Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Virgin Mary Orchid - Caularthron bicornutum


"the Virgin orchid or the Virgin Mary orchid... Caularthron bicornutum.
... one of almost 200 species of native orchids found in the country... flowers... mainly white.

... there are two virgin orchids, the common one and another smaller species sometimes referred to the Little Virgin orchid. This is not as common as the other and tends to be found patchily on trees distributed inland, even in parts of Port of Spain. The common Virgin Orchid is a species that is found in both Trinidad and Tobago and the species is well known from the Guianas, Venezuela and Colombia.

In both islands its distribution is mainly coastal although the species may be seen in forested areas inland. It is particularly common on the Bocas
islands, Gasparee and Little Centipede, and along much of the north and northeast coasts of Trinidad and the windward coast of Tobago...

It is highly tolerant of windy sea blast conditions and seems equally at home as an epiphytic or terrestrial species... it does not grow in soil or litter but rather on bare rock. Most people will not notice them except when in bloom and only if they happen to be looking up into the branches of trees or on exposed rock faces of cliffs. They are particularly common on the trunks of coconut trees and balata
trees and old plants may consist of dozens of pseudobulbs...

it is not the white sepals and petals that give the name virgin to the species, but that unique orchid structure that is formed of the fusion of the reproductive parts of the flower-the column. This stands projecting from the apex and it takes no imagination to see the characteristic Madonna
figure, as you may see in many a statue in catholic churches and religious art, a tall shrouded figure with the shroud extending over the shoulders.

The flowers are immaculate white, forming a five-pointed star. The lip is white, three-lobed with two raised yellow ridges close to the column and is
freckled with crimson spots or streaks. The flowers appear serially over several weeks on flower stalks that may measure up to about 60 centimetres
in length, and when in peak the stalk may have a dozen or so open flowers. A single plant flowering in its early years may consist of a few
pseudobulbs the year's annual growth producing three of four flower stalks.

... an old plant girdling a balata tree, consisting of perhaps 30 or 40 pseudobulbs each bearing a flower stalk-tipped with a dozen or so of these striking flowers, can be nothing but stunning... my guess is that they only grow to such proportions because there are far too high up for the collectors.

... Depending on the age of the plant more than one new shoots appear from the bases of the old pseudobulbs. But if you examine the bases of the old pseudbulbs you will see a uniform slit in each and if you tap it, it will sound hollow. It is. If you continue tapping it you might see a few
moderately sized ants appear. They live there. And if you continue observing the same plant in late November or early December you will see
that the shoot has become swollen into the characteristic pseudobulb and at the apex you will see the emergence of the new flower stalk and-one or two ants sitting on the emergent stalk. Possibly you might see also a tiny droplet secreted from the flower stalk and even see one ant grasp the tiny sphere in its fierce jaws.

What is the ant doing? Simply collecting a reward for its presence on the growing and tender stalk, warding off any other insects that might fancy
some tasty plant juices. Look at every flower stalk and you will see exactly the same right through the flowering season that runs through to April before a brief rest and a repeat of the cycle with the first rains, every year."

URL : http://www.trinidadexpress.com/index.pl/article_opinion?id=161254936

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