Thursday, 27 March 2014

local Spring orchid show wrapped in color and diversity

Last weekend I strolled over in the early morning sunshine to take in the Vancouver Orchid Society's Spring show.  Walking down the gentle street between home and the venue my eyes wandered to early flowering plum trees, their pale pink blooms and buds just awakening.  Needless to say I was quite unprepared for the flower power I would soon encounter!

As I stepped inside I was greeted by a throng of bodies filling the entrance.  The buzz was palpable.  Eagerly, I entered the main show hall.   As I took in my first impressions of colour and form, I felt pulled into the midst of a new world.  It was as if I'd been kept in a closet all winter and suddenly released into open space and fresh air.  

Sophrolaeliocattleya (aka Slc.), awarded "Grand Champion", or Best in Show

 The ugly ribbon notwithstanding, this gorgeous orchid is a hybrid of three species from three separate genera, namely Sophronitis, Laelia and Cattleya.  No mean feat in any part of the plant kingdom!  I won't detail the parents except to say that at least two of them were selections, or cultivars, of the original species.  This beauty won its accolades because of several outstanding attributes:  paramount is the condition of the plant and the difficulty of growing it, likely followed by the amount and symmetry of bloom.  Of course the foliage must also be in excellent show condition.  Yearly I judge two Spring alpine plant shows and it was a fine exercise to witness how another plant society reaches its conclusions.

Paphiopedilum 'St. Swithin'
Following this are several of my favourites which I'm thrilled to share with you.  One of the first big displays I saw was this lovely Paphiopedilum 'St. Swithin'.  Swithin was an English bishop of a thousand years ago; he also has a summer day named after him there.  Note the shape of his hat, or mitre, and face under it.  I'm reminded of the flower's shape. 

Anyway, this selection is a fine tribute to almost anyone decent.  I'm told the best forms - though most nowadays are clonal - display more twisted petals, those two hanging down to left and right.  What are those in that basket, easter eggs?

In a while I found a patient pace, avoiding the clusters of persons, typically with cameras and tripods, or ipads,  attracted to plants with particularly unusual features.  I felt quite a newbie, so I sought out a helpful person to ask, "which do you think is the most rare plant in the show?"   I was pointed toward a Phaius, another genus competely foreign to me. Well, later I found it's not actually a Phaius, but more in a moment.  Here is a peek:

Gastrophaius Micro Burst 'Octoberfest'

It is truly Gastrophaius, which is a bigeneric (two species from separate genera) hybrid cross.  In this case, Gastrorchis pulchra x Phaius tankervilleae.  How curious!  If it was really the rarest plant at the show or not, i can't say with certainty.  After all, there were a lot of plants there with rare cachet, but at that moment I was a willing believer.  

I am also guessing that Micro Burst is a selection from the original cross which describes a compact, floriferous quality.  Oh, and Micro Burst is two words... not one, according to the literature.


Another of my absolute favourites is Masdevallia.  Perhaps it is partly their simplicity of shape, another part perhaps colour-related (warm oranges and this red predominated) but it is a good part subliminal too.  This genus of about 500 species is found from high in Mexico to the Andes of South America, so many prefer cool growing conditions.  On some species, petal striations are common, and this also makes them popular as hobbyist and show plants.  Here's another: 

It almost goes without saying that these plants are all of a kind:  tropical and greenhouse grown.  But there are many more orchids that are temperate in origin, and I enjoy to (try to) cultivate a small number of them in my work garden at UBC Botanical Garden.  Here is one I haven't yet tried but would like to.  Two of my plant friends claim they have large clumps in their home gardens.

A miniature temperate charmer!
 Okay, so this Cypripedium, or Lady's Slipper orchid, is widespread in Asia, Europe and North America.  While it is taxonomically known here as C. parviflorum, it is so closely related to its counterparts elsewhere that it makes no difference to us.  What makes this plant so unique is its size.  Typical individuals grow up to 70cm (about 2.3 feet) but this wee fellow is a mere 20cm, or 8 inches tall.  Outstanding mini!  I'm quite impressed, anyway.

Paphiopedilum 'Michael Koopowitz

And, I believe, a wonderful finale.  As far as I could glean, this Paphiopedilum is a hybrid bred and selected by the honourable Harold Koopowitz, named for his son.  In briefest language,   Mr. Koopowitz has done more, contributed more to plant science in his current lifetime than most could accomplish in many, many lives.  As for this plant, I love the extremely long petals!
Enjoy your own personal orchid explorations.  As for me, I joined the local orchid society!

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