Selected Species -
by Peter Taylor
EPIDENDRUM ilense provides an
interesting example of ex-situ conservation, a
practice all species enthusiasts engage as habitats become
more fragmented and at threat.
The ideal, of course, is effective
in-situ conservation of orchid species by protecting
native species habitats so that plants may enjoy their optimum
environment with the natural insect or bird pollinator.
Unfortunately, deforestation to accommodate agricultural and
pastoral interests and at times rapacious over-collection of
'desirable' species (I understand that the site of the first
collection of Phragmipedium kovachii in Peru, sup-posedly
'secret' and 'protected' has been stripped of plants), have
placed many orchid species at threat or
even the brink of extinction.
In the Annals of Missouri Botanic
Garden, (Vol. 78; 2; 1991), Calway Dodson and A. H.
Gentry published an article named 'Biological Extinction in
Western Ecuador'. In that they stated "Forests of Western
Ecuador (are) cited as one of the most severely threatened
areas on earth in terms of biological extinction as a result
of deforestation and other activities of humans.... only small
forest remnant... massive biological extinction."
the authors of the above, Calway Dodson, discovered the
selected species for this month, Epidendrum ilense,
in Ecuador in 1971. The discovery accounts vary, but only a
few (between three and six) plants of an unknown species were
found by Dodson's collection party on fallen trees in an area
to be bulldozed for agriculture. The plants were divided
between the Mary Selby Botanical Gardens in Florida and Kew
and a propagation programme was gradually developed.
The New York Times of March 25,
1990 reported that Dodson returned to the collection site six
months later to find that ‘not only was the original patch of
forest now a corn field, much more forest had already been
cut. I found no more plants at that time, or the succeeding
trip, or ever again..... Epidendrum ilense apparently
became extinct in the wild without even the courtesy of being
listed as an endangered species.’
Since then there have been reports of
other small populations of Epidendrum ilense but as these
areas are favoured for banana and palm plantations the chances
of this desirable species being conserved in-situ
seem remote. Perhaps the only plants to be found within a few
be in people's orchid houses.
So, after those rather depressing words,
what of the species? Epidendrum ilense is a medium
sized plant with a reed-like stem and thin leaves. My plant
has stems of about 40cm in height. It flowers freely
throughout the year from a thin, wire-like inflorescence from
the apex of the stem. It has a pleasing habit of blooming off
old spikes (do NOT cut them off) and has a cluster of between
three and seven very showy blossoms, which, as the
illustrates, have deeply fimbriated lips.
The small sepals and petals on my plant
are light brown, but the arresting feature of the flower
is undoubtedly the fringed lip.
Epidendrum ilense grows best (in
my experience at least) in light shade with good air
circulation. An open shade house in summer covered by two
layers of 50% shade cloth seems to meet its needs. The species
likes high humidity and loves misting in early morning and
late afternoon in summer. Watering should be approached
cautiously, especially in winter - plants should be allowed to
become dry in their
pots before watering and feeding.
Jay Pfhal, on his excellent internet site
of species, states that the species is a hot-growing epiphyte
- however, I grow it successfully (until now) with a winter
minimum of about 7°C, with very careful attention to not
overwatering in winter. A variety of fertilisers, both organic
and inorganic are used at approximately 1/4 recommended
strength in summer only. I am tempted, when repotting, to use
about 1/2 bark and 1/2 coconut chips, but maybe the coconut
will retain too much moisture.
The tragedy of endemic orchid species is
clear - as habitats are destroyed for agriculture, pasture,
logging or simply to allow for rapidly expanding small-scale
farming populations, orchids will become extinct in their
natural environments. Epidendrum ilense is just one
example of successful ex-situ cultivation and hence
conservation of a very beautiful
Peter Taylor and Australian Orchid Council Inc 2007
Originally published in "Orchids Australia" December 2007.