South Coast Orchid Society

Orchids Today and Yesterday

Call for photos of our meetings and members! Everybody has pictures of pretty orchids, but for our publicity and outreach activities, we need pictures of happy orchid enthusiasts, interacting with each other and their plants. Get out your cell phone, snap some candid (unposed) shots, and email them to the web master. Thanks for your help!

The first published image of Cattleya labiata, in John Lindley's Collecteana Botanica, vol. 33 (1824). On the left, the digitized image from the copy at the Missouri Botanic Garden, badly faded. On the right, an image from a copy that hasn't faded so much, found on Facebook.

March, 2020

Blast from Our Past: RARE ORCHIDS AND HOW THEY GET THAT WAY — Presented at the South Coast Orchid Society awards banquet at the Petroleum Club in Long Beach, California, January 26, 1959 by Robert Casamajor

[The entire lecture by Mr. Casamajor was printed later in 1959 in the Review of the Orchid Society of Southern California. We don't know whether Mr. Casamajor had a Kodachrome slide show to go with his program, but we were able to track down some great pictures to illustrate his story. We hope you enjoy this nostalgic journey through the orchid lore that was lived by many of our early members. We have also added some notes about sources in square brackets.]

Robert Casamajor, 1885-1960

If you look up the word rare in the dictionary you will find it has several meanings, such as the way some people like their meat cooked, to a precious gem some wife might like to have her husband give her for Christmas.

As far as an orchid is concerned I think the one that defines it as “uncommon” is the most appropriate, but it does not go far enough. I would define a rare orchid as one that very few people have, but many people want. You might have the only piece of a plant in existence, but if nobody else wanted it, so what! I have some seedlings in this category, but I don’t consider them rare.

When Dean Field persuaded me to talk to you tonight he never gave me the slightest hint as to what might be of interest to you. As this is the third time I have appeared before this group he should have known better than to ask me. [Dean Field was President of South Coast Orchid Society in 1953 and 1954. He also served as President of Orchid Digest Corporation in 1955 and 1956, and of Orchid Society of Southern California in 1957. By 1959, he was in charge of the Southland Orchid Show as well as program chairman for SCOS.]

After worrying about the matter for a couple of weeks I decided that rather than try to find some topic to please you, perhaps if I would just please myself I would enjoy it more, and those who don’t enjoy what I have to say might not like some other topic either.

One of the things I like to do in connection with orchids is to delve into the history and romance of this great family of plants we all admire. The only other plant that compares with it at all in colorful history is the Camellia, and while the Camellia is interesting, it really isn’t in the same league, as the saying goes.

Most of you who know me well realize that my principal interest in orchids centers on two genera . . . cymbidium and cypripediums. However, I have studied other genera, less thoroughly than my favorites, and the literature on Cattleyas and Dendrobiums contains some fascination stories which add much wealth to our orchid lore.

The plant explorers who discovered, collected, and brought back to England the orchid species of our present day hybrids, did a magnificant job, even if some of them were ruthless in the way they cleaned out the locations where they found these plants. We orchid growers of today should not forget these men and to me the history of the collection of species orchids is a romantic and charming facet of orchid growing. My remarks will be confined to only a few genera and I’ll start with Cattleya labiata.

William John Swainson 1789-1855, naturalist, artist, and the discoverer of C. labiata

Cattleya labiata: Discovered, Lost, and Re-Found

As you cattleya growers know, this species is native to Brazil and is a very variable one. Its important as a parent of present day hybrids is considerable, and I won’t recite its many virtues, which you undoubtedly know. One interesting aspect of it is its discovery by William Swainson in 1817, who sailed from England in the autumn of 1816 and landed in the Province of Pernambuco, Brazil, 8 degrees south of the Equator about the end of December 1816. He was delayed owing to a political revolt, but collected several plants of which some he described as “parasites”. His drawings and collections were dispatched to Dr. Hooker and a Mr. William Cattley in June 1817 from Rio de Janeiro. Of the plants received by Mr. Cattley there were Oncidium barbatum, Catasetum hookeri, and a third plant which bloomed in the Cattley stove-house in November, 1818.

Second known figure of Cattleya labiata, from Hooker's Exotic Flora 2:157 (1825)

Nothing like it had ever been seen before in England and it created a sensation in the horticultural world. It was referred to Dr. Lindley for identification, who declared it a new genus (and species), which he named Cattleya labiata.

Swainson never told anyone where he found this precious plant, and for years plant explorers searched for it in vain. Finally in November, 1836 Gardner found it near Rio de Janeiro growing on a precipice of a mountan called Pedra Bonita and was able to collect a few plants and ship them to England. [By then, reports from Brazil told of the complete deforestation of these habitats; it was widely assumed that any wild populations had been wiped out.] Over 50 years elapsed before it was again located in Pernambuco and sent to England in quantity in the early 1890’s. In November, 1893 Charlesworth, Shuttleworth & Co. had a display in their houses of 7,000 flowers of this first of the Cattleyas in a marvelous range of coloration.

Advertisement from Gardeners' Chronicle, September 12, 1891, announcing sale of the first group of C. labiata to reach England in many decades

>SPAN class=editorial>[The rediscovery of a wild population of Cattleya labiata caused a sensation when a shipment of at least 600 plants reached England. F.been Sander & Co. announced an auction of these plants in the September 12, 1891 issue of Gardeners' Chronicle. Later accounts provided some additional details about the find. An account of Swainson's travels in Brazel had been published in 1819 and remained unnoticed by the botanical community. This was perhaps not surprising, because Swainson was known mainly for his description of many new bird species. Several articles on this subject were written by R. A. Rolfe: Cattleya labiata, Lindl., Gardeners' Chronicle Ser.3:vol.10,336-368 (September 26, 1891); Cattleya labiata, Orchid Review 1:329-331 (1893); Cattleya labiata and its habitat, Orchid Review 8:362-365 (1900).]

With this species the great genus Cattleya was founded and subsequent discoveries and hybrids have combined to create the magnificent orchids so many of you admire.

A New Rare Cattleya

Bracey's advertisement published in Orchid Digest in the late 1950's. When the pandemic subsides and we can get back into the libraries, we will get a better picture. This one was published in a short retrospective about this plant by Ernest Hetherington in Orchid Digest 63:20 (1999). Note the suggestion that two people could easily buy a plant together and divide it. The plants for sale were seedlings from a selfing of the original plant.

I could go on and recite the stories of the discovery of other important Cattleya species such as Dowiana var. aurea, but to me one of the most modern ones is of special interest. Just a few years ago Mr. B. O. Bracey secured from an unrevealed source a small plant of Cattleya guttata var. alba. This plant was so rare that you can hardly even find it mentioned in any of the orchid books or publications. The only place I have found it is in the Orchid World, a long discontinued magazine. So far as I know there is no other reference to it in orchid literature. Belonging as it does to the bifoliate group the flowers open as a cluster and may have as many as two to twelve or more on one flowering stem. The sepals and petals are a clear lettuce green and the labellum almost pure white. Many of you have undoubtedly seen it in flower.

© 1972 AOS

C. leopoldii (formerly guttata) alba 'Field's', HCC/AOS, award photo from 1972. 'Field's' is one of the seedlings from the self-pollination of Bracey's original C. guttata alba. It is named for Roy Field, a long-time member of SCOS, not related to former SCOS President George Dean Field.

Mr. Bracey recognized the great value of this novelty and has perpetuated it by self-pollination. So far all of the progeny have come true indicating that it is a true species. While the story of the re-discovery of Cattleya guttata var. alba may not have the glamour of some other orchid discoveries, don’t let the fact that it happened at your back door influence your judgement of its importance to orchid growing and future hybridization. Cattleya breeders should start working on this little gem.

Dendrobium phalaenopsis var. schroederianum

[Mr. Casamajor is here quoting and paraphrasing Frederick Boyle's The Woodlands Orchids, pp. 113-120 (1901). Boyle indicated that the name of the island where Dendrobium phalaenopsis var. schroederianum was discovered had not yet been revealed to the public, but suggested the information would eventually be forthcoming. Today the answer is known, and the variety schroederianum is claimed by some to grow only on the island of Larat in the Tanimbar Islands, part of the Maluku Islands (Moluccas) of Indonesia, south of Timor. The airport on Larat is located at Lat 7° 7' 42S, 131° 46' 2E.]

The Dendrobium genus may not arouse in many of you any thoughts of romance or adventure but the pure white form of Dendrobium Phalaenopsis now known as variety Schroederianum has a long and interesting history. This rare plant was sent to Kew Gardens about 1875 by Forbes. It remained a special trophy of the Royal Gardens for many years. Eventually Sir Joseph Hooker gave small pieces of it, in exchange for other varieties, to three people, one of whom was Baron Schroeder. He proceeded to acquire the other two plants and thus had all of the variety known to exist in private hands, whereupon this variety took his name. This state of things lasted ten years. Unable to get any of the plant Mr. Sander resolved to try to re-discover it in its native haunts. He studied the route of Forbes’ travels and in 1890 sent Wm. Micholitz to seek Dendrobium Schroederianum.

Plant hunters in those days were an evasive lot and any ruse to throw others off your trail was considered fair practice. It was universally understood that Micholitz discovered the object of his quest in New Guinea. Maybe that is why so many explorers went to that interesting and fertile island to search for plants, but they never cam back with Dendrobium Schroederianum because it wasn’t there.

William Micholitz was one of the most skilled and presistent of plant hunters, but the story of how he found this white beauty would scare some of you out of a night’s sleep. Events didn’t move as fast in those days and you had to know how to fraternize with ship captains and entice savages into doing you favors. Biding your time, on a plant hunting quest was one of the fine arts. Nobody else was in a hurry, so how could you be? I won’t attempt to recite to you the whole lurid story as was told by Frederick Boyle in his book, “The Woodlands Orchids”, suffice to say that Micholitz arrived in a trading-vessel, the captain of which was trusted by the natives. His destination was one of the wildest isles which stud the Australasian Sea, and some nice calculations by Mr. Sander with the help of the staff of Kew Gardens enabled Micholitz to land at the right spot near the end of the dry season.

Under protection of the chiefs he was allowed to explore, but their power did not stretch beyond a few miles of the coast. The neighbors on each side were unfriendly, and bitterly hostile tribes lay beyond. All alike were head hunters and the captain assured Micholitz the best-intentioned of these islanders cannot always resist the temptation to crown their trophies with a white man’s head.

There were no plants near the little port and Micholitz knew he must venture futher. After a few days he was told the chiefs were going to a feast and that he might accompany them. The Captain could not go and looked at Micholitz with a hesitating air.

“Is there any danger?” Micholitz asked.

“On, no, not a bit of danger, you’ll be amused I daresay, they’re rum chaps.”

At daylight he started with the chiefs. It was but a few hours paddling to the next bay. They embarked, paint and feathers, spears and clubs and were met by their hosts in the same guise upon the beach.

After a priest howled for a while the warriors began to dance two by two. It was wearisome and very hot. At length Micholitz asked if he might leave. The interpreter said there was no objection. He walked toward the forest which was some distance back. As he approached he noted that a channel had been dug in the land leading to the trees. This he skirted and when he parted the foliage observed a low temporary building which he assumed held the war canoe about to be launched and christened by the party on the beach. But to his horror he saw on looking further two naked human bodies impaled on spears, one on each side of the building. Hardly had he recovered from this shock than the party on the beach broke up with wild screaming and yelling and led by the chiefs all rushed upon the building tearing down the walls. When the head men were in their place in the prow, all others laid hands on the craft and started it moving down the channel to the water. The din and noise was deafening.

Frightened as he was when the rush started Micholitz had retreated from the launching site and made his way as best he could deeper into the forest. He told himself he had come to look for orchids not be a witness to a bloody spectacle and had better be about his business. He was so sick from the savage spectacle he hadn’t noticed what was above him in the low trees. Sudddenly he realized they were garlanded with orchids, some red, and one a deep purple, then glistening in a shaft of sunlight a large cluster of the purest white. Dendrobium Schroederianum had been re-discovered! Success drove all else from his mind, or almost, until the interpreter summoned him to sit down with the savages and eat their dubious viands. When the chiefs understood this eccentric white man fancied their weeds they offered them joyously—at a price.

Next day Micholitz returned aboard and the Captain brought his ship round to the bay. In three days, so plentiful was the supply Micholitz had gathered as many as he thought judicious and heaped them on deck. They could be dried while the vessel was waiting for cargo elsewhere. The Captain filled up quickly and sailed for a Dutch port where the orchids would be shipped to England. He arrived in the evening, the ship lay alongside the wharf; next day the precious cases would be transferred to the steamer. Content with his labors Micholitz went to sleep, so did everybody else, the watch included. Toward morning the harbor police raised a cry of ‘fire’. It must have been smoldering for hours. Not one plant could poor Micholitz save. On arrival he had telegraphed his success and joy reigned at St. Albans, but the next morning the second message arrived.

“Ship burnt. What do? Micholitz”

The reply:

“Go back. Sander”

“Too late, rainy season”

“Go back”

And Micholitz went, though the way was difficult and the rain grew heavier daily. Taking a mail steamer to the nearest settlement he worked his way back. But at this spot the Dendrobe was growing on limestone rocks and was especially abundant in the graveyard of the clan, a stony waste where for generations they had left their dead. The plants grew and flowered among bones innumerable, where they were not only the most plentiful but by far the most vigorous. Nervously Micholitz suggested their removal after displaying samples of his trade; looking-glasses, knives and beads. A clamor of indignation broke out among the warriors. It was swelling into a passion when he produced a roll of brass wire. That calmed them, and after debate they stipulated they would not assist in collecting, but if two of their most sacred idols should travel with the plants and be treated with honor, all the way, they would agree. After distribution of the brass wire they helped pack the cases.

© 2015 Motes Orchids

Den. striaenopsis from the Maluku Islands, offered for sale a few years ago from Motes Orchids

Thus it happened that one of the Dendrobes sold at Protheroe’s Auction Rooms on October 16, 1891 was attached to a human skull. As for the idols they were bought by the Hon. Walter Rothschild and it is hoped they were treated with reverence, as per the agreement.

[What happened to these plants? There was an FCC awarded by the RHS, March 22, 1892, but we were unable to locate an illustration of any of the original plants. While Boyle says the desired variety had white flowers, we don't know if Micholitz collected plants of all the color variations that he found on Larat. Today, there are plants labeled as variety schroederianum in all the usual colors of Dendrobium phalaenopsis.]

Original illustration of Robert FitzGerald's newly described Dendrobium phalaenopsis (1882), presumably the very same plant that he had "obtained" in Cooktown, Queensland, Australia (R. D. FitzGerald, Australian Orchids, vol. 1)

[Further, it was long suspected that Den. bigibbum and Den. phalaenopsis should be regarded as a single species. If so, it would have to be called Den. bigibbum, which has priority (described by Lindley in 1852). However, there are complications. For example, it is not entirely clear where the plants from which bigibbum and phalaenopsis were described actually came from. One idea is that, if they are to be regarded as separate species, phalaenopsis would apply to plants from the east side of the Great Dividing Range (the original description by FitzGerald in 1880 involved a plant "obtained" at Cooktown, Queensland), in the northern part of Queensland, and bigibbum to the plants from the west side of the range as well as those from the islands in the Torres Strait and Papua-New Guinea. That left the Indonesian forms without a name, and so the plants from Indonesia, including apparently the variety schroederianum, were then described by Mark Clements (1989) as Den. striaenopsis. But the RHS apparently went for a time in the opposite direction, using phalaenopsis for the Indonesian plants and bigibbum for all of the Australian plants. Also in the running is the proposal (2002) that the old Den. phalaenopsis, with or without bigibbum etc., should be split out as a new genus Vappodes. If that idea gains traction, it would require the creation of at least half a dozen new intergeneric hybrid names. In addition, it has been pointed out that it is now likely impossible to decide which of the various proposed species names should apply to any particular cultivated plant, because they have all been in cultivation over a period of many years in which opinions about the names changed repeatedly, and probably the labels with them.]

[What to do? The obvious way to find the "real" schroederianum is by retracing the voyage of Micholitz to the island of Larat! Would anyone like to join us in mounting such an expedition? Your web master hasn't done any traveling lately.]

© 1994 AOS

Paphiopedilum fairrieanum 'Jeepers' HCC/AOS, exhibited at our Long Beach meeting December 19, 1994 by Paphanatics, unLtd. (that's our friends Harold Koopwitz and Norito Hasegawa)

Paphiopedilum [formerly known to orchid hobbyists as Cypripedium] fairrieanum

Now we come to Cypripedium Fairrieanum and its colorful history. I’m sure I don’t have to describe this flower to you because many of you are growing it. It has a distinct charm, and there is no other species like it. It has also been the despair and pride of orchid growers for over 100 years. The many attempts to cross it with other species and hybrids have produced some of the most colorful and astonishing progeny that exist in the genus. In several instances only one seedling survived and flowered, but the result was a sensation in its day.

No one knows who first discovered this plant, but it came into English cultivation and flowering in October 1857, when it was shown at a meeting of the Horticultural Society by a Mr. Fairrie of Liverpool and was described and named for him by Dr. Lindley. Two other growers bloomed it at about the same time, and the three plants all came from a consignment of East Indian orchids sent from Assam and sold at auction in London on March 24, 1857. Apparently this species bloomed within seven months after receipt from India.

Now Assam is one of the warmer provinces of India. Therefore growers assumed it required warm treatment. Undoubtedly this was their undoing. They overlooked the fact that M. Van Houtte in his magazine “Flore de Serres”, a French publication, told that he had received the plant from a collector in Bhotan, which is a northern province at elevations around 7000 feet and much colder than Assam.

From a goodly stock of this species breeders in both England and France spread its pollen around and produced many remarkable hybrids. All attempts to self it, or use it as a pod bearing parent were doomed to failure.

One by one, growers lost their plants or they shrunk in size to the class of mere seedlings. Division for the purpose of increase was disastrous. By 1876 there were few plants left, worthy of the name, in England or on the continent. The last recorded exhibit was at a meeting in 1887, a single plant.

Explorers went forth, based on the assumption it had come from the Garo Hills in Assam, and sought to re-discover it. Their efforts were in vain. All they had left were the dried herbarium specimens at Kew and the many hybrids in the hands of growers.

Sander came forth and posted a reward of £2000 for the discover and delivery into their hands of a quantity of plants of the lost orchid. This made first page news in the London newspapers and the search began anew. By 1905 most growers had given up hope of again ever seeing Cypripedium Fairrieanum. But in March of that year there appeared a story in Indian Planting and Gardening of Calcutta entitled “The Lost Orchid Found”. I quote:

“Every horticulturalist in general and orchidist in particular will be interested to learn that the ‘lost orchid’ Cypripedium Fairrieanum has been rediscovered. The discoverer is an Englishman; and he with Mr. S. P. Chatterji, the well known florist and nurseryman of Calcutta, have the secret of its natural habitat between them. They have a fine stock of plants and will doubtless make the most of them in due course. They will now claim the reward of £2000 offered by a London firm of plant merchants to anyone who could re-discover the ‘lost orchid’. The locality where this orchid was found remains a profound secret for the present, but it was not found in the Garo Hills, its supposed natural habitat. There is no doubt as to its identity as it has been submitted to Dr. Prain, Superintendent of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Calcutta, who has pronounced it ‘Simon Pure’. The plant was lost to the world in 1876 and can be said to be practically extinct in Europe at the present time.

“This is probably the most important and sensational announcement the horticultural world has received for many years and ranks with the rediscovery of Cattleya labiata in Brazil in the 1890’s. In due time the name of the discoverer and full particulars as to the conditions under which it was found growing and its locality will be published.”

News about the rediscovery of Paph. fairrieanum from the illustrated weekly, The Graphic (London, April 27, 1905). The figure is a much earlier illustration, not from the newly discovered specimens, as the plants that had just arrived in England still had not bloomed. The first flower opened on August 16, 1905.

On April 14th, the Times and other London newspapers gave the re-discovery first page publicity, and the “Morning Leader” said it had been found the previous autumn by an engineer out hunting for grouse or pheasant. Final comfirmation came from Kew when they received on April 26 two fine unestablished masses of a Cypripedium described as ‘unknown species from the Eastern Himalayas’ which they identified as C. Fairrieanum. The plants had been shipped to them from Calcutta.

This settled it as far as the orchid fanciers were concerned and Sanders were besieged by their many customers for some of the plants when they arrived.

On July 22nd the “Gardiners' Chronicle” announced that Cypripedium Fairrieanum had arrived at St. Albans at last, and that the young scapes on the plants at Kew left no doubt as to their identity.

The first flower of the rediscovered Paphiopedilum (at that time Cypripedium) fairrieanum, published in Gardeners' Chronicle August 26, 1905 (p.168) — the long-awaited proof that the new plant really was fairrieanum

After satisfying the demands of their royal and wealthy customers Sanders offered 179 plants at auction on September 15th at Protheroe and Morris’ Auction Rooms in London.

Bidding was spirited at times and the total consignment brought £550. The best plant with one flower spike went for 21 guineas, which at that time would have been about $100.00.

Finally in December 1905 there came from India the information the Cypripedium Fairrieanum was discovered by Mr. G. L. Seabright of Darjiling, an amateur gardener, who happened upon the plant growing in niches of gneiss rock at an elevation of 7000 feet near the head waters of the Torsa River in the Bhotan Hills country. Thus it appears that assumption by growers it had at first been found at elevations of 3000 feet was the major cause of its gradual demise under cultivated conditions, when they should have arranged for temperature consistent with 7000 feet. It also appears from the record that when grown warm it is particularly susceptible to damage by thrips.

So now I close my story of the rediscovery of famous orchid species, and I hope you have enjoyed the recital as much as I did digging it out of the authentic sources.


Preparations for the World Orchid Conference in Taiwan, interrupted by corona virus scare

February, 2020

Orchid Love in a Time of Corona Virus

© 2020 Norman Fang

What the modern traveler is wearing — Norman Fang on the way to Taiwan

At this writing, our friend Norman Fang is in Taiwan. He traveled there a couple days ago to prepare for the World Orchid Conference. He reported about his travels on Facebook. The airports were nearly empty, there were many empty seats on the flight, which was therefore unusually comfortable. He is prepared with face masks and all the other supplies that the public can use to lessen the chance of picking up infections from their fellow travelers. About the time he arrived in Taipei, however, the conference organizers cancelled the event, or, as they said, postponed it. Preparations were already underway, and posters could still be seen advertising the show.

Norman knows the orchid business, he is well prepared to make the best of the situation. Who knows that deals the growers in Taiwan and elsewhere will be willing to make, given that their expected bonanza of orchid sales at the World Orchid Conference will not materialize? On the other hand, he may have to make some unusual arrangements when the time comes to return to California, if travel becomes even more restricted in an attempt to prevent the virus from spreading. In the meantime, we are following his posts intently.

What powers do these flowers have over us, that we are willing to travel halfway around the world for them, braving pestilence and plague? It is a remarkable phenomenon. We see the same thing on a small scale at every orchid club meeting. The orchid plants are always on the move: there is something about them, or about us, that makes us want to pick them up and carry them around. At the SCOS meetings, someone is always picking up an orchid plant and carrying it across the room. So often, in fact, that this has become a subject of mirth, reminding some of us over a certain age of a vaudeville skit we saw on the I Love Lucy show.

Cymbidium Woody Wilson 'White Knight', named after one of our past presidents. We saw it at Casa de las Orquideas, and it said "Pick me up and take me home!"

It is not only orchid nuts like ourselves who are affected by this instinct. In what is left of the tropical forests, the locals can't seem to help retrieving wild orchid plants and taking them home, whether for their own enjoyment or to sell at the village market. Perhaps even stranger, these plants are frequently tough enough that they can survive being plant-napped and held captive in someone's garden. Many were so tough that they survived being raided by Englishmen and shipped across the oceans in wooden crates, and then held captive in overheated "stove houses" (greenhouses heated with coal-burning stoves) on some dreary English estate, far from friends and family.

Wholesale forced migrations of orchids continued for a long time. The early newsletters of South Coast Orchid Society contain many notices about plant dealers based in Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, etc., who had just returned with a shipment of wild orchids, which they proposed to sell to collectors (such as our members).

From time to time, botanists have tried to illustrate the workings of evolution by turning the usual natural selection paradigm on its head. The plants, they say, are exploiting us, rather than the other way around. The plants that exhibit traits that humans find useful or appealing, such as big, sweet fruits, beautiful flowers (that is, flowers appealing to the hard-wired human sense of beauty), nutritious roots or seeds, etc., are able to induce us to propagate them and take them all over the world. The plants that have come up with the most attractive traits are now found on every continent except perhaps Antarctica: wheat, rice, roses, chiles, garlic, basil, olives, roses, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, broccoli, cabbage, mustard, geraniums, field mushrooms, poppies, and even orchids. Other plants, generally called weeds, made the same journey, but not for the same reason. Rather they relied on guile, sneaking their usually tiny seeds into shipments of grains or other human cargo: plants like dandelion, various grasses, chickweed, thistles, and all the others that we vainly attempt to eradicate from our gardens. Clever plants!

Events conspired to prevent Norman from presenting a lecture at the World Orchid Conference (and not only because of the virus, but that's another story). When he returns, we want to hear all about his adventures!

January, 2020

Themes from Our Past

Here are some of the events and trends in the long life of South Coast Orchid Society that we can credit for our existence and our continued survival in Long Beach, California. We weren't particularly careful to preserve our history, but enough survives in the form of newspaper clippings, published notices in Orchid Digest and the AOS bulletin, Orchids, and in scattered newsletters, that we can see the outlines of how we managed to reach our 70th anniversary year.

Oil on Signal Hill!

The discovery of oil on Signal Hill (at the time, an unincorporated area just north of Long Beach) in 1921 changed everything. The discovery led to the development of a new industry, an influx of people from many different backgrounds who saw an opportunity to make money, and the rapid development of the entire area. Among the partipants was Samuel Mosher, whose Signal Gas and Oil Company, started with a loan of $4,000 from his mother, eventually became such a giant that Mosher could afford to relocate to the vast Rancho de los Dos Pueblos in Goleta, where he built what soon became the world's largest orchid business, Dos Pueblos Orchids, thus bringing the orchid industry to the Santa Barbara area with Long Beach oil money! Another oilman from Long Beach was Paul N. Baker, our founder and first president, who built two greenhouses next to his office and oil wells just off Long Beach Boulevard on 37th Street.

Our first banquet at the new Petroleum Club in 1957

Another oilman, Arthur Falck, was a member of the Petroleum Club in Long Beach (only a block away from Paul Baker's greenhouses and wells). When the Petroleum Club's new facility was completed, Arthur's membership allowed him to reserve the premises for our annual awards banquet on January 28, 1957, and for many years to come.

World War II
Many of our members served in the armed forces in World War II. Quite a few were in the Navy, serving in the South Pacific, and ended up in the Long Beach area at the end of the war. Wartime service and industries brought another wave of immigrants to Long Beach from other parts of the country. Some of them had encountered orchids in the places where they had served during the war, such as Hawaii, the Philippines, etc.

The Postwar Boom
Southern California grew quickly after the war. The aviation industry, transitioning to commercial aviation, was one of them, but the growth involved many other industries as well, such as manufacturing, construction, and of course, Hollywood. Good jobs supported our orchid growers and their families. Like almost all immigrants from colder parts of the US, the new arrivals marveled at the sight of roses blooming in January, orange trees in every back yard, palm trees, and very soon, all sorts of exotic "tropical" plants.

In fact, it wasn't long before a wave of Polynesian style swept through Southern California. For a time, it seemed everyone had a "Hawaiian" back yard with banana trees and tiki torches. The Lafayette Hotel in downtown Long Beach opened an Outrigger Bar, and there was also a famous Outrigger Motor Hotel on PCH. "Tiki culture" was everywhere. On The Pike, sailors congregated at the Polynesian-themed bars. In our early years, SCOS joyfully celebrated "the Islands" with an annual luau, complete with grass skirts and hula competitions, all elaborately decorated with orchids.

"The lovely Claire Hammel", newpaper clipping on the occasion of our first big party, December, 1950

High Fashion and Corsages
Women's fashions in the postwar era featured a wonderful elegance (which, however, almost everyone was happy to leave behind a few decades later). Our early members found stunning tailored outfits at Dinel's Feminine Apparel in downtown Long Beach, and completed their ensembles with custom orchid corsages, an art form perfected by our members. To support that style, there was also a thriving industry of orchids as cut flowers, although our members preferred to grow their own. The corsages of the day featured graceful flowers with a minimum of ribbon, just enough to hide the stems. Our first spokesmodel, Claire Hammel, an actual department store model, was featured in the local press on the occasion of our first holiday party in December, 1950.

Long Beach Parks Department
All the way back to our first known event, the 1950 holiday party, and in every newspaper clipping and newsletter since, our monthly meetings, always on the fourth Monday of the month, unless that date was a holiday, have been held in Long Beach Parks Department facilities. Our awards banquets were held at the Petroleum Club for many years, but everything else was in Parks Department community centers or clubhouses. We are not aware of any other group in Long Beach with such a long and continuous association with the Parks Department.

Orchid Nurseries and Backyard Orchid Breeders
Among our early members were owners and employees of just about every orchid business in Southern California. The same people were also usually members of the Orchid Society of Southern California (which met for some years at Plummer Park in what is now West Hollywood; they now meet in Burbank), and we can guess why! OSSC, founded in 1947, has always met on the second Monday of the month, and SCOS has always met on the fourth Monday, so that, no matter when your stunning new orchid bloomed, you would have a chance to show it off at one or the other of these two groups. There were small orchid nurseries scattered all over Southern California, virtually all of them long gone. Our members, both professional growers and at least as many amateurs from all walks of life, exchanged plants and advice at our meetings. They purchased the latest seedlings or won them in plant raffles.

© 1970 AOS

Cymbidium Lillian Stewart 'Monique' AM/AOS, exhibited at our meeting in Long Beach April 27, 1970 by Cobb's Orchids of Santa Barbara, photographer unknown

What caught the attention of our members in the early days? We can see what they were up to from the accounts of our meetings and the awards that were published in Orchid Digest and our newsletters. Cymbidium Lillian Stewart, produced by Fred Stewart, generated huge excitement, something Ernest Hetherington later dubbed "Cymbidium fever". Someone even opined that Lillian Stewart was the world's most highly awarded orchid (not true, in fact). One measure of its fame is that it even ended up on a North Korean postage stamp! Lavender Cattleyas were perhaps even more popular, especially the series of seedlings of what was then Lc. (now C.) Bonanza. The next generation produced Rlc. Memoria Cripsin Rosales, among others. Other members worked on producing superior clones of Cattleya species, such as C. mossiae. Paphs (then still called Cypripedium and Phals were not neglected, either, and the efforts of our members were supported by the best laboratory technicians, some operating out of their homes, others working for the orchid nurseries.

Rlc. Memoria Crispin Rosales 'El Bekal' HCC/OD, exhibited at our meeting in Long Beach August 26, 1962 by A. M. Thompson, but where did the photo come from? We found it in the AOS Orchids Plus software associated with a date of June 29, 1968 (not one of our meeting dates), and the award listed as HCC/AOS, the exhibitor, location, and photographer all unknown, but with the same score, 76 points. When the judging programs of Orchid Digest Corporation and the American Orchid Society were merged at the end of 1967, there were suggestions that the Orchid Digest awards would be recognized by AOS, but we were unable to find any indication that this actually happened. But perhaps a few OD awards actually did find their way into the AOS awards database.

Other members learned how to pollinate orchids and then how to germinate the seeds on the newly-devised sterile media. A few of our members started their own flasking businesses at home. An enterprising housewife from Canoga Park, Grayce Hecker, took advantage of a new invention, a plastic greenhouse, which she used first to grow what turned out to be one of the best seedlings ever of C. Bonanza (she named her plant 'Pay Dirt' and insured it for $1,500), then produced a number of fine hybrids from it. Every month, she and her husband, a restaurant owner, drove down to Long Beach for our meeting.

© 2006 Charles Rowden

Rlc. Goldenzelle 'Memoria Roy Field' AM/AOS, exhibited by Ed and Donna Wise at our meeting on March 27, 2006, and named after Roy Field, one of our longtime members

Multiple people in SCOS would sometimes make the same cross — we know this happened in the production by at least 3 or 4 of our members, both amateurs and professionals, of the same cross that was eventually registered as Rlc. Goldenzelle, which can be regarded as an SCOS group project — except that it was likely discussed at OSSC meetings by the same people as well!

Orchid Judging
Orchid judging in Southern California goes back at least to September, 1949 at OSSC, which was then one of the founding chapters of Orchid Digest Corporation. The standards and methods of judging were gradually refined by Orchid Digest, and later in collaboration with the American Orchid Society. (In this collaboration, the same model of collective action applies, most of the people involved belonged to both organizations.) By October, 1954, Orchid Digest Corporation was ready to extend judging to its other affiliated societies (SCOS became an Orchid Digest affiliate in 1953). Our members discussed how to participate in this new program and voted to proceed. The first official judging at an SCOS meeting was held in December, 1954, and has continued almost uninterrupted as a feature of our meetings ever since. At the end of 1967, an agreement between Orchid Digest Corporation and the American Orchid Society was implemented, and all of the judges accredited by Orchid Digest Corporation became AOS judges as of January, 1968. Through our old newsletters and from notices of awards published in Orchid Digest, we have a nearly complete record of the awards that were made at our meetings between 1954 and 1967. SCOS went on to produce many notable judges who are still remembered today.

A Record of Service
Among our former and present members, many individuals contributed their time, funds, and energy to the development of the business and hobby of orchids, both in Southern California and nationally. Some of our members have served as officers or directors of Orchid Digest Corporation, or of almost all of the other orchid clubs in our area, or as directors of the American Orchid Society, or on the boards of local public gardens such as the Los Angeles County Arboretum, Huntington Botanical Gardens, and others. They helped to raise money to support the activities of these organizations. Some traveled widely, helping to create a network of orchid enthusiasts around the world. They organized national and international conferences. They worked together in surprising ways, and they contributed to the development of Southern California as a haven for gardeners and gardens, without which the Los Angeles basin would be a desolate place. We still have neighbors who plant only astroturf and concrete, and who instantly remove every tree when it becomes big enough to produce some shade; nevertheless, Long Beach is full of exotic plants, vigorous trees, and orchids. During World War II, the national crisis required everyone to work together, in the armed forces, in the defense industries, and on the home front. Service and working together became a way of life, and after the war ended, the felt need for comaraderie and service remained. People joined all sorts of organizations. Our members had many interests other than orchids; they were active in service organizations, professional societies, civic causes, charities, government, etc. That was the Southern California story — diverse origins, diverse interests, together building a community we could call home. SCOS was a part of it, orchids were a part of it.

December, 2019

Marketing picture for Cambria orchids, from a garden center. The accompanying text says "Cambria orchids are any orchids that are formed from 2 or more orchid genuses. They are bred with the goal of making a hardier orchid that's easier to care for."

What's All This I Hear about Cambria Orchids?

Someone on Facebook claimed to be growing "Cambria orchids". From the picture, they were obviously talking about some sort of Oncidium intergeneric hybrid, but where did the term "Cambria orchid" come from? We investigated. It turns out orchid hobbyists in many areas are familiar with this term, even if they may have little idea of what it means. Here in Southern California, we don't seem to encounter this term, even at the grocery and home improvement stores where orchids are marketed to the general public. But the situation appears to be much different in the rest of the world, especially in Europe.

With some digging, we have found part of the story. We can tell you what the first "Cambria orchid" was, and how the term is used today. There's still a big missing piece: How was the term introduced into commerce? By what company? When? Where? We would love to know!

© 1972 AOS, photographer unknown

1972 award photo for Vuylstekeara Cambria 'Plush' AM/AOS

The original "Cambria" was Vuylstekeara Cambria, a hybrid originated in England by Charlesworth & Co. in 1931. The cultivar 'Plush' has received some major awards, such as FCC/RHS in 1967 and FCC/AOS in 1973.

The intergeneric name Vuylstekeara was created in 1911 for intergeneric hybrids obtained by the combination of Odontoglossum, Miltonia, and Cochlioda. Many of you can see where this story is headed! There are no longer, officially, any Odontoglossums, because those that remained after the first rounds of taxonomic upheaval have now been submerged into the genus Oncidium. The same thing has happened to Cochlioda. Meanwhile, a large part of Miltonia was split out as Miltoniopsis, which has always struck us as pretty silly, since Miltoniopsis means precisely "looks like Miltonia", and the species involved are exactly what we still think of when someone says Miltonia. So the name Vuylstekeara is no longer found in official orchid names, and few people remember Charles Vuylsteke, the talented grower from Loochristi, Belgium who created legions of wonderful Odontoglossum hybrids decades before there was any way to germinate orchid seeds except by sowing them on moss.

When we look more closely at the beginnings of Vuylstekeara, the complications quickly set in. Vuylsteke called his first tri-generic hybrid Insignis. It made a sensation at the annual Royal Horticultural Society orchid show at Temple Gardens in 1911. There were several mentions of it in The Orchid Review and elsewhere.

© 1988 AOS

Award photo of what is now Oncidopsis Cambria 'Mayfield' AM/AOS, 89 points, 1988, photographer not identified

Orchid Review 19:60 (1911): VUYLSTEKEARA INSIGNIS.

Some months ago a striking hybrid raised by M. Ch. Vuylsteke from Miltonia vexillaria ♀ and Odontioda Vuylstekeæ ♂ flowered in his establishment at Loochristi, Ghent, of which a short notice and a coloured figure of a single flower appeared (Rev. Hort. Belge, 1910, p. 150, with fig.). As three genera were involved, the question of a suitable name has been in abeyance, but now that the Report of the Committee appointed to deal with the question of the nomenclature of multigeneric hybrids has appeared (see pp. 7, 8 of our last issue), we may proceed to apply the Committee’s recommendations to the present subject. One clause reads: “Future generic hybrids (combining three or more genera) should be given a purely conventional name consisting of the name of some person eminent as a student or grower of Orchids, terminated by the suffix ‘ara.’ ” The generic name now proposed for the present plant is, we think, highly appropriate, for not only the hybrid but also the pollen parent are the creations of M. Vuylsteke, who has further raised a host of beautiful hybrid Odontoglossums which now decorate our gardens. The specific name is also appropriate, and in conformity with the recommendations of the Committee, that it “should be preferably in the Latin form.”

M. Vuylsteke has certainly raised a striking hybrid, which, from its composition, should develop into a handsome thing when the plant becomes strong. The flower is fairly intermediate in character, with the expanded form of the seed-bearer, and a four-lobed lip. It measures just under two inches from tip to tip of the petals, and the colour may be described as carmine-rose, with the lip slightly paler, especially towards the base, and the crest bright yellow. Nothing is stated as to the habit of the plant. We hope to be able to examine it on some future occasion. Vuylstekeara will, according to the rule cited, include all the combinations between the three genera Cochlioda, Miltonia, and Odontoglossum, and thus the name must also be applied to any future hubrids between Miltonioda and Odontoglossum, and between Odontonia and Cochlioda, as well as to the two above mentioned.

© RHS

RHS award paintings by Nellie Roberts: Vuylstekeara Insignis (Lambeau) AM/RHS 1914, and Insignis var. picta AM/RHS 1923 — neither one matches the description of the original Insignis exhibited in 1911 by Vuylsteke

However, when Vuylstekeara Insignis was awarded in 1914 and 1923 by the Royal Horticultural Society, the parentage was listed as Miltonia Bleuana x Odontioda Charlesworthii. See Orchid Review 22:219 and 31:252. From the descriptions of this Insignis, it appears to be a completely different plant: (1914) “A distinct and striking novelty, bearing flowers most like the Miltonia parent in shape, and the colour primrose yellow, with a cluster of light brown nearly confluent blotches on the lower half of the petals, and the crest of the lip orange, with a zone of short brown lines around it. Exhibited by M. Firmin Lambeau, Brussels.” (1923) “Award of Merit. Vuylstekeara insignis picta (Miltonia Bleuana x Odontioda Charlesworthii); from Messrs. Charlesworth & Co. A very much finer variety than the original one flowered by Mons. Lambeau in 1914. In the variety picta the spike carried five flowers of medium size, the sepals and petals rather narrow, but heavily stained with blood-red colour, the expansive labellum prettily tinged with varying shades of rose.”

This sort of nomenclatural appropriation seems to have been fairly common in that period, when multiple hybrids of different parentage were registered (even by the same grower!) under the same name. The RHS orchid register shows three entries for Oncidopsis Insignis, formerly Vuylstekeara Insignis:

  • Oncidopsis Insignis (1911), registered and originated by Vuylsteke, parentage Oncidium noezlianum x Miltoniopsis vexillaria.
  • Oncidopsis Insignis (Vuylsteke), registered in 1911 by Vuylsteke, originated by Vuylsteke, parentage Oncidium noezlianum x Miltoniopsis vexillaria.
  • Oncidopsis Insignis (Lambeau), registered in 1914 by Lambeau, originated by Lambeau, parentage Miltoniopsis Bleuana x Oncidium Charlesworthii (1908).
It is to be noted that neither of the Oncidopsis Insignis registrations attributed to Vuylsteke matches the parentage published in 1911. One possibility is that the entries in the modern registration database are themselves in error, a result of some sort of clerical mishap, since the parentage of Insignis and also of its pollen parent Vuylstekeæ were very clearly given in Orchid Review. And, while we have award paintings of two different plants having the parentage given for the Insignis (Lambeau) registration, neither one is apparently the original Insignis on which the hybrid genus Vuylstekeara was based. We have not yet located a copy of the Revue Horticole Belge, where the only known illustration of Vuylsteke's plant is to be found.

For the parentage of Odontioda Vuylstekeae, the pollen parent of the first Vuylstekeara, we found the following account in Orchid Review 12:162 (1904): “The Temple Show furnishes another remarkable example of progress in hybridisation, and once more from the establishment of M. Ch. Vuylsteke, of Loochristi. This exhibitor sent a very handsome hybrid between Odontoglossum Pescatorei and Cochlioda Nœtzliana, in which, curiously enough, the shape of the Odontoglossum was largely reproduced, but the colour was a remarkable combination of shades of rose and salmon red, with some cream colour on the lip. It was the sensation of the show, and received a First-class Certificate, to which the Council afterwards added the rare honour of a Silver-gilt Lindley Medal—“for progress,” I think it might be defined. In any case it was highly appropriate, for the award was to be given preferentially for “excellence in cultivation,” and it is probably this more than anything else which has enabled M. Vuylsteke to overcome the difficulties of bringing seedling Odontoglossums through their early stages that has contributed so much to his success. I am forgetting the name given, which was Odontioda x Vuylstekeæ, the useful plan of compounding a generic name from that of its two parents having been followed.”

A further account of the same show in the same volume calls it the seventeenth Great Annual Temple Show, opening on Tuesday, May 31, 1904 in the Inner Temple Gardens, and notes that Odontioda x Vuylstekeæ was the sensation of the show.

Plate from Orchid Review 12:209 (1904): Top, Odontioda x Vuylsteckeæ; left, Odontoglossum pescatorei; right, Cochlioda nœtzliana

We know exactly what this Vuylstekeæ was, for it was the subject of a separate article in Orchid Review the next month (12:209-211, July, 1904), including a photograph and a detailed description of both of its parents. Moreover, the awarded flower was painted by Nellie Roberts, and the parentage shown for this FCC matches that given above, but does not match any of the registration records shown in the current RHS orchid register database.

For Charles Vuylsteke, “The Man and the Hybrid Genus Vuylstekeara”, see Orchid Digest 58(3), 1994.

What should we call these hybrids today?

Odontoglossum pescatorei is regarded as a synonym of Odontoglossum nobile, which has since become Oncidium nobile. Cochlioda nœtzliana was correctly spelled noezliana, and has since become Oncidium noezlianum. Therefore, Odontodia Vuylstekeæ is now Oncidium Vuylstekeae, but Monsieur Vuylsteke appears to have registered two different hybrids under this same name. The one in question is (now) Oncidium Vuylstekeae (1904); the other one, Oncidium Vuylstekeae (1905) is Oncidium Crispo-Harryanum x Vuylstekei.

Then what becomes of the original Vuylstekeara Insignis? The parentage is now transformed into Miltoniopsis vexillaria (because the species that “look like Miltonias”, the literal translation of Miltoniopsis, have been split from Miltonia) x Oncidium Vuylstekeae (1904), and the hybrid genus is now Oncidium x Miltoniopsis = Oncidopsis. The official abbreviation, by the way, is Oip. — look for it everywhere.

© 1967 RHS

Award painting by M. Iris Humphreys for (then) Vuylstekeara Cambria 'Plush' FCC/RHS, 1967

Odontoglossum crispum var. Le Czar, from Lindleyana, 1898

Now we can consider the famous Vuylstekeara Cambria, and its highly awarded cultivar ‘Plush’. The parentage of Cambria is now listed as Oncidopsis Rudra x Oncidium (originally Odontoglossum) Clonius. Clonius is Aquitania x The Czar, but then we lose the trail. RHS seems to have no record of the parentage of Aquitania nor of The Czar. Aquitania was exhibited by Charlesworth & Co. at the Spring Show of the Royal Horticultural Society (the same show formerly known as the Temple Show) in May, 1913, so we can be fairly sure it is one of Charlesworth’s hybrids. The Czar is even more obscure, as we were not able to locate a clear record of it being exhibited or awarded. However, there is a famous print of Odontoglossum crispum Lindley var. Le Czar, issued in 1898. “Le Czar” is not actually a French name, the French spelling is Tsar! Perhaps The Czar in the ancestry of Cambria is simply the same notable specimen of Oncidium crispum illustrated by Lindley, a species now regarded (at least by some) as Oncidium alexandre. From the limited evidence available, Cambria would seem also to be an Oncidopsis, just like Oncidopsis Vuylstekeae (1904).

We return to the Wikipedia and other sources that tell us a “Cambria orchid” is a commercial name for intergeneric hybrids involving Odontoglossum, Oncidium, Miltonia, Cochlioda, and Brassia.

The Odontoglossums, at least those mentioned in the background of Cambria, have been submerged in Oncidium. The Miltonia has been split out as Miltoniopsis (because, literally, it looks like a Miltonia). The Cochlioda in question is now also an Oncidium. There was no Brassia in the ancestry of Cambria, but apparently there are today enough hybrids involving Brassia that resemble Cambria, so it is included as well, on the assumption that some “Cambria” orchids might include ancestry of some Brassia species that have not yet been moved to some other genus, such as Oncidium.   Aliceara (=Brassia x the "real" Miltonia x Oncidium) and similar intergenerics seem also to be included.

From what we have seen of the ancestry of Cambria and some of the other Oncidium intergenerics that might be considered “Cambria orchids”, then, we suspect they are mostly Oncidopsis or possibly Brassoncidopsis.

But how can we be sure? Researching plant names can be a full-time occupation if you have even a couple hundred plants. While there is a list of intergeneric names on the web site of the Royal Horticultural Society, we think the vast majority of the intergeneric names on the list are no longer valid for current registrations, because so many of the genera have been reorganized or have vanished entirely. The RHS would be well advised to update the list to flag with “empty” intergeneric names. The RHS also has a list of the official abbreviations for the intergeneric names, but, unfortunately, the abbreviations themselves are not in alphabetical order! (The list claims to be an “alphabetical list of standard abbreviations for natural and hybrid generic names”, but in fact is is the generic names rather than the abbreviations that are in alphabetical order). There are now over 3,000 hybrid genus names and essentially no guidance about how they are to be used. Who will take up the challenge to produce an up-to-date and simple web site that orchid hobbyists can use?

Me Too! — At least some web sites are using “Cambria Orchids” as a synonym for all Oncidium alliance intergeneric hybrids!

What is the future of orchid hybrid names? Has the current official system managed by the RHS become so cumbersome as to be beyond the comprehension of all but the most highly-trained specialists? Will the apparently successful example of complicated hybrids marketed under a user-friendly name such as Cambria provide the example for marketing other orchids? Will the parentage of orchid hybrids eventually disappear from the public record entirely, as the RHS registration process becomes increasingly irrelevant for commercial horticulture, and even for a significant number of orchid growers who are not persuaded by the unprecedented chaotic avalanche of baffling new orchid names? In the absence of active measures to form a consensus, we should not expect to see this situation improve in the foreseeable future.


A selection of pictures labeled "Cambria orchid" from Facebook. How many do you recognize?


November, 2019

Photo from Louis Boyle's Out West, 1952

"A corsage of Cymbidium Orchids to be proud of."

Blast from the Past: We Used to Make Orchid Corsages

During our first 20 years or so, orchid corsages, and dressing well generally, were a big part of our society. We might not realize that, if it were not for the precious few newspaper clippings and newsletters that we have managed to recover from that time. When we held a big event, such as the annual luau (usually in August) or the annual awards banquet (usually in January, and after 1957 at the Petroleum Club — a SCOS member was also a member there), the ladies of South Coast Orchid Society would get to work making orchid decorations and corsages by the dozens. They were clever and enterprising. They figured out how to make stylish, tasteful corsages out of all sorts of orchids: not just the usual Cattleyas and Cymbidiums, but also various Oncidiums, Dendrobiums, and anything else that was available. In those days, too, the corsages our members preferred were all about the beauty of the individual flowers. The style of the times (1950's) emphasized clean, elegant lines, so there was no need to add foliage, frills, little dried flowers and berries, lace, or any of the other additions that we sometimes see today. Just a one flower, or a small group of flowers tasefully arranged, with only enough ribbon to hide the stems. Besides, anything more would hide the tailored lines of the dress, jacket, or coat.

Thanks to Louis M. Boyle's wonderful and now incredibly nostalgic book, Out West: Growing Cymbidium Orchids and Other Flowers, the Story of El Rancho Rinconada (1952, Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Press), we can tell you exactly how it was done.

Boyle included a short section on "Making a Corsage with Cymbidium Orchids":

"You will derive a lot of pleasure out of making and wearing Cymbidium orchid corsages from flowers which you have grown on your own plants. You can make these corsages with any number of blooms you may desire from one to five or more. Most generally three blooms are used for this purpose.

"In making a corsage with Cymbidium blooms there are a few do's and don'ts which I think we should observe. In the first place, let your flowers do the talking. Keep your arrangements simple, don't try to add fern or other foliage, it's a mistake. The ribbon you use must be harmonizing with your bloom otherwise you will spoil the effect.

"Speaking of ribbon, use half-inch width, no wider, and remember in your arrangement you are wearing flowers, not ribbon. Two-tone ribbon is very attractive, that is to say, ribbon which has one color on one side and another color on the other, the two harmonizing with the bloom you are using. This type of ribbon is not generally found on the ribbon counters of department stores but is carried by florist supply houses.

"In addition to your ribbon you will require some No. 26 black annealed wire for wiring your blooms and floratape for covering the wire. You can if you wish make up your corsage with just the floratape wrapping around the stems and wire. However, if you ribbon-wrap the stems and wire you will have a far more attractive arrangement.

"Before starting to make up your corsage be sure to harden the bloom off in water for several hours. Don't attempt to cut fresh flowers off your spikes on the plants and make up a corsage for the bloom in the majority of cases won't hold up for any length of time. After you have hardened off your bloom you are ready to start with your corsage.

"First, cut off the stem of each bloom you intend to use, leaving about an inch, then wrap the remaining stem with about a two-inch piece of floratape. This will prevent the wire from cutting into the stem. Your wire should be twenty-six gauge, annealed, and about eight or more inches long—you can always cut off any little excess if you need to. Take the wire and push this through the stem, as shown in the first sketch, about two inches, then bend the short end downward and parallel with the stem. Now hold the flower in your left hand and be very careful not to injure the sepals, petals and other parts of the bloom while you make several turns around the stem with the long end of the wire as shown in the sketch. This will leave about three inches of stem and wire.

"Now completely wrap this with floratape as shown in the third sketch. The length of ribbon required to wrap the stem and wire with a knot tie will vary. For this reason, it is best to buy your ribbon in full rolls. In wrapping the stem with ribbon begin at the top and wind the ribbon downward over the florataped wire and stem in the same manner as you did with the floratape. About one inch from the bottom make a loop knot and pull this downward and tight. Be sure that the knot comes on the wire as shown in the sketch.

"After you have finished your individual blooms in this manner, combine them in your arrangement by twisting the ribbon-covered wires together.

"Make your ribbon bow as shown and tie this tight to your arrangement with a separate piece of ribbon. Finish the ends of each ribbon-wrapped wire as shown in the sketch. With a little practice you will become perfect."


October, 2019

Two common species of thrips: Thrips tabaci and Frankliniella occidentalis, highly magnified

Don't Blame Thrips and Raccoons for Everything!

Oddly, raccoons and thrips have something in common: they are rarely seen, but they can damage our orchids. However, it doesn't seem fair that they get blamed for the exploits of all the unseen culprits that trash our plants when we aren't looking. In all fairness, we have to rule out other causes. It turns out there is enough blame to go around.

Raccoons playing in the water plants at night

Raccoons really do get into mischief during the night. We have the trail-cam pictures to prove it! But there are many other critters who inhabit our Long Beach gardens. Shall we count the ways? Skunks, rats, squirrels, possums, cats, dogs, coyotes, rabbits... Did we miss any? We know they are around, because we occasionally see a live one in our gardens.

Rats in our orchid jungle gym!

Squirrels definitely like to poke around our plants and occasionally nibble on them, but the other varmints are equally capable of gnawing, overturning, and otherwise destroying our plants. Most of this botanical vandalism seems to happen at night.

Squirrel with peanut, in our orchid habitat

It is tempting to try to trap or poison the offending critters. Here in California, the environmental dangers of traps and poisons have come to the attention of the public and the state government, with the result that our options for controlling unwanted critters are limited. This is especially true for what used to be called "rat poison": the most effective rat baits accumulate in the tissues of predators, thus endangering the whole food chain, as well as any of our pets who happen to be predatory. Our famous Los Angeles mountain lion called P-22 has had several run-ins with rat poisons, in spite of state-wide attempts to control those poisons.

Possum meets cat in the orchard

The poisons that remain available to the public are apparently not very powerful. Something in our garden seems to eat those baits on successive days for weeks at a time, as if some critter is getting fat off them. Even if we were able to eliminate the critters who live in our yards, there's nothing to prevent the neighbor's critters from taking their place.

Mountain lion P-22, famous resident of Griffith Park. Left, suffering from rat poison and mange in 2014; right, back in good health two years later

Long Beach is critter heaven. Our official city varmint is apparently the skunk, followed closely by the opposum, if we can judge from the ever-present road kill on our major streets.

Thrips on a the upper surface Plumeria leaf, photographed with an ordinary iPhone. Adult thrips are clearly visible, along with the damage they have caused, and some dust.

We don't often talk about thrips. Most of us don't know what they look like, have never seen one, and, worse, we lack the vocabulary. In hopes of clarifying the matter, we investigated. Thrips is a Greek word (singular) meaning something like "woodworm". As the "scientific" name of an insect, it is treated as a Latin noun (still singular). Because of the foreign origin of the word, the plural ought to be formed according to the rules for Latin nouns borrowed from the Greek, so the most likely plural would be Thripses. However, the dictionaries also recognize "thrips" as both singluar and plural in English. But that causes confusion in English when we have to talk about just one of them (although it can be argued that, in reality, they never occur singly); we can find "thrip" on the internet as the "alternative singular" of "thrips". Take your pick, and feel free to introduce thrip, thrips, or thripses into casual conversations with confidence.

The main problem with thrips, however, is that they are tiny. Many experienced orchid growers seem to blame thrips for just about any damage that can't immediately be attributed to some other obvious cause, without actually seeing the thrips. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, thrips are not microscopic! The adults are around 1 mm long — and they move! Think the thickness of a penny or a dime. They can be seen, and they can even be photographed with your cell phone. The immature forms are much harder to spot, because they are pale and nearly transparent. Thrips go through a series of molts before they reach the adult phase, and it is the immature forms that do most of the damage. The entire process, from egg to adult, takes around 2-3 weeks. However, if the infestation on a particular plant starts with just one batch of eggs, as seems likely, several generations will probably elapse before the damage is noticeable, and by that time, adults should be visible. Significant damage without the presence of adult thrips seems more likely to be the result of other causes.

Environmental damage on a small Cattleya flower: lots of tiny dust particles and scarring, but no thrips are visible. Probably due to ash particles. The damage appeared just a couple days after a major brush fire and Santa Ana winds.

Recently we noticed some damage to some little yellow Cattleya flowers. The scarring along the edges of the floral parts that touched each other looked just like the damage we saw on a Cymbidium at an orchid club meeting, for which the ribbon judge invoked thrips. We were curious — got out the 10 X magnifier (a souvenir from high school biology class). We saw minute dust particles, many of them black, but nothing that moved, and nothing resembling a thrip, live or dead. Our verdict? Fine ash from the fires, smoke, and Santa Ana winds that had blown through a few days earlier! Ash contains, among other things, corrosive metal oxides such as Na2O, K2O, CaO, etc., and any number of other combustion products. Add water, and you get lye.

Thrips on Plumeria leaf, iPhone photo. Note 4 pale, nearly transparent immature forms, marked with arrows.

Thrips seem to prefer other plants: They have attacked our Impatiens and Plumeria; the damage at first looked a bit like what spider mites do, but within a day or two, the adult thrips were easily seen.

Once we find thrips, what are the options? We tried pyrethrin-based sprays, which are about as safe as you can get, but they don't seem to be very effective unless every thrip is bathed in them. Systemic insecticides definitely work, but it may take a few days before the chemicals are absorbed by the roots and move up into the leaves where the thrips feed. There are a couple difficulties with systemic insecticides. Most of them are NOT safe for indoor use; they should not come in contact with your skin, nor should you breath the fumes or inhale the spray. Bayer markets a "2 in 1 Systemic Rose & Flower Care" that is easy to use, in the form of slow-release granules that are scattered around the base of the plant. This formulation seems to control sucking insects such as thrips, and also spider mites. However, the granules also contain a relatively small dose of 8-12-4 fertilizer. Just a light sprinkling seems to be enough to control thrips, scale, and mealy bugs on potted plants. Another systemic insecticide that has been recommended by some orchid growers is Safari, not usually available in California, and designed to be dissolved in water and sprayed on the plants or on the growing medium. If there is a biological control for thrips, we haven't found it. We prefer to try one of the pyrethrin formulations first. Our favorite is called "Home Defense" (thanks for the tip, Agnes!), available at Home Depot and elsewhere as a premixed spray. If that doesn't get rid of the bugs, then we can think about careful use of a systemic.

Bottom line here, let's be sure we really have a problem with thrips, before we bring out the strong chemicals.


September, 2019

Who Wants Round Flowers?

Recently we acquired a copy of Louis M. Boyle's Out West: Growing Cymbidium Orchids and Other Flowers (1952, Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Press), the story of Boyle's amazing Cymbidium and "Old West" village on his retirement ranch, El Rinconada, near Ojai. Boyle died the next year, 1953, and the copyright was never renewed, so this colorful bit of orchid and Southern California nostalgia is now in the public domain. The volume, richly illustrated, is a reminiscence of his career in the sheet metal business, which was sold in 1939, after which he bought the rancho and caught a bad case of Cymbidium fever.

Department store window, circa 1950, showing the perfect outfit to wear to an orchid society meeting! We know from a couple newspaper clippings that at least one or two SCOS members dressed in style for society events, in outfits from Dinel's in Long Beach. The Cymbidium flowers are certainly not of the full, round type favored by judges, but rather the unimproved "bird-in-flight" type that emphasizes the slim lines of the ensemble.

Writing around 1950, Boyle could see around him a confluence of fashion and horticulture. Post-war fashion seized on the Cymbidium flower, and especially the arching spikes where each flower seemed to be caught in mid-flight, as the epitome of elegance. At the same time, orchid judging, following the lead of the Royal Horticultural Society, was emphasizing full, round flowers. This trend in Cymbidium breeding was, however, not so far along; it was still possible to give new Cymbidium hybrids names recalling birds, butterflies, and various sprites.

Orchid Committee of the Royal Horticultural Society in action, 1917. Do these men look like qualified judges of fashion and beauty?

However, we couldn't help but notice a sort of disconnect between the Cymbidium flowers favored by orchid growers, even then, versus those used by professional designers for interior fashion layouts and department store mannequins. The growers apparently wanted more flowers, standing high above the leaves, and fuller, rounder petals and sepals. Moreover, the flowers were often photographed in isolation, almost as if the plant itself was not particularly relevant. On the other hand, the fashion designers tended to use arching, flexible cut stems, on which the individual flowers were well separated, each hanging elegantly and not touching the others, and emphasizing the slim, almost fragile profile of the petals, resembling birds in flight. There seem to be two very different concepts of "beauty" in play here. This point can be appreciated by considering a few illustrations from Out West that we have included here.

Photo courtesy of Art Chadwick

Fashion plate from the 1940's. Costume designer and AOS Judge Carol Beule gave us a "reading" of this illustration. "An 'afternoon' suit dressed up further with furs and orchids. It's an 'event' ensemble. Late afternoon cocktails and dinner out with dancing, in the fall or early winter most probably, by the colors depicted. NYC chic. Waldorf Astoria dinner and dancing."

From our viewpoint, the emphasis on round flowers seems to grow from looking very closely at individual flowers, in isolation from the rest of the plant. Viewed in this way, a round flower may be very pleasing, a sort of exercise in color and symmetry. The flower with "more" is "better". Over the Cymbidium generations (and likewise over the generations of Cattleyas, Odontoglossums—before RHS, in a fit of exasperation, did away with them—, Vandas, etc.), the plants whose individual flowers had "more" were consistently judged "better", and were used in the next generation to produce even rounder, larger flowers.

Cymbidium lowianum, figure from Reichenbachia, 1888. This is a fine example of botanical illustration, in which the subject has carefully been arranged to form a pleasing artistic composition within the boundaries of the page.

But in the 1950's, designers did not seem to be particularly interested in round flowers. Women's fashions and interior design emphasized line in preference to volume. This was the age of impossibly slim figures with perfectly tailored details that highlighted the graceful curves of the dancer, or the subtle lines of Oriental brush painting. Oriental influences abounded, in fact, as if American tastes were seeking a calmer, more peaceful esthetic (Zen) after the uproar of the war years. Unimproved Cymbidium flowers, such as Cym. eburneum and Cym. lowianum, provided exactly what the designers were looking for. Even bigger flowers sometimes appeared in corsages, such as Cattleya hybrids involving what was then Laelia purpurata, the long, arching segments again emphasizing line in preference to volume, as in the fashion plate that Art Chadwick has shared with us.

Cym. Rosette 'Sunrise' (Altair x Pearl, registered in 1940). Photograph from Boyle's Out West, notice the effect created by the shadows of the leaves against the backdrop.

A point to consider: Suppose we substituted big round flowers in all the old fashion plates. Would the effect be the same? We think not! The individual arching lines of the original flowers would be gone, we would see only a solid mass of indistinct flowers.

Not every aspect of "beauty" is easily quantifiable. Standards for orchid judging have historically relied on some sort of point system, based where possible on objective measurements. That history was predictable: if orchid judging were to produce consistent and repeatable results, was there ever any option but to rely on measurements? Perhaps the gentlemen of the RHS Orchid Committee should not be faulted for undertaking an impossible task, defining beauty. In any event, under a measurement-based system, it is hard to see how larger, fuller, rounder flowers would not have the advantage. However, if there are other kinds of beauty, and many of us believe there are, point systems and measurements would seem ill-equipped to assess them. Some of us, let us admit it, are not drawn exclusively to fat, round flowers! Those old-time bird-like Cymbidiums still catch our eye with their subtle elegance.

Ultimately, there are many ideas of beauty. It is hard to improve on nature, and, as products and examples of nature ourselves, it is inevitable that we will experience the many creations of nature, in all their diversity, as intrinsically beautiful. When it comes to orchids, point judging isn't all there is.


A Favorite Non-Awarded Flower from the Long Beach Judging Center

Photo by John McCoy

Rhyncatlaelia Ada Henriquez, exhibited by Sunset Valley Orchids at the December 17, 2018 judging session in Long Beach, CA

In December, 2018, we spotted a compact Cattleya seedling at the Long Beach Supplemental AOS Judging Center. What got our attention was the perfect "bisque" texture of the flowers, as if they were formed from unglazed porcelain. Not a speck of dust, no irregularities whatever. The plant did not win an award that night, but the cross, then labeled as Slc. Angel Eyes x Slc. Picotee Fire, has since been registered by Fred Clarke of Sunset Valley Orchids as Rhyncatlaelia Ada Henriquez. In case you haven't been following the wholesale revisions of the Cattleya alliance, Rhyncatlaelia is the official intergeneric name for Rhyncolaelia (used to be part of Brassavola) x Cattleya x Laelia. You'll need to know the official abbreviation, too: Ryc. The subtle pastel shading, the gently ruffled edges of the petals and lip, and the fine texture are a particularly elegant addition to the ensemble of "compact" Cattleyas for which Fred has become justly famous.

The amazing parade of extraordinary orchids that show up at the judging center is a huge draw for South Coast Orchid Society meetings. Be sure to take a peek in the back room at the next meeting. Visitors are always welcome in the judging center!


Best Orchid Flower We've Seen in an Long Time!

Photo by John McCoy

Rlc. Toshie Aoki 'Pizazz', grown by Bobby Ignacio, at the South Bay Orchid Society show, September 14, 2019

The annual show and sale staged by the South Bay Orchid Society at South Coast Botanic Garden isn't the biggest, but it is still one of the most interesting for the opportunity to talk to some vendors we don't see very often, and, especially, for the quality of the plants that are exhibited. We visited this year's show on September 14, 2019 and were stunned to see this plant, Rlc. Toshie Aoki 'Pizazz' AM/AOS, grown by long-time SBOS member Bobby Ignacio from Carson.

Toshie Aoki cultivars turn up at shows fairly often. They vary widely; some cultivars lack the red flaring completely, others have varying degrees of flaring. Flower size varies, too. We most often see flowers around 4 to 5 inches across. Toshie Aoki was created by the almost legendary Hawaiian orchid nurseryman Masatoshi Miyamoto. Mr. Miyamoto was famous for his dislike of paperwork and correspondence, and he never registered most of his crosses. However, at some point, Dr. A. G. Tharp, one of our past presidents, prevailed on Mr. Miyamoto to allow him, Tharp, to take care of the registration for several of Miyamoto's hybrids, including Toshie Aoki, so that they could be submitted for AOS judging and get the awards they deserved.

The first of the Toshie Aoki's to be awarded was one exhibited at our own Long Beach judging center by Dr. Tharp, a cultivar he called 'Miniflares', which achieved an AM/AOS, 81 points, on July 27, 1981, with flowers measured at almost 5 1/2" across. But the best of the cross has proved to be 'Pizazz', first exhibited by Howard Starke, well-known as an orchidist in Honolulu, at the Hawaiian Exposition, on July 1, 1983, with flowers measuring nearly 5 3/4" across, scoring 84 points and an AM/AOS. 'Pizazz' came back in 2017 for a second round, achieving 88 points when exhibited for AOS judging in Cincinnati by John Jaworski.

What distinguishes 'Pizazz' from the other cultivars of Toshie Aoki is the extent and subtle shading of the flares, and the exquisite form and presentation of the flowers. We understand 'Pizazz' has been cloned, but we don't know if it can be found for sale at this time.

We posted this quick photo on Facebook as soon as we got home from the show, and within a couple days, it had been "liked" or "shared" by over 2,000 people, by far a new record for our little SCOS Facebook page! That was a big surprise, because Facebook is already overflowing with pretty orchid pictures. We can only suppose that it was the combination of color and form that caused this unexpected reaction.

We had a chance to chat with Bobby about his Toshie Aoki. It came into his hands about ten years ago, as a party favor at the annual holiday party of South Bay Orchid Society! Bobby reports that the plant is a slow grower, but it has remained healthy. It has survived all the pesky slugs and bush snails that inhabit his outdoor growing area, under shade cloth—a familiar story for most of us in SCOS! This year, the plant developed two spikes, each with a single flower, but on opposite sides of the plant. The one facing the sun developed very nicely. The other, facing a wall, wasn't as strong. When we grow our orchids outdoors, we can control some things, such as the amount of light and water, but not others, such as the bugs and critters that wander through our gardens when we're not looking. We all lose a few flowers, but the occasional grand success keeps us going!


August, 2019

Games Orchids Play: Floral Mimicry

Photos from Fig. 1, Neubig et al., 2012, see text

A: Malpighia glabra, B-F: some apparent floral mimics in the Oncidium alliance, B: Oncidium sotoanum, C: Cyrtochilum edwardii, D: Tolumnia hawkesiana, E: Cyrtochilum ioplocon

One of the recent taxonomic upheavals among the orchids involves the Oncidium alliance. Doug Overstreet gave us an overview of the situation in his talk on "My 10 Favorite Oncidiums" on July 22. In brief, what was left of Odontoglossum after previous upheavals has now, with the approval of the Royal Horticultural Society, been lumped into Oncidium, and a number of species in that enlarged group have been transferred to other, much smaller genera such as Gomesa, Trichocentrum, Zelenkoa, etc. Why was this done? The main reason is that new research, mainly investigations of genetic similarity ("DNA technology"), demonstrated that some species were much more closely related to other genera than to the members of the genus where they had previously resided, provided that DNA sequences can be assumed to be an impartial reflection of true evolutionary relationships. More exactly, the assumption is that DNA mutations are generally random, and for the most part neutral with respect to gene function, and thus not themselves subject to natural selection. The presence of a significant number of apparently random mutations that do not happen to affect the amino acid sequence of any protein, in two different species, tells us that those two species share a common ancestor in some way, because the odds of a number of identical mutations occurring by chance alone in two species simultaneously are extremely remote. When data of this sort were first produced, it was still possible that the investigators had happened to choose very unrepresentative bits of DNA; today, many more and much longer DNA sequences (notably, the DNA corresponding to the extremely highly conserved 5S ribosomal RNA) are available, and the results have to be considered seriously.

Perhaps the most significant study of the Oncidium alliance based on DNA similarities, and notably using highly conserved ribosomal DNA as well as other important DNA fragments, was published in 2012. Conveniently, a web-based version of this paper, including numerous additional photographs, and highlighting the most pragmatic solutions to the problems raised by the data, has been prepared by the same authors, on the web site of the University of Florida Herbarium. The original paper is: Neubig, K.M., W. M. Whitten, N. H. Williams, M. A. Blanco, L. Endara, J. G. Burleigh, K. Silvera, J. C. Cushman, & M. W. Chase. 2012. Generic recircumscriptions of Oncidiinae (Orchidaceae: Cymbidieae) based on maximum likelihood analysis of combined DNA datasets. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 168: 117-146. An open-access online version of the paper is also available. The decision of the authors to make their research freely available is greatly appreciated.

Meanwhile, research has expanded into new lines of inquiry, often (as a result of deepening concern about the extinction of endangered species) dealing with the role that orchids play in nature ecosystems. The most intriguing findings for the Oncidium orchids is that many of their flowers are strikingly similar to those in the family Malpighiaceae. More than a decade of reports on this topic have all reached similar conclusions: some Oncidiums have flowers that are extremely similar to those of certain species from the Malpighiaceae family that occur in the same habitats. Based on what is known about the way bees see (from the study of their optical receptors and pigments), these flowers are believed to show the same colors as their Malpighian look-alikes, to a bee's eyes. But, where the Malpighian flowers provide "rewards" for the bees that visit them, in the form of oils that the bees gather and use in the construction of their hives, the Oncidium flowers generally do not. However, there are other Oncidium species that do provide oil "rewards", and they are the same type of oils as those produced by the Malpighiaceae.

It has to be emphasized that the research to date, and in spite of some very clever experiments, still has not produced large sample sizes and definitive proof of what the bees are thinking about. But the conclusion seems inescapable, the resemblance of the flowers is remarkable.

What are the consequences if various Oncidiums and their relatives have found ways of attracting particular pollinators that also are attracted to the Malpighiaceae? First, this sort of mimicry would only happen if both species occurred in the same area and flowered at about the same time. If a particular type of bee already knew how to exploit the flowers of some species in the Malpighiaceae, such as the pink Malpighia glabra, and if a local Oncidium species happened to bear flowers that the bees occasionally mistook for Malpighia, then the Oncidium might sometimes get pollinated. If a particular combination of hereditary traits (genes) in the Oncidium helped the plant produce a flower with a better resemblance to Malpighia such plants would be pollinated by these hypothetical bees more often, and so they would produce more seeds, and would give rise to more plants having these favorable traits in the next generation. Over some very long time, possibly hundreds of thousands of years, repeated cycles of mutation and bee-driven selection would produce Oncidium flowers with a greater resemblance to those of Malpighia.

Clever Experiments!

Oncidium cosymbephorum (some treat this form as O. luridum, or place it in various other genera): Gustavo Carmona-Díaz and José G. García-Franco. 2009. Reproductive Success in the Mexican Rewardless Oncidium cosymbephorum (Orchidaceae) Facilitated by the Oil-Rewarding Malpighia glabra (Malpighiaceae), Plant Ecology 203: 253-261, (abstract). The authors, working in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, describe their approach as follows (from the abstract): "We evaluated the facilitation by M. glabra of the orchid's pollination for natural and artificial clumps of O. cosymbephorum close to and far from M. glabra over 4 years. Two experiments were performed at five different study sites to evaluate the effect of the presence and absence of M. glabra on the reproductive success of O. cosymbephorum. In experiment 1, we recorded fruit set production in natural and artificial monospecific clumps of the orchid, and in natural and artificial heterospecific clumps of O. cosymbephorum and M. glabra. In experiment 2, we recorded the fruit set of O. cosymbephorum at different sites where individuals grow in monospecific clumps, both before and after cultivated individuals of oil-producing M. glabra had been planted in their vicinity. Both experiments showed that the reproductive success of O. cosymbephorum was greater in the presence of M. glabra than it was in its absence."

O. sphacelatum and Byrsonima lucida

Oncidium sphacelatum: Robert W. Pemberton. 2008. Pollination of The Ornamental Orchid Oncidium sphacelatum By the Naturalized Oil-Collecting Bee (Centris nitida) in Florida, Selbyana 29: 87-91, (full article available online). The author discovered an individual of Centris nitida visiting the native shrub Byrsonima lucida in a residential garden, and this particular bee had orchid pollinia stuck to its head. The source of the pollinia was apparently to be found in several hanging baskets of Oncidium sphacelatum in the same garden. The author then undertook a systematic program of observations of the orchid specimens over the course of their flowering. The main visitors to the flowers were the Centris nitida bees, and at least some of them did succeed in dislodging the pollinia of the flowers they visited, and in at least one case, carrying off the pollinia stuck to the front of its face. Seed set was observed, roughly one capsule per spike, in the orchids visited by the bees, while control specimens of O. sphacelatum, bagged to shield them from pollinators, did not produce any capsules, thus demonstrating that the capsules on the plants visited by the bees were not the result of self-pollination or apomixis. While Byrsonima lucida has pinkish flowers, and O. sphacelatum has bright yellow flowers, that is not necessarily how the bees see them! There may be more to this story. The bees apparently prefer flowers that resemble those of the Malpighiaceae, without being overly fussy about their color. At the very least, this report demonstrates that Centris nitida does visit Oncidium flowers even outside its normal habitat, in spite of the absence of any reward for doing so, and that these visits can result in pollination.

And that is certainly what we see today! Pink Oncidiums with a marked resemblance to the flowers of Malpighia glabra are indeed found together. There are similar observations involving at least some of the yellow Oncidium species (but most of these are now in other genera), and the Malpighian genus Stigmaphyllon (vines with yellow flowers that look very much like Oncidium, and usually known in the horticultural trade as "Orchid Vines"!).

The alert reader will have realized that each case of floral mimicry needs three players: the two flowers, and at least one pollinator whose behavior the two flowers are influencing. Plants, of course, don't move very far, but bees can and do move around. Climates change, habitats change, and so one of the three partners in this little dance must have sometimes disappeared. Some other pollinator, perhaps a different species of bee, may have come along and replaced the first bee species, and the newcomers may have had different flower preferences. We have to imagine that the co-evolution of flowers and the bees that pollinate them must have taken many unexpected and unknown turns over a very long period, coupled also with changes in climate, the uplift and later destruction of mountains, the changing course of rivers, and all the other components of a real tropical ecosystem.

The Players: It takes 3 to do the floral mimicry dance ~ ~ ~

Stigmaphyllon ciliatum, Malpighia glabra, and Tetrapteris sp.

The model: Several genera in the Malpighiaceae have been implicated, including various species of Stigmaphyllon (yellow flowers), Malpighia (mostly pink flowers), and likely others, such as Tetrapteris (yellow flowers with orange or red highlights). Essentially the same floral architecture and colors occur in most species from this family, which consists mainly of tropical vines and trees.

Rossioglossum ampliatum, Oncidium luridum

The mimic: Various species in the Oncidium alliance with yellow or pink/purple "dancing lady" flowers.

Centris nitida on a Stigmaphyllon flower. The bee is about 1/2" long, native to Central and South America, but now naturalized in parts of Florida as well.

The pollinator: Various species of cute little stingless bees. The genera Centris and perhaps Euglossa have been mentioned. They have been observed gathering oil and pollen from many species, but they seem to favor the Malpighiaceae. What do they do with the "floral oils" that they gather? Various theories have been advanced: Perhaps they use it to waterproof their nests? Or they use it as an ingredient in making little cakes of pollen? However, many of the Oncidium alliance flowers that are involved in this mimicry do not bear "floral oils", so the pollination strategy is often termed "rewardless" or even "deceitful" mimicry. The bees are fooled into visiting the rewardless orchid flowers, and may happen to carry away pollinia that could be deposited on the next orchid flower that they visit while looking for the real oil "rewards" offered by the similar flowers of the Malipighiaceae.


But the story of the co-evolution of flowers and their pollinators has been happening for millions of years, ever since the appearance of the angiosperms ("flowering plants"). What is new in this small chapter of the story, is that it no longer makes sense to reduce the evolutionary mechanisms to the case of one flower interacting with one pollinator. Rather, the existence of mimicry in flowers implies interactions of multiple flowers with individual pollinators.

For the problem of how we think about the species of the Oncidium alliance, how they are related to each other and what they should be called, the story of floral mimicry provides a possible explanation for the situation that led to the reorganization of the genus Oncidium: multiple species of flowers, each finding ways to exploit the tastes of the available pollinators. If multiple species, having a general similarity, were to interact with one or more species of pollinators that already had a preference for the flowers of the Malpighiaceae, it would be possible, after many cycles of mutation and natural selection, to end up with multiple Oncidium species that had each found a way to produce a mimic flower, good enough to fool the bees at least some of the time. Apart from their floral anatomy, these species would be no more closely related than any two randomly-chosen species from the Oncidium alliance, even though their flowers were very similar. Thus we could end up with a disparity between a classification based on floral anatomy, compared with a classification based on genetic similarity. And that is essentially what seems to have happened. The orchids are teaching us about how life works.

But science is always looking for the next question, the next complication. Here's one that might need to be considered: horizontal gene transfer. We know that many orchids in the Oncidium alliance can interbreed and produce fertile seedlings. They rarely are caught doing this in nature, but if it happened even once, under the right circumstances, we might end up with a natural population that got some of its floral mimicry genes from an unexpected source, some distantly related species that might not even exist today. Thus, if we posit the existence of even a little interbreeding over the long span of evolutionary history, we might have to rethink our conclusions. In fact, something like this is now believed to have happened during the course of human evolution: Neanderthals, Denisovans, and no one knows how many other early relatives of modern man that apparently interbred occasionally with "modern" humans in the very distant past. Individual genes in plants could well turn out to have origin stories of their own. In plants, also, there are "jumping genes", plasmids, chloroplast DNA, viruses, etc. that might have served as vectors to introduce genes from one plant into another.


July, 2019

Got Sobralia?

Sobralia dichotoma at Machu Piccho, Peru

In many parts of Latin America, Sobralia is a common plant along the roadsides. Along the highways in Costa Rica, the roadsides are mowed periodically, but Sobralia, usually with either white or lavender flowers, grows back quickly, along with the usual grasses, Impatiens, ferns, etc. Travelers often notice these big, cheerful flowers that look a lot like Cattleyas, even though they really belong with Elleanthus in the Maxillaria tribe. Away from the roadsides, at least 150 species of Sobralia have been described from near sea level to at least 8,000 ft, in a variety of habitats. They include "the world's tallest orchid", Sob. altissima from the mountains of Peru; one of these plants was measured at over 44 ft. in height, although they are usually "only" about 20 ft. There are also some relative miniatures, about a foot tall, such as Sob. callosa. In between, surprising diversity. Perhaps this another of those "something-for-everyone" orchids that we should all be growing.

World's tallest orchid, Sobralia altissima. Not mentioned is how this photo was taken, if the plant was indeed 20 feet tall!

Sobralia grows terrestrially, for the most part. The species and hybrids that we find at our local orchid nurseries (Andy's Orchids has a group of them near the entrance) appear to grow happily outdoors in big tubs of bark and perlite, and when they get overgrown, the canes can be cut down and new ones will quickly sprout. The canes keep their leaves throughout the year, until the cane finally dies back after several years. Repotting isn't as difficult as you might expect, it does not seem to be necessary, or even desirable, to remove the old medium (some species don't like to have their roots disturbed). Rather, just clean up the root ball and gently remove or hose off anything especially rotten, and then place it back in a suitable pot and fill in with fresh medium as you would do with any other orchid. The roots are usually large and vigorous, and new canes sprout easily from the underground stem. They like a lot of water during the growing season.

Sob. Mirabilis 'Luna Nueva' grows in Long Beach, only pest seems to be something like mealybugs in the growing tips of the canes

Flowers are produced usually one at a time (clusters in some species) at the ends of the canes. The flowers often last just a day or two, but this varies with the species. Flowers of many species are unexpectedly large! Many colors are available, mostly in the white-pink-lavender range, but also some yellows, contrasting lips, etc.

Sob. macrantha 'Voodoo Priestess' AM/AOS, exhibited in 1996 at SCOS judging center by member Neal Crosswhite

The main drawback for growing Sobralias in our area seems to be that, when they bloom, they are too big to transport to our meetings and judging center. Nevertheless, someone manages to bring in a specimen plant from time to time. Another difficulty is that they can take up a lot of space! With a little thought and experience, however, most of us can probably grow a few of them, almost as a hedge along a fence or wall, or as a screen between sections of the garden. A big plant with many canes will likely produce a few flowers, one at a time, on several canes, off and on through the summer. For the rest of the year, the canes are not unattractive, the bright green leaves are pleated and well arranged.

Sobralia xantholeuca in situ in Chiapas, Mexico

Besides the species available at Andy's Orchids, and the hybrids offered by Cal-Orchid, another notable source is Ecuagenera, based in Cuenca, Ecuador. Owner Pepe Portilla offers over a dozen species on his web site, and he brings a wide selection of orchid plants (all bare-root) to the major sales and shows in Southern California (usually the shows at Santa Barbara, the Huntington show, and the Fascination of Orchids sale).

Sobralia mutisii

Enter the taxonomists: Sobralia has not escaped their attention! The genus has long been divided into "sections" (with Latin names). Recently, a study that included DNA sequence analysis (of only 3 genetic markers, however) produced evidence that the section that includes the type species Sob. dichotoma (the one photographed at Machu Picchu, at the top of this article) is quite dissimilar to the other sections (Przemyslaw Baranow, Magdalena Dudek, and Dariusz L. Szlachetko, 2017, Brasolia, a new genus highlighted from Sobralia (Orchidaceae), Plant Systematics and Evolution 303:853-871).

Sobralia pulcherrima

One option for how to proceed in the face of this evidence would be to follow the normal rules of plant taxonomy, and leave the section including Sob. dichotoma alone, and then to transfer the remaining 140 or so species to a new genus Cyathoglottis, the oldest available synonym of Sobralia. However, observing with masterful understatment that "such a reorganization could cause confusion", another proposal, originally made by Dressler, was to designate another species as the type for Sobralia, so that the bulk of the species would remain under that name. In the article cited, we read, and apparently this statement was not intended to be ironic, "Unfortunately, no further nomenclatural changes within the genus have been made since the publication of the proposal by Dressler et al. (2011)". Accordingly, these authors have advanced the notion that the type section of the current Sobralia should be split out under Brasolia, one of the old synonyms of the genus Sobralia, and, if the proposal were approved by the Nomenclature Committee for Vascular Plants in 2017, everybody could go home happy. Whether the decision was actually accepted, we haven't yet discovered, the report from that meeting has not yet appeared on the internet.

Sobralia citrea

The orchids are now a playground for the taxonomists, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. True, the names change faster than anyone can keep up with them, possibly including other taxonomists, and if these changes are done too quickly, they may have to be undone (as has happened with a number of taxonomic adventures among the birds). But it is probably better that all available species are studied by modern methods. Without active study, it is entirely possible that no one will realize how close some of them may be to extinction from habitat loss, or just how rare some specimens in captivity may actually be.


June, 2019

Orchids By and For Our Members

Cym. Woody Wilson 'Ann' AM/AOS SM/CSA

We want to announce a new project: a web page devoted to the orchids that have been created by South Coast Orchid Society members, or for which they achieved awards, or that were named after them (either the grex or the awarded cultivar). When we started digging into our history, it didn't take long to notice how many of our members learned how to create new orchid hybrids, and how to grow them with such skill that they won major awards. We began to notice, also, that quite a few of our members have had hybrids or cultivars named after them. But what has become of those plants? Do they still exist? Can we find them? Can we even find pictures of them? A recent visit to the Batchman family's nursery at Solana Beach, Casa de las Orquideas, settled the question. What was that big, floppy white Cymbidium on the other side of the shade house? It was Woody Wilson — a familiar name! Was it the same Woodrow C. "Woody" Wilson who was President of South Coast Orchid Society in 1960 and 1961? Yes! And there was a story to go with the plant!

Woody Wilson judging Cymbidiums at the 1968 San Diego Orchid Show

Woody served in many capacities in SCOS, including at least Treasurer and President, and then he got interested in judging. He worked his way up through Associate Judge to Accredited Judge, and made the transition (at the beginning of 1968) from Orchid Digest judging to American Orchid Society judging along the way. He was a tall, imposing man who took these things seriously and wasn't shy about expressing his opinions. His opinions, according to the Batchmans, were well founded and largely respected. However, when Loren Batchman brought in his new hybrid Cymbidium Woody Wilson 'Ann' for judging (that would have been around 1993), he found that some of the judges were reluctant to deal with anything named "Woody Wilson"! Nevertheless, this cross, Cym. Loren's Treasure x Solana Beach, produced some great plants. Loren thought it was the right one to name after Woody, a white Cymbidium for a guy with a stunning head of white hair. The clone 'Ann' is named after Woody's wife, who was also a member of SCOS. Nancy Batchman told us this plant is hard to exhibit, because the flower spikes want to droop, and the plant itself is much too big to grow safely in a hanging basket. But it's gorgeous!


Paph. John Hanes 'Red Star'
Paph. Tommie Hanes 'Althea' FCC/AOS, AM/AOC

There are other plants named after our members that are still in collections. John Hanes was SCOS President in 1955 and 1956. He and his wife Elva ("Tommie") were important in the early history of judging standards, Orchid Digest, and the American Orchid Society. They also produced some excellent Paphiopedilum hybrids, which were usually known as Cypripedium at that time. Eventually they ran a small business from their home in San Gabriel, "Hanes Orchids of Distinction". Two important hybrids created by Rod McLellan & Co. were named after them, John Hanes (a big, round red) and Tommie Hanes (a big, very round green).

It's going to take some work to pull all the information together. We're not even sure what form the web page will eventually take. There will also be a separate web page with information about our past presidents. One plant at a time, however, our collection of members and their plants will grow! Do you have a plant that is named after one of our members? Do you have a plant that one of our members created? Have you got pictures of either the members or their plants? We would like to hear from you! Contact the web master or talk to any of the officers at the next meeting!


May, 2019

A Surprising Connection:
Signal Hill Oil and the Santa Barbara Orchid Industry:

A chance conversation at the Long Beach City College horticulture resource fair revealed an unsuspected connection between Signal Hill and the development of the orchid industry in the Santa Barbara area.

Samuel B. Mosher with his amazing Cymbidiums at Dos Pueblos Orchid Company

Oil was discovered, in spectacular fashion, on June 23, 1921, when a test well on Signal Hill (then an unincorporated area on the north edge of Long Beach) turned out to be a gusher. A struggling farmer in Rivera (it hadn't yet become Pico Rivera) understood the potential of this discovery. He sent away for a government pamphlet on the method of extracting oil and gasoline, borrowed $4,000 from his mother, and founded a company, Signal Oil and Gas Co., that eventually became a huge enterprise. The farmer was Samuel Barlow Mosher, born in 1892 in Carthage, NY. He had contracted polio as a child, which left him with a "withered leg" (as he wrote on his World War I draft registration form), but he was strong and resourceful. He already had a degree in agriculture from the University of California at Berkeley. He was soon to be know as "the little giant of Signal Hill".

Dos Pueblos Orchid Company display at the Santa Barbara Orchid Show, 1953

His businesses multiplied and thrived. Some of our members may remember filling up at a Signal Gas Station. In 1942, he purchased Rancho los Dos Pueblos in what is now Goleta, just up the coast from Santa Barbara. There he built up a large estate from which he could see some of his oil wells along the coast.

Mr. I. Sherman Adams receives the Samuel B. Mosher Trophy from "Orchid Queen" Jean Schmid at the Santa Barbara Orchid Show, 1953

The rancho was soon in the cattle business and the nursery business. One of businesses created from the rancho was Dos Pueblos Orchid Company. In short order, he had several acres of Cymbidiums under glass. His staff developed methods for bringing Cymbidiums to market several years sooner than was the norm at the time, with numerous innovations for orchid culture and greenhouse management. The company was soon the largest orchid company in the world!

Cym. Harry's Beach 'Dos Pueblos' HCC/AOS

Mosher wasn't the first person to grow Cymbidiums in the Santa Barbara area. There were many amateur growers, and at least one or two nuseries were already selling Cymbidiums (notably a nursery run by Bert Kallman), but there was nothing on such a large scale. It was Dos Pueblos Orchid Company that turned orchid growing into an industry in Santa Barbara.

Conservatory at Dos Pueblos Orchid Co., circa 1961

Mosher died in 1970. Dos Pueblos continued as a business perhaps as late as 1996. And that is how Signal Hill oil money created the orchid industry in Santa Barbara! Mosher's other adventures are at least as remarkable. With further research, we hope to bring you some of them.


The forest of oil derricks is long gone. You have to know where to look to get even a vague idea of what Long Beach and Signal Hill looked like during the oil boom. But there were oil wells and orchids side by side in Long Beach when South Coast Orchid Society was founded in 1950, as revealed in this account about our first president, published only a year earlier:

Orchid Digest, September-October 1949, p. 473-474:

CALLING ON PAUL N. BAKER
J. P. Spitzel

We are headed for a visit with Mr. Paul N. Baker, one of our newer members. Turning off Long Beach Boulevard at 37th Street, we are rather startled to find ourselves at the very edge of a busy oil field. Oil wells pumping, over there a typical little field office—yes, right here in the midst of it all, two greenhouses. Mr. Baker’s greenhouses are not at his residence, but right among the oil wells. At first this seems rather startling, but when Mr. Baker explained that his backyard at home is too small to indulge in his hobby, and that on the other hand he has quite a bit of time during the day to take care of his plants, it all seems rather simple.

As we expected, we found Mr. Baker repotting and he was making a splendid job of it. His hobby dates back to 1942. His first collection consisted of a dozen miscellaneous cymbidiums, seven laelias and three stray “catts.” Greenhouses were not available during the war, but there was a nice peach tree in the back yard, so the peach tree pinch-hits for a greenhouse and evidently fills the bill well. Such little inconveniences as moving all the plants into the kitchen when a cold spell was predicted did not deter nor discourage an enthusiast like Paul Baker.

Early in 1948 Mr. Baker built his first 10 x 12 greenhouse. Within a matter of months it proved too small and by November of the same year a second greenhouse, slightly larger than the first one, was erected. Now, six months later, plans are under way for another of generous size.

Overhead lath is used in lieu of whitewash. The plants look well. Mr. Baker has his own ideas on potting. He believes in ramming osmunda down real hard in the lower half or two-thirds of the pot, the balance is potted medium hard. He waters every week or ten days, soaking the material well; sprays overhead on every sunny day. He thinks that by pursuing this method of watering he can lengthen the life of the osmunda to three years instead of the usual two. In line with this thought he advocates the use of larger pots to allow for three years’ growth. Some of the mature plants and seedlings are potted in Ashton’s mix. He likes this mix so well that he is experimenting with this material by potting in a combination of half osmunca and half Ashton’s mix.

Another of his experiments is potting the plants in Yucca Cactus Fibre. The cactus fibre is a by-product of water conditioning manufacturers. He claims root action is exceptionally good. Mr. Baker is also attempting to raise the carbon dioxide contents in the air of his house by letting a layer of yucca fibre decay under his benches. He hopes to raise the CO2 to 0.04 of 1%. Normal is supposed to be 0.03 of 1%.

Whenever possible, rainwater is used for watering the plants.

Only one plant was in bloom; an unidentified seedling blooming for the first time, beautiful, dark reddish color, with five flowers.

We thanked Paul Baker for having so generously expounded his theories for the benefit of the readers of the ORCHID DIGEST and we promised to drop in sometime again soon.


April, 2019
No label, no name!

In Appreciation: No-Name Orchids:

The orchids sold at grocery stores and home improvement centers frequently lack labels. As orchid hobbyists, we like to collect orchids that are properly identified, if for no other reason than that proper orchid identification is required to win awards! Beyond the vanity aspect, a proper label helps us figure out what the plant needs for best growth and flowering, and we can use the label to work out the story of the plant itself: where it came from, who grew it, and how it got to us.

Nevertheless, some of these nameless plants are remarkable for their stamina and vigor! There's nothing wrong with keeping them in your collection if the flowers give you pleasure!

No label, no name!

Here's a nameless Oncidium, very likely a species, that was sold at Trader Joe's about 20 years ago. We're still working out what it needs to flower reliably (misplacing it behind other plants doesn't seem to be what it wants). It's not spectacular as Oncidiums go, but still very nice.

No label, no name!

Some of the Cymbidiums that turn up at Home Depot are amazing. There are a handful of clones in clear, bright colors, with strong, upright spikes (well suited for traveling around in a big truck). The flowers are well-arranged and last for weeks. The price is usually around $20. Here's a green one with a nice contrasting lip, which has remained vigorous for at least 15 years.

No label, no name!

Both of these plants have survived all sorts of neglect, bad weather, attacks by bugs and critters, etc. They come back strong every year. They surprise us each time with cheerful flowers when we need them most. Yes, we're going to keep them!