well established in cultivation, and artificially propagated seedlings like this one are relatively inexpensive, making it even sadder that the wild plants are still collected for unscrupulous horticulturalists.

2. Hippeastrum puniceum ‘Ibitipoca’

flower of Hippeastrum puniceum

Ibitipoca is a locality in Minas Gerais state, presumably where this clone of H. puniceum was originally collected.

3. Burbidgea schizocheila (golden brush ginger)

flowering plant of Burbidgea schizocheila

This very attractive dwarf ginger, endemic to Borneo, was once difficult to find in cultivation, but it is now being mass produced and shows up at local garden centers. I keep it outside in the summer, and it seems to flower mostly in winter without a prolonged dormant period.

4. Cavendishia capitulata (Huntington Botanical Gardens #92102)

flowering branches of Cavendishia capitulata

Flowering for the first time after growing for five years in my greenhouse, this pretty little shrub is an epiphytic member of the blueberry family (Ericaceae) from Costa Rica, Panama, and northern Colombia. Like the Macleania species that I have previously discussed, its flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. I really love the fantastic shapes and colors of the neotropical Ericaceae, and I hope that the Cavendishia will prove to be as floriferous as the Macleania, which flowers almost nonstop now that it has reached a decent size (see photo at top of this page).

5. Nepenthes tobaica

Nepenthes tobaica pitcher

See Six on Saturday #12 for more information about Nepenthes pitcher plants. N. tobaica is a smallish species endemic to the region around Lake Toba on the island of Sumatra. My plant is still fairly young and only recently started producing fully mature pitchers.

6. Nepenthes rafflesiana

Nepenthes rafflesiana lower pitcher

N. rafflesiana is a much larger species with a wider native range encompassing Borneo, Sumatra, Singapore, and penisular Malaysia. Compared to the clone that I previously photographed (see picture 5), this seed-grown plant has more squat lower pitchers, and I prefer its more evenly distributed red speckling and dark red petioles.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday. Head over there to see his Six for this week and find links to the blogs of other participants.