At Writhlington school we always feel that spring has arrived when our plants of Coelogyne cristata start to flower. Matt isn’t the tallest member of greenhouse club but he still shows the scale of this magnificent plant. Coelogyne cristata featured as one of our favourite orchids in an earlier blog and I am sure you can see why. Its flowers are a beautiful crystal white ..rather reminicent of the snow we have all had enough of this year.
Coelogyne cristata is a species our expedition to Sikkim had the great pleasure of finding in the wildin April 2009 growing at 1200m in mossy forest near Tinkitam. This Writhlington plant is really heavy. We aren’t quite sure how we will carry it to the new greenhouse next month but are confident we will think of something.
As many of you will be aware, we’re moving to our brand new greenhouses very soon. March 2nd to be precise! We’re all very excited and, through all our excitement, are somehow managing to organise things in preparation.
I say ‘we’… what I really mean is the greenhouse team. My Lab team, myself included, have done very little in preparation so far – mostly because our equipment is already in boxes!
Anyway, the greenhouse teem have been starting to sort plants into the new, 5 climatic zone system that will be used in the new greenhouses. This is no simple task. At present we have 4ish ‘climatic zones’. These are based on the realisation that ‘further from the boiler is colder’. The new greenhouses will not only have a more advanced temperature control system, but they will also be divided geographically, rather than climatically.
This means that the greenhouses will by much easier to learn from, as plants from the same area, for example Guatemala, will be all together in the section ‘Warm Americas’.
Orchid seed is the key to everything we do at the Writhlington Orchid Project. It is from orchid seed that we get the plants that we sell to make money for our trips. It is also these seeds that will grow up to make up our collection that is taken to shows. I mentioned seed earlier this month, so will not dwell on all of the ins and outs of orchid seed.
I will mention that there are lots of seeds in one seed pod. Hundreds of them! Thousands and, in many cases, millions! All of this seed needs sorting before it can be sown.
All of our seed is stored in the fridge in small, labeled jars, but before it can be refrigerated it must be dried. Now we have a hi-tech seed drying chamber to do this in a matter of days, but in the past the seed had to be left in paper envelopes, in a large box on a top shelf. We found one such box today and have been going through the seed, packet by packet, testing for viability.
Viability testing is one of the most useful things we do in the labs. Sure, sowing the seed is important, as is splitting the seeds up, but if the seed is not viable, i.e. not going to germinate anyway, there is no point in it even being sown. For this reason, before it is refrigerated, all seed must be viability tested.
As hi-tech as it sounds, viability testing is a relatively simple task. A small sample of the seed is placed on a microscope slide and examined. Under a microscope, it is clear whether or not an embryo is present in the seed. No embryo = non-viable seed.
Aren’t bananas great! Slightly off topic I know, but a fact worth noting all the same! Who would have thought that one, such humble fruit would poses so many practical uses in the modern day world, and particularly to us orchid growers! For today’s post I have assembled the top three uses for bananas at the orchid project, shown below in decreasing importance.
It is a well known fact that orchid growers need food! Take our bunch (no pun intended) at the orchid project. Together, they eat a very large amount of food – and some of this might be a banana…
2. Growing Media
Bananas have a unique combination of vitamins and minerals that orchids love – especially the young seedlings in the lab. That’s why four large bananas go into each batch of our agar jelly that we prepare for replating in the lab. The media also contains sugar, plant food and rooting hormone. All of this seems to give our seeds the best start possible.
3. Friction reducing devices
We’ve all seen it on a cartoon where one of the characters slips on a banana peel. We’ve all laughed, but have any of us actually tried it? We have! Through extensive testing we have concluded that banana skins are exceptionally good at making any object, regardless of mass, slide across the class room floor with ease!
Tests have shown that four pieces of banana peel, one under each leg of a stool, can easily carry a Year 7 (or 8,9,10 or 11) across the classroom floor! This technique is as effective with a table, in which case multiple students can be carried at once!
Orchid seeds are incredible. One orchid seed pod can have up to 2.6 million seeds in. This is a brilliant survival technique for the orchid, but such an advantage comes at a price. Each orchid seed must be invaded by a mycorrhizal fungas. The orchid seed then uses the fungas to give it the energy for germination.
In our lab – we use agar jelly as a replacement for the fungas, meaning we can have every single seed germinate, where as only 10 may germinate in the wild. More information on our techniques can be found in our media libraries.
While in Cape Town in 2007 we linked with a school in the area, but also with local growers. Lorna in particular has been brilliant at supplying seed of the leopard orchid Anselia africana. When she e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago and first told me that she had 9 mature pods I was very excited! Anselia africana is a very nice plant that is easy to sow and grows well in our lab.
I was also eager to find out just what 9 seed pods worth of seed looked like! We were all very impressed when the envelope was packed full of seed. This is such a brilliant example Darwin’s prediction that, if left to their own devices, and if every seed germinated – orchids would take over the world in three generations!
A big, big Thank-You to Lorna, and also to our other partners across the globe! We couldn’t do it without you!