Friday, January 3, 2014

We Need More Orchid Celebrities

In this blog entry I'm going to attach four epiphytes to the same branch...

Epiphyte 1 - Improving on some common expressions...
  • kill two birds with one stone -> attach two epiphytes to the same branch
  • don't keep all your eggs in one basket -> don't keep all your epiphytes on one tree 
  • there's more than one way to skin a cat -> there's more than one way to attach an epiphyte 
  • out-of-the-box thinking -> epiphytic thinking (added 14 Dec 2014, context: Herclivation)
It would be awesome if these improved expressions caught on!  Please feel free to use them and report back on the results.

Epiphyte 2 - Orchid celebrities...

What's an orchid celebrity? It's a specific orchid plant that has been photographed by several different people.

For's a Cattleya blooming on a tree in the Waimea Arboretum and Botanical Garden (Oahu, Hawaii)...
I created a gallery on flickr for this Waimea Cattleya.

It's so cool that so many different people documented the same orchid over a time span of 8 years.  We can roughly measure the orchid's progress and see how much variation there is in its blooming time/duration.

Is this Cattleya on a tree the biggest orchid superstar?  Do you know of any other specific orchid plants that are more famous?

Personally, having looked over a ton of photos of orchids on trees...I haven't found any other orchid that comes even vaguely close to being as famous.

For example, if you look through photos of orchids at the Fairchild Botanic Garden in Miami'd be hard-pressed to find the same orchid photographed by two different people.

So why are there so few orchid superstars? Shouldn't there be more? Here are some of the factors involved...

1. Showiness - The more spectacular an orchid is...the more likely it is that people are going to think it's worth the effort to photograph and worth the effort to share the photos with others. And when it comes to star power...some orchids have more potential than other orchids.

2. Exposure - Even if the orchid is the most spectacular and showy specimen ever...if it's in a private garden then it's probably not going to be documented by numerous different people. But even in a public two locations are going to receive the same exact amount of foot traffic. Locations nearer the entrance are going to receive far more traffic than locations far off the beaten path. But even if the orchid is located near the entrance...a spectacular orchid that's high up on a tree will receive far less attention than an orchid that's located closer to eye level.

3. Blooming duration - Even if the orchid is spectacular...and it's in a public garden near the entrance....and it's at eye level...if its blooming duration is very short...then this will decrease the amount of people who will photograph it.

4. Photo tagging - Even if many people take photos of the same orchid...if they don't tag the photos with the relevant keywords then it greatly decreases the chances that others will see the photos. Part of the problem is that botanic gardens often struggle with providing effective signage.  They should share both the common and scientific names of their orchid stars on highly visible signs.  Doing so will increase the chances that visitors will take a photo of the sign in order to tag the photo with the relevant keywords when they share it on the internet.  In situations where the common or scientific name isn't known...a unique name should be given to the orchid.

Any other factors?

So which of these factors is the most significant in explaining why there are so few orchid celebrities?

I think it's pretty straightforward that everybody would benefit if there were more orchid celebrities. Our hobby would certainly benefit...and so would the botanical gardens. The more orchid celebrities a botanical garden has...the more incentive orchid enthusiasts would have to visit it. The more orchid enthusiasts that visit...the more photos of the garden that will be shared on the internet. This publicity will generate interest in both the botanical garden and the orchid hobby.  It's a virtuous cycle with many positive externalities.

Epiphyte 3 - Orchid roots and their fungus...

Recently I ran across this article on the relationship between orchids and fungus...Orchids Are as Finicky as the Fungi That Nourish Them

A few people who commented on the article questioned how the fungus benefits from the relationship. You can read the comment that I shared... The Symbiotic Relationship between Orchids and Fungus

Basically, the orchid roots help the fungus colonize the tree.

Did anybody notice that the Waimea Cattleya's roots are dangling rather than attached to the tree? It almost seems like the botanical garden somehow places the orchid on the tree when it blooms...and then they take it down after its done. That would be kinda strange though. Another possible explanation is that the tree has properties that prevent the roots from attaching to it. I wonder what kind of tree it is.

Here's a pretty darn great example of orchid roots attached to a tree...

Vanda Growing on a Tree in Waimea Valley

The orchid fungus is too small to be seen with the naked eye...but we can use mushrooms to represent the fungus...

Orchid Fungus Symbiotic Relationship

The more orchid roots that the Vanda has growing on the tree...the more mushrooms there will be growing on the roots...and the more mushrooms there are...the more spore that will be released. The more spore that is released...the greater the chances that some will land on suitable microhabitats on trees in the area. The more mushrooms growing on trees in the area...the greater the chances that the Vanda's seeds will land on them and germinate.

The success of an orchid is directly tied to the success of its fungus...and vice versa. They need each other to succeed. Well...that's my theory.

So if you want orchids to continue to be successful... don't grow them in pots. Growing an orchid in a pot greatly limits the amount of fungus spore that is disseminated. In other words, growing orchids in pots significantly decreases the chances that their fungal partners will succeed.

Epiphyte 4 - Growing orchids on trees...

There's a very common misconception that you need to live in the tropics in order to grow orchids on trees. This is entirely untrue. You can grow orchids on trees wherever you live. The difference is, if you live in a colder'll just have to bring your trees inside for the winter. In other words, you'll have to grow your orchids on potted trees. To learn more please read...Growing Orchids on Potted Plants.

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