Saturday, September 24, 2016

What is a phalaenopsis? It might not be what you think

Phalaenopsis display at the 2016 New York Orchid Show

What is a Phalaenopsis?  If you are an orchid enthusiast, then at first this question might seem a little too simple.  After all, the Phalaenopsis is probably the most iconic orchid.  If you search google images for 'orchid', 7 out of the first 10 image results depict Phalaenopsis flowers. It's what I first think of when someone says 'orchid'.
What a Phalaenopsis orchid typically looks like: Phalaenopsis OX Black Face 'OX 1647'

What we typically refer to as a "Phalaenopsis orchid" are the myriad hybrids that belong to the Phalaenopsis genus. This classification encompasses approximately 60 species. Also known as the 'Moth orchid' or the 'Butterfly orchid' they are a colorful, varied, long-flowering and easy-to-grow plants that are a favorite among hobbyists and breeders alike. There are more than 35,000 Phalaenopsis hybrids listed in the International Orchid Registry, and nearly 100 new hybrids are added every month!

However, over time, I've come across orchid species that bear the name "phalaenopsis" which do not actually have much relation at all to the Moth Orchid.  

I wanted to find out, just how many such orchid species are named 'phalaenopsis'? Turns out there are Four. 

Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis
Caucaea phalaenopsis
Dendrobium phalaenopsis
Miltoniopsis phalaenopsis

This made me curious about what these orchids might have in common that they all earned the same species name?  Do they resemble the Moth orchid more than other species in their genus?  I decided to briefly profile each of these "Not phalaenopsis" phalaenopsis species and see what came up.

Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis
These flowers are weird. They look nothing like the Phalaenopsis genus, and app they smell like "dead, rotting mice".  Turns out this orchid was named not for its flowers, but rather for its large leaves. This species was discovered in 1937 in New Guinea.

Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis
Image credit: Image,  by Orchidgalore (Flickr gallery)
Bulbophylum phalaenopsis
Image credit: Image, Stefano (Flickr gallery)

Caucaea phalaenopsis (aka Oncidium phalaenopsis)
Before today, I've never even heard of an orchid genus called "Caucaea". These orchids are closely related to Oncidiums.  In fact Caucaea and Oncidium are so closely related, that "Oncidium phalaenopsis" is another name for the same species. Caucaea phalaenopsis grows at high elevations in Ecuador, where it was first described in 1869.
Caucaea phalaenopsis (aka Oncidium phalaenopsis)
Image credit: Image, by Dogtooth77 (Flickr gallery)
If I squint and ignore the typical oncidium flower shape, I can definitely see how the color pattern of these flowers evokes those of Phalaenopsis hybrids.

Dendrobium phalaenopsis
This is clearly another species that was named for its resemblance to common phalaenopsis hybrids. This species goes under a number of different names, including Dendrobium biggibum, Vappodes phalaenopsis, The Cooktown Orchid, and The Mauve Butterfly Orchid. This orchid is native to Queensland Australia, where it was discovered in 1852.
Dendrobium phalaenopsis
Image credit: Image, by Stefano (Flickr gallery)

Miltoniopsis phalaenopsis (aka Miltonia phalaenopsis)
This flower has almost the same color patterning as Caucaea phalaenopsis, and likely was similarly named for that reason. It was discovered in the cloud forests of Colombia in 1854.
Miltoniopsis phalaenopsis (aka Miltonia phalaenopsis)
Image credit: Image, by Quimbaya (Flickr gallery)
While none of these flowers are perfect doppelgangers of the Phalaenopsis genus, they clearly do have enough features in common to explain why they were named this way. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Oncidopsis Memoria Martin Orenstein 'Lulu'

Oncidopsis Memoria Martin Orenstein 'Lulu'
Oncidopsis orchids are hybrids between Oncidium and Miltoniopsis.  This particular hybrid gracefully displays the balance between these two genera: its flowers have the full roundness typical of Miltoniopsis, yet they also display an intensity of color and pattern that reminds me of Oncidium crosses.

Oncidopsis Memoria Martin Orenstein is a 1992 hybrid between Oncidopsis Aglaon and Miltoniopsis Martin Orenstein. It's actually a slightly unusual crossing, because Oncidopsis Aglaon is a very old hybrid: it was registered in 1926.  Such old hybrids don't frequently maintain popularity long enough to still be available for hybridizing nearly a century after their creation.

Genealogy of Oncidopsis Memoria Martin Orenstein
You can see a full resolution version of this image here:

As is typical with orchid hybrids, the breeding scheme for Oncidopsis Memoria Martin Orenstein is a bit of an overcomplicated mess. There are approximately 50 progenitors in the diagram, including 5 Oncidium species and 3 Miltoniopsis species.  

Miltoniopsis breeding clusters very strongly around Miltoniopsis Bleuana, a primary hybrid of M. vexillaria and M. roezlii. Interestingly, this orchid goes by two different names.  M. Bleuana was the first and oldest Miltoniopsis hybrid; it was registered in 1889 and named after its maker, Alfred Bleu.  However, in 1921, the exact same cross was again registered under a different name: M. Reine Elisabeth

The reason for all this Miltoniopsis interbreeding is that in the 1800s, orchids of this genus were in very high demand, but botanists' ability to hybridize them was quite limited. There were only 2 possible primary hybrids for botanists to work with: Miltoniopsis Bleuana [roezlii x vexillaria] and Miltoniopsis Venus [phalaenopsis x vexillaria].  It took another half century to discover many of the Miltoniopsis species we know today, and then more time for breeders to generate new primary Miltoniopsis hybrids in the 1990's.  Until then, overzealous Miltoniopsis breeders kept generating endless variants of the same few basic crosses.

Species progenitors of Oncidopsis Memoria Martin Orenstein
Photo credits: 
Oncidium harryanum by Diego Rodriguez (Flickr gallery)
Miltoniopsis roezliiby Strohero (wikimedia commons)
Miltoniopsis phalaenopsisWikimedia commons image

Here are the Orchid species that went into creating Oncidopsis Memoria Martin Orenstein.  These are all a familiar list of suspects that have contributed in various combinations to most other Oncidium and Miltoniopsis hybrids I've profiled: Oncidium alexandre, Oncidium nobile, Oncidium luteopurpureum, Oncidium harryanum, Miltoniopsis vexillaria, Miltoniopsis roezlii, and Miltoniopsis phalaenopsis.

The lip coloration of Miltoniopsis phalaenopsis shows up in the final hybrid.  Likewise the purple of Miltoniopsis vexillaria comes through, as does the slightly more ruffled flower shape of Oncidium alexandre and Oncidium nobile. It remains a mystery to me what any of the other oncidium species might have contributed to this cross, or whether their traits have been effectively bred out of the orchid during the hybridization process.