This is a small growing species from the Mata Atlantica, Brazil with 1cm long leaves that hug the bark it grows on and unusual dark purple flowers with just a tiny opening for the pollinating ant to enter the flower.
Until this year we have always grown it in a shady spot in our Cool Americas section but we moved the plant shown to Cool Asia about twelve months ago and it has really flourished in a dryer cooler brighter spot. We tried this to reflect the xerophytic look of the stiff thick leaves suggesting it is evolved for a dryer and brighter spot than most of the plants of its genus.
We haven’t yet identified what the ants find attractive about the flower and have never seen a British ant visiting flowers so perhaps the reward is specific to the local Brazilian ants.
It seems to be a fantastic year for roadside orchids and this lay-by in the cotswolds was particularly rich with masses of Pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) above and bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) too.
If you have found some good roadside orchids please send us your photos but please avoid crashing when looking out for them, or getting run over when trying to photograph them.
Last week we featured Micropera obtusa and mentioned this species which is now in full flower.
Micropera rostrata is native to Assam and the Eastern Himalayas where it grows pendulously in warm forest that has very wet summers and a dryer winter.
We find that in cultivation the species enjoys constantly warm conditions in Warm Asia and we keep it watered throughout the year as the species never really stops growing. Summer flowering is very reliable indicating daylight length is the flowering trigger.
The species was originally included in Aerides which makes sense from the way that it grows and flowers but the flowers them selves have a very unusual and distinctive lip and column leading to the very appropriate name rostrata which means ‘beaked’. If you look closely at the flower it appears to have a comical face with two eyes and a long nose (this is the column).
This pretty African species is looking a picture this morning.
Polystachya is a common genus amongst African orchids and Polystachya vulcanica comes from the volcanic mountains of Rwanda, Uganda and Zaire (hence its lovely name – it doesn’t come from Vulcan!)
It lives in high altitude mossy forest similar to that we found on the upper slopes of Mount Bigugu in Rwanda. This is the highest point in Nyungwe national park at 3000m and the orchid is found from 1600-3000m. This habitat is very similar to South American cloud forests and so we grow the species in Cool Americas where we keep it moist and shaded all year.
Like most Polystachyas the species holds its flowers upside down (non-resupinate) and this flower is photographed from below to show the lovely colour combination. Flower spikes are produced in profusion and each produces sequential individual flowers over a period of months during the summer. Each flower stems produce several flowers over the summer months.
This miniature species from Colombia and Venezuela that produces single flowers from the top of 4cm growths and can make an impressive flowering plant in a 3cm pot. In nature it is an epiphyte in oak forests from 600m to 2700m altitude. We call the species a miniature but over time plants can develop into specimen ‘balls’ like this one with over 100 flowers and buds.
Plants also do well mounted and we grow some plants into specimens that completely surround their cork mount with lovely little flowers held out for their humming bird pollinator. The target for the humming birds beak is the green/yellow V at the top of the red lip and there are two beak guides either side of the opening to the nectary.
We find this a very accommodating plant that grows equally well in Warm or Coll Americas and flowers well both when grown in good light and in semi shade. We keep plants well watered but in a free draining compost or mounted so that plants can dry out soon after watering.
We have two distinct clones of the species. The one above has spikey pendulous growths and a brown/red flower while the clone below is more upright and has clear red flowers. We love them both.