Friday, April 29, 2016

Stronger Bees And Smarter Raccoons

Reply to reply: What Are You Carrying?


The problem, as I see it, is that the ability to hold and carry multiple objects isn't limited to humans. - Quokkastan

But I've never argued that humans are the only animals with linvoid1.  I've argued that humans are the most linvoid1.

And humans aren't even necessarily the best at it. - Quokkastan

What animals are more linvoid1 than humans?

You've side-stepped the issue by saying that the mental faculties required to see value in multiple items, in holding on to them, and in combining them in creative ways, also counts.  But that essentially is human intelligence.  An enormous part of it in any case.
So what you're ultimately arguing is that human intelligence created human intelligence. - Quokkastan

I'm arguing that our exceptional intelligence is the result of linvoid3... which is the result of linvoid1.
Take a look at this photo...

Carnivorous Cattleya

The large white flower is from a Cattleya orchid that is growing on my tree.  A honey bee visited the flower and died as a result.  The Cattleya didn't intentionally kill the bee.  There aren't any carnivorous orchids.  The bee entered the flower and got stuck to the orchid's built in "glue".  The bee wasn't able to free itself and died.  If the bee had been able to free itself... then it would have continued deeper into the flower where it would have been rewarded with some nectar... or been tricked?  Some orchids are notoriously deceptive.  In any case, the bee would have turned around and, just as it was about to exit, the flower would have deposited its pollen onto the bee's gluey back.  When the bee entered into the next orchid flower... the pollen on its back would have gotten stuck exactly where the bee had gotten stuck to.

The bee essentially died during sex.  Well... it died while it was attempting to facilitate orchid sex.  The same thing could have been said for me if I had fallen out of the tree while attempting to pollinate the Cattleya.

Neither the orchid nor the bee are native to California or to the US.  The orchid is a hybrid but its ancestors are all native to the Americas.  The bee isn't even native to the Americas.

Maybe you find this story fascinating but you're wondering what it has to do with the evolution of human intelligence.  Well... the bee died because it wasn't strong enough to extricate itself from the flower's sticky part.  This is an example of selection pressure.  In this case... we're not talking about linvoid2 (selecting for intelligence)... we're talking about selecting for strength.  The bee was killed because it was too weak.  It wasn't strong enough to survive the orchid's "gauntlet".

Right now California doesn't have very many people who grow Cattleya orchids outdoors.  This means that the pressure that Cattleyas exert on California bees is vanishingly small.  It's imperceptible.  But we can imagine that... if more and more people in California started growing Cattleyas... the selection pressure would grow more and more perceptible.  More and more bees would be killed by Cattleyas.  If everybody in California had Cattleyas blooming on their trees... would this kill all the bees in California?  Probably... not.

It's a given that no two bees are equally strong.  Why is it a given?  Because "difference" is the very point of sexual reproduction.  "Difference" allows species to hedge their bets.   "Difference" helps species adjust to constantly changing conditions/circumstances.  More and more people growing Cattleyas is an example of changing conditions.  As more and more weaker bees are killed off... more and more exceptionally strong bees would survive to pass on their genetic material... and the population of bees in California would shift accordingly.

It might help to read this passage...

Sex responds instead to a different mandate, which I will call the mandate of genetic diversity.  Evolution requires imperfect reproduction. In simple organisms with extremely large populations, such as bacteria, genetic mutation supplies the necessary imperfection. In species with more limited populations, including most multicellular organisms, mutation does not occur rapidly enough to permit evolution to operate at high enough speeds to allow species to adapt effectively to changing environmental conditions (in particular, to quickly evolving viruses, bacteria, and other parasites). Here sex - the production of offspring through the mixing of genetic material - comes to the rescue. Populations of creatures that reproduce sexually will be far more genetically diverse than populations of similar size that reproduce without such genetic mixing.  When environmental conditions change, it is more likely that some portion of the sexually reproducing population will already carry the genes necessary to deal with that change. In other words, sex allows us to evolve to meet changing conditions more quickly. 
If genetic diversity is adaptive, we ought to observe the mandate of genetic diversity operating in our choice of mates. And we do. Despite sex, we could reproduce more perfectly, and thereby respond more effectively to the mandate of reproduction, by mating with our closest genetic kin - in other words, through incest. The mandate of genetic diversity, however, predicts the evolution of inhibitions to incest; and, indeed, we all carry such inhibitions, both genetic and learned. The mandate of genetic diversity also predicts that our mating choices will be somewhat random; and, indeed, we often fall in love with unexpected, sometimes even objectively unsuitable, partners. As Pascal observed: "Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connait point." ("The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows not.")  - Theodore P. Seto, Reframing Evil in Evolutionary and Game Theoretic Terms

If, in the future, California has exceptionally strong bees, then the cause would be the exceptional selection pressure that millions of Cattleyas put on the bees.  Are humans exceptionally strong?  Nope.  But we are exceptionally intelligent.  The cause of our exceptional intelligence was linvoid3 (exceptionally large amounts of linvoid2 (selection pressure on intelligence)).

In the example of the Cattleyas and the bees... the bees changed because their circumstances/conditions changed (more and more Cattleyas were grown in California).  But with our early ancestors... linvoid3 wasn't the result of changing conditions... it was the result of our ancestors themselves changing.  They became more and more bipedal.

With all of this in mind... let's take another look at your argument...

You've side-stepped the issue by saying that the mental faculties required to see value in multiple items, in holding on to them, and in combining them in creative ways, also counts.  But that essentially is human intelligence.  An enormous part of it in any case.
So what you're ultimately arguing is that human intelligence created human intelligence. - Quokkastan

We both agree that our ancestors became more and more bipedal.  We also both agree that this helped them to become more linvoid1.  Becoming bipedal freed up their hands and arms to simultaneously carry different resources (linvoid1).  You're under the impression that I'm arguing that our ancestors became more intelligent because they were more intelligent.  But, as you pointed out, this would be a circular reasoning.

What I'm actually arguing is that linvoid1 caused linvoid3.  Walking upright forced our ancestors to confront complex carrying choices.  How many different things would they have wanted to carry with them when they migrated?  Here are some pretty basic things...

- children
- food
- tools
- weapons

Being able to simultaneously carry more than one thing made this problem very complex.  It wasn't a relatively simple problem of children OR food OR tools OR weapons... it was a complex problem of children AND/OR food AND/OR tools AND/OR weapons.

The complexity of this problem resulted in linvoid3.   Whenever anybody went anywhere... they were confronted with a complex math problem.  Individuals that were exceptionally good at solving these complex math problems were more likely to survive and shift the population in the direction of more intelligence.

The complex math problem is, more specifically, a complex economic problem.  The problem is how to allocate resources in order to maximize benefit.

All organisms are confronted with the problem of how to allocate resources... even plants.  The Cattleya on my tree has to decide how to allocate its limited resources between growing and blooming (reproducing).  Insects can allocate more resources than plants can.  This means that insects are confronted with more complex economic problems than plants.  Mammals can allocate more resources than insects can... which means that mammals are confronted with more complex economic problems than insects.  Out of all the mammals... humans can allocate the most resources... which means that humans are confronted with the most complex economic problems.

The more complex the economic problems.... the more intelligence required to solve them.  Humans are the most intelligent animals... which reflects the fact that humans solve the most complex economic problems.  Our ability to solve the most complex problems reflects the fact that we can allocate the most resources.  And what, exactly, allows us to allocate the most resources?  Linvoid1.

In theory we could select for raccoons that are more and more bipedal.  Doing so would make them more linvoid1... which would result in linvoid3 and voila!  Raccoons would be just as intelligent as we are.  The first thing you saw when Seldon resurrected you would be a raccoon checking your vitals.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Creating The Perfect Orchid For Southern California

In an e-mail, u u (flickr, OB) said that creating the perfect epiphytic orchid for SoCal is a "Herculean" goal.  What's life without one, or two, or... a dozen... Herculean goals?!  But just how Herculean is this goal anyways?

For those of you who haven't been following along at home... the perfect epiphytic orchid for SoCal would be a lot like Aloe Hercules (AH)...

Hercules, Hercutherm, Hybridize This and Hercules
Hercuthermal Experiment

Let's geek out a bit...

Creating The Perfect Orchid For Southern California

Brassavola nodosa (BN)

x = 10
y = 5

Golden Peacock (GP)

x = 5
y = 10

BN is twice as succulent as GP... but GP is twice as hercuthermal as BN.   BN only grows half the year here in SoCal while GP grows the entire year.  What we want is the best of both worlds!  We want an orchid that needs less water to grow the entire year.

So let's imagine that we crossed GP and BN.  This would give us a Fatter Golden Peacock (FGP).  Here are a few basic assumptions...

1. No two FGPs would be exactly alike
2. The more FGPs there are, the more variation there will be

We've all heard the expression about the apple not falling far from the tree.   It's a given that the more apples that fall from the tree... the greater the distances that some of the apples will fall from the tree.  This is what I've tried to illustrate in the x y graph.

In our case, we want the apple to fall far from the tree... but in the direction of AH.  The more FGPs that are produced... the greater the chances that we'll end up with a fabulous outlier.  This is known as the law of truly large numbers.

If there's one thing that orchids are really good at, it's producing a truly large number of seeds...

Cattleya Penny Kuroda Pods and Seeds

A single seed pod can contain a million seeds!  A million seeds is a truly large number of seeds.  I'm pretty sure that this goes a long way in explaining the success (diversity) of the orchid family.

Since orchids are exceptionally good at producing a large number of seeds, all else being equal, we should be able to make a lot more progress in a lot less time with orchids than we could make with coconuts.  An average size flask of orchids can contain around 30 seedlings.  But the same size flask wouldn't be large enough for even one coconut seedling.  Therefore, creating the perfect orchid for SoCal should be a less Herculean goal than creating the perfect coconut for SoCal.

So how many FGP seedlings would we need to grow in order to find the fabulous outlier?  A million seedlings?  Maybe 300,000 seedlings?  If so, that would be 10,000 flasks!  That's a lot of flasks!  If this is the case then...

Herculean = Expensive

In the x y graph I put AH and BN both as a 10 in terms of succulence.  Clearly, in absolute terms, AH is a lot more succulent than BN.  But in relative terms... perhaps they are reasonably equivalent.  For some evidence that this is roughly correct, check out this photo of a BN growing on a cactus in nature.

If you looked through that gallery of orchids growing on succulents/cactus... you would have noticed that BN isn't the only Cattleya alliance orchid that grows on cactus.  There are 100s of species in the Cattleya alliance that grow in seasonally dry forests and many of these orchids are happy to grow on the cactus that share the same habitat.

Here's a partial listing of some of the relatively drought tolerant species in the Cattleya alliance...

Barkeria (all)
Brassavola (all)
Broughtonia (all)
Cattleya nobilior
Cattleya walkeriana
Encyclia (all)
Laelia (Mexican... all)
Laelia sincorana
Myrmecophila (all)
Psychilis (all)
Rhyncholaelia (all)
Schomburgkia (all)
Sophronitis brevipedunculata
Tetramicra (all)

They all use different strategies to deal with drought.   Barkerias are the only ones that are deciduous.  Brassavolas are the only ones with entirely terete leaves... they also have very skinny pseudobulbs.   Tetramicras have canaliculate/fleshy leaves, skinny pseudobulbs and multiple leaves on each pseudobulb.  The pseudobulbs of the Rhyncholaelias aren't skinny or fat... but their leaves are relatively succulent.  Psychilis do not have very fat pseudobulbs either... but neither are their leaves relatively succulent.  Instead, their leaves are quite stiff (coriaceous).   Myrmecophilas are the only ones with hollow pseudobulbs (for the ants to live in).  Most of the others species have fat/succulent pseudobulbs but there's considerable variety in the size/shape of their pseudobulbs and in the quantity/size/shape of their leaves

One type of form that I find particularly appealing is the "teapot" form (short and stout).   Encyclia pyriformis is a good example...

Encyclia pyriformis

The plant is so short and stout!  And here's a good photo that illustrates how stout Cattleya walkeriana can be.

Given the number of...

A. species in the Cattleya alliance that occur in dry forests
B. crosses that have been made with these species

... what are the chances that BN is truly the most drought tolerant orchid in the Cattleya alliance?  Pretty slim!  So ideally we'd want to cross GP with both A and B in order to find the combination of traits that is closest to AH on the x y graph.

How long would it take us to test out all these different possible combinations?!  And how much money would it cost us to flask all the seeds?!  Clearly the answer depends on how many of "us" there are.

Recently a friend in Australia shared a photo of a nice tree in Perth.   As nice as the tree is... it has a pretty big problem.  It's naked!  The tree doesn't even have a single orchid growing on it.  Perth doesn't have any native epiphytic orchids.  And neither does Los Angeles.

Perth and Los Angeles have something else in common.  Both cities have many people who love growing orchids... Orchid Society of Western Australia (OSWA) and the Orchid Society of Southern California (OSSC).

As the saying goes... many hands make light work.  What if we collaborated with the OSWA to create the perfect orchid for... Southern California?  For Perth?  And what if we invited the members of the Cape Town Orchid Society to join us?

Here's how I've illustrated this...

Creating The Perfect Orchid For Mediterranean Climates

Even though each of these three cities has a Mediterranean climate... there's a considerable amount of variation in precipitation (mm/inches)...

1. Perth: 730.5 / 28.76
2. Cape Town: 515 / 20.28
3. Los Angeles: 379.2 / 14.93

Out of these three cities... the least Herculean goal would be to create the perfect epiphytic orchid for Perth.  This is because Perth receives a lot more rain than Cape Town... and twice as much rain as Los Angeles.

Participants in Los Angeles and Cape Town would make promising crosses and send the seeds to participants in Perth.  The participants in Perth would flask the seeds and allow their climate to select the most suitable individuals.  The survivors of this selection process would be crossed with other promising candidates (recombination) and eventually the perfect epiphytic orchid for Perth would be found.  Participants in Perth would send seeds of this cross to participants in Cape Town.  The same selection/recombination process would eventually yield the perfect epiphytic orchid for Cape Town.  The seeds of this orchid would be sent to Los Angeles and the same process would eventually yield the perfect epiphytic orchid for Southern California.

What would we call this system?   Trickle down epiphytics (TDE)?

Perth, Cape Town and Los Angeles aren't the only cities with Mediterranean climates.   There are quite a few other cities in the same boat.  So if we want to get the ball rolling as fast as possible (maximize the rate of progress)... then we should be as inclusive as possible...


For comparison, here are the climate graphs for Brassavola nodosa, Barkeria barkeriola and Laelia speciosa (source) ...

For even more comparison, here's the climate graph for Melbourne...

Porto gets so much rain!!!  *green with envy*  With as much rain as Porto gets... is there already some epiphytic orchid species or hybrid that could thrive, or at least survive, there without any supplemental watering?  I'm guessing that the answer is yes.  And maybe the orchid growers in Porto are already growing this orchid?

Personally, I don't know any orchid growers in Porto.  And I'm guessing that I'm the rule rather than the exception.  I do know an orchid grower in Rome... but I really can't say that I'm doing a very good job of networking with other orchid growers in Mediterranean climates.

Here's a partial listing of orchid societies located in Mediterranean climates...

Maybe we should create a Facebook page/group for orchid growers in Mediterranean climates?

Googling around I found this photo in Wikipedia commons....


The photo was taken by Marcia Breia in Cordoaria Garden which is in Porto, Portugal.  The tree is the London plane tree (Platanus × acerifolia).   The truck is so big, fat and mossy!  It would be perfect for an orchid... or two.

We would certainly linger longer and be more inclined to take a photo of this tree if it had an orchid growing on it.  But not only would this specific space be more appealing, it would also be more diverse.

Regarding the value of diversity...

Biological diversity is a natural protection against surprises and shocks, climatic and otherwise. Among diverse species will be some adapted to prosper in a new landscape in new circumstances.  - Daniel J. Evans et al, Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming: Mitigation, Adaptation, and the Science Base 
More genetic variety in a species or a population means a higher likelihood that some individuals will adapt to changing conditions.  Lower genetic variety results in uniformity of species, and ultimately translates into vulnerability. 
As an example, modern agricultural practices typically are monocultures - the practice of planting vast swathes of genetically identical plants.  This is an advantage when it comes to growing and harvesting crops, but it can be a problem when a disease or parasite attacks the field, as every plant in the field will be susceptible.  Monocultures are also unable to deal well with changing conditions, such as the changing percipitation and temperature regimes associated with climate change. - Sarah L. Burch, Sara E. Harris, Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Practice

Regarding our natural preference for orchid diversity...

One would think that man could find enough variation in the orchid family, as it occurs in nature, to more than satiate his taste for variety. Yet man's appetite for variety is never appeased. He has produced over two times as many hybrids, in the past 100 years that he has been engaged in orchid breeding, as nature has created species in her eons of evolutionary effort. - Calaway H. Dodson, Robert J. Gillespie, The Botany of Orchids

Regarding our natural preference for collecting/sharing...

The absence of [Dendrobium johannis var. semifuscum] from the mainland of the Northern Territory and its presence on Melville and Bathurst islands leads to the speculation that it might have been introduced to the islands by Macassamen (trepang fishermen) who were known to plant all manner of things on some of the places they visited during their travels. - A. W. Dockrill, Australian Indigenous Orchids 
People collect baseball cards and people collect plant seeds.  In reality, it is not all that surprising that as people move around they help preserve the genetic diversity of plants. - Norman C. Ellstrand,  Maize Germplasm Conservation in Southern California’s Urban Gardens: Introduced Diversity Beyond ex situ and in situ Management
A far less technical way of preserving a species is in gardens.  Although the managers of botanical gardens or arboreta are more self-conscious of their role, any gardener can help.  The wide cultivation of Bougainvillaea and the para rubber tree, for example, protects them from extinction in tropical America.  By collecting and breeding novel plants, nurserymen preserve biological diversity.  By selling novel plants, they diversify the places the plants are grown and so help preserve them. - Daniel J. Evans et al, Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming: Mitigation, Adaptation, and the Science Base   

Regarding the virtuous cycle of diversity...

Thus, the total diversity of an area provides the pool of competitors for niches in developing ecosystems.  The larger the pool, the more likely it is that the system will evolve into a complex, highly interrelated system.  And complex, highly interrelated systems provide more niche opportunities for new species.  Over time, interspecific dependencies, both of predation and mutualism, will evolve.  Further, interspecific competition often aids in avoiding competitive exclusion, as predators concentrate on the competitively advantaged species on any given trophic level.  Thus, total diversity plays a key role in the development of ecosystem structure through ecological time.  That structure, in turn, provides opportunities for more species to survive and thereby increases total diversity further.  Therefore diversity augments diversity in a continuing upward spiral. - Bryan G. Norton, The Preservation of Species

Creating the perfect epiphytic orchids for Mediterranean climates would mean that lots of people would attach these orchids to trees.   Because, just like AH... they would require very little supplemental water to grow year around.  All these orchids on trees would create new niches for a wide variety of living things.  The logical and beneficial outcome would be more diversity.

Right now there are thousands and thousands of people growing millions of epiphytic orchids in Mediterranean climates.  All these epiphytic orchids require more supplemental water than AH requires.  And because people often don't have the time, or energy, to consistently and regularly water their epiphytic orchids... many epiphytic orchids are killed from dehydration.  Basically, people unintentionally help nature select for the most drought tolerant and hercuthermal epiphytic orchids.  This means that we will eventually end up with the perfect orchids for Mediterranean climates.  Personally, I'd love to have these orchids sooner rather than later!!!  It's really hard to imagine that I'm the only person in this boat!  So in theory, it shouldn't be a Herculean goal to encourage people to help create/buy/test/share epiphytic orchids that might be better suited for Mediterranean climates.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Epiphytic Trial By Neighbors

This last weekend I attached some of my orchids to trees that aren't mine.  No, I didn't do it guerrilla gardening style.  :)

Last year my neighbors on both sides of me expressed interesting in having some orchids.  My neighbor on my left... "Carol"... is from Costa Rica and my neighbor on my right... "Arthur".... is from the Philippines.

So on Saturday I went over to Carol's place and prepped the hosts.  The main host was an old Ficus carica (common fig) that had been lopped in half.  It had a myriad of smaller branches so I went through and removed lots of them.  I'm hardly an expert at pruning but here are my general rules...

1. No redundant branches
2. No crossing branches
3. No backwards branches

I don't always strictly adhere to these rules.  For example, in this case... I wanted to err on the side of more, rather than less, shade for the newly attached orchids.  Plus, I kept a few "illegal" branches because they were thick enough to provide lots of surface area for some orchid roots.

Here was the result...

Neighbor B's Ficus carica

There are quite a few main branches.... which is nice... but they are a bit on the short side.  Mounting the orchids low is good for appreciating them... but it makes them more accessible to the usual suspects.

After I prepped the Fig tree, I also prepped a pair of really old and overgrown Bougainvilleas.  Ouch, my most of me.

Sunday morning I ate a breakfast of champions... one cold slice of leftover pizza and a warm bowl of oatmeal... and I gathered up a few of my extras...

Epiphytic Trial By Neighbor B

- Oncidium maculatum
- Oncidium NOID
- Laelia anceps
- Brassavola nodosa
- Cattleya walkeriana
- Laeliocattleya Clayton Waglay = Laelia anceps x Cattleya Claesiana (intermedia x loddigesii)
- Myrmecolaelia Ruby Ray = Myrmecophila tibicinis x Laelia undulata
- Brassanthe Maikai = Brassavola nodosa x Guarianthe bowringiana
- Brassocatanthe Little Mermaid = Cattleya walkeriana x Brassanthe Maikai
- Encyvola Gordon Vickers = Brassavola nodosa x Encyclia tampensis
- Brassanthe Bill Worsley = Brassavola nodosa x Guarianthe aurantiaca
- Ascofinetia Twinkle =  Neofinetia falcata x Ascocentrum miniatum
- Oncidium sphacelatum x obryzatoides

I attached the walkeriana, the nodosa and all the nodosa crosses to the two Bougainvilleas.  The rest of the orchids I attached to the Fig tree.  I used 30lb fishing line and the slip knot technique to make sure that the orchids were very firmly attached to the branches.  I didn't include any moss.

When I finished attaching all the orchids I went over to Arthur's place and prepped his tree.  It was also the common Fig tree.  It had less main branches but they hadn't been lopped in half.  After I removed lots of the smaller branches... I went and collected pretty much the same set of orchids...

Epiphytic Trial By Neighbor A

Here were the differences...

- Cattleya walkeriana
- Laeliocattleya Clayton Waglay
+ Rhynchostylis gigantea
+ Vanda NOID

I attached them using the same method.

In terms of instructions... I told Carol and Arthur to use the "shower" setting on their nozzle to thoroughly water the orchids Tuesdays and Saturdays in the evenings during the summer and less frequently and earlier in the day the rest of the year.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Orchid Olympics

Reply to reply: Cool Growers x Warm Growers


Unfortunately for me I can only grow temperate orchids outside year round. - chibae

Pretty much the saddest story ever... :( :( :( And there are no diminishing returns. Each time I hear this story it's just as sad as the last time I heard it.

I just looked at a map of the US. I guess North Carolina (NC) is a bit below the "mid-Atlantic coast"? Just in case you didn't know... NC is home to the Northernmost occurring epiphytic orchid in North America.... Epidendrum conopseum (EC). But, what are the chances that EC is the most cold tolerant epiphytic orchid in the world? Why should we suspect that EC is more cold tolerant than the Southernmost occurring epiphytic orchid in South America? Why should we suspect that EC is more cold tolerant than the Northernmost occurring epiphytic orchid in Asia? Why should we suspect that EC is more cold tolerant than the Southernmost occurring epiphytic orchid in... Down Under? National pride? "Our soccer team is better than your soccer team... and our epiphytic orchid is more cold tolerant than your epiphytic orchid!"

In another forum a fellow in Tampa was wondering what type of tree he should plant. While digging around for an answer I ran across these two things...

It is interesting to know that for a period of 46 years this orchid has evidently escaped collectors in North Carolina. In a conversation with Professor Oakes Ames last winter he expressed the opinion that the reason for this was perhaps due to the "Big Freeze" of 1888-89 which may have destroyed these plants this far north and thus temporarily moved the limits of its northern range farther south. It is also possible that the position of the orchid high up in the trees may have made it easily overlooked. - Donovan Correll, Epidendrum conopseum in North Carolina
In December 1989, a severe cold front passed through Florida; temperatures reached -5C, killing all the orchids. At other central Florida sites, mortality of Encyclia tampensis was high (>80%). - Ronald J. Larson, Population Dynamics of Encyclia tampensis in Florida

There's a line that marks the Northernmost distribution of EC. This line really isn't static! It's very dynamic. In exceptionally cold years... this line is moved South by many many miles. And maybe in exceptionally warm years... the line is moved North by many many miles. Where was this line 1000 years ago? Where is it 100,000 years ago? Wouldn't it be amazing to see an animation of this line over the past million years? Has EC even been around for that long?

It's a race to Canada! As far as tropical epiphytes are concerned... Pleopeltis polypodioides (PP) is in first place. I think it grows no problem outdoors year around in the mid-Atlantic coast? In second place is Tillandsia usneoides (TU). And in third place is EC.

PP cheats because it got a head start. TU also cheats because birds help carry it. So it's only fair that we (ie you!) help EC cheat. Just go around sowing a gazillion EC seeds in its favorite trees. If enough other people do the same thing then eventually I'll have no problem believing that EC is the most cold tolerant orchid in the world. I'll be swoll with national pride. Well... unless the other countries start doing the same thing.

I guess we'll need to start the orchid Olympics (OO)? Medals for most cold tolerant orchid? And most drought tolerant orchid? And orchid that's most attractive to hummingbirds? Poor Africa will never place in that last event! Well... they do have Disas... but there aren't any terrestrial orchids allowed in the OO!

Lots of accusations of doping? Testing for miracle grow? DNA testing for genetic purity?

Genetic purity is overrated?

As interspecific gene flow is frequent and the new lineages were able to backcross, species cohesion is difficult to accept in orchids. Wherever lays the definition of species boundaries, it is no doubt questionable in orchids making it difficult to establish natural entities. - Yesenia Vega, Isabel Marques , Sílvia Castro, João Loureiro, Outcomes of Extensive Hybridization and Introgression in Epidendrum (Orchidaceae): Can We Rely on Species Boundaries?

What allows EC to make any real progress in the race to Canada? It's the fabulous outliers. Progress depends on difference. More difference means more progress.

Deng Xiaoping was fond of saying that it didn't matter whether the cat was black or white... what mattered was whether it caught mice. Lots of people will probably freak out if I suggest that we (ie you!) deliberately introduce hybrid ECs to the wilds of the mid-Atlantic coast. But nature doesn't care whether an orchid is a species or a hybrid. If nature cares about anything it's survival of the fittest.

Yes, change is the basic law of nature. But the changes wrought by the passage of time affects individuals and institutions in different ways. According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself. Applying this theoretical concept to us as individuals, we can state that the civilization that is able to survive is the one that is able to adapt to the changing physical, social, political, moral, and spiritual environment in which it finds itself. - Leon C. Megginson

Plants don't have a crystal ball. They can't predict exactly how their environment is going to change. Plants can't predict global warming or cooling or drying or wetting. Orchids aren't an exception to this rule. What makes orchids exceptional is that they are really good at hedging their bets. Orchids are really good at producing lots of seeds. A single seed pod can contain a million seeds. Each seed is a different bet... so a million seeds is a lot of different bets. It's a given that all these different bets can't be equally good. Just like ideas can't all be equally good...

Individual decision making is closely connected to creativity not because all choices are excellent, but because they constitute a broad field out of which the best responses can emerge. If we wished to establish a connection to Darwinian ideas, we could say that the wide spectrum of decisions is similar to the field of the spontaneous variations of living things from which the pressure of natural selection preserves only the most apt. Without such experimental structures and behaviours, responses remain stagnant and life sinks under the weight of institutionalised routine. Freedom multiplies actions and ideas, some of which turn out to be brilliant and others fundamentally flawed. The important fact, however, is that few if any of them could have occurred under conditions of enforced conformity. To leave people alone with their projects is to permit - even to encourage - the exercise of private imaginations. - John Lachs

It's a bad idea to facilitate the hybridization of EC? Because EC's hybrids will be less adaptable to change? Or because they will be more adaptable to change?

Yeah, your story is truly sad. But there's no reason that it can't have a happy ending! There's no reason that there can't be a wide variety of epiphytic orchids that are happy to grow outdoors year around in the mid-Atlantic coast.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Hercuthermal Experiment


Last October I purchased a Bpl Golden Peacock (GP) from peaceriverwood... 

This cross was a great find for three reasons...

1. I suspected that it might be hercuthermal (wider temperature grow range)
2. Two of the species (milleri and vitellina) are pollinated by hummingbirds
3. The nodosa theoretically adds some drought tolerance

Here's why I suspected that GP might be a hercutherm...

1. nodosa = intermediate/warm grower
2. milleri = cool/intermediate/warm grower? 
3. vitellina = cool/intermediate grower 

The vendor that I purchased GP from is in Florida so this cross definitely grows when it's warm.  My question was... would it also grow when it's cool?!   Just in case you don't know... I live in Glendale (a few miles east of Los Angeles) and I grow all my orchids outside year around.   

So I decided to perform a little experiment.  I took a piece of wood from a broken down pallet and sawed it in half.  On one half I attached the GP and on the other half I attached a straight nodosa.  I hung both mounts right next to each other and tried to regularly water them early in the day.  For the rest of my plants, minus a few other exceptions, I severely cut back on watering like I usually do when it starts to get cool.

I took a few photos to document the experiment... 

9 Oct 2015

Hercuthermal Experiment

2 Dec 2015

Hercuthermal Experiment

28 Mar 2016

Hercuthermal Experiment

As you can tell from the photos ... there was quite a large disparity in their growth!  The GP put out quite a few roots and a new shoot while the nodosa is just starting to put out its first new root.  I didn't fertilize either orchid but they did receive quite a bit of sun.  

It sure does seem like GP is more hercuthermal than nodosa but... perhaps there's another explanation for the disparity in their growth?  Maybe the GP somehow got more direct sun?  More sun means more heat.  Or maybe the nodosa had already entered into "hibernation" (aka rest mode)?  Or perhaps I talked to GP more than I talked to the nodosa?  

In any case, whether or not GP is truly more hercuthermal than nodosa... it seems clear that GP is willing to continue growing in cooler weather as long as it receives enough water.  For the gazillion previous years that I've grown orchids I was quite happy to severely reduce water when it started to get cool.  My orchids would take a break from growing and I would take a break from my orchids!  Plus, for lots of tropicalish plants... cool+wet = rot.  So, when it's cooler, it's safer to err on the side of a lot less watering and a lot better drainage.    

Aloe Hercules really forced me to reconsider this paradigm.  I don't water my succulents at all when it's even remotely cool but Hercules would keep growing anyways.  It seems logical that what allowed him to do so was... A. being hercuthermal and B. his ability to store water.  On rare occasions when it does rain here in Southern California... he really soaks up and stores the water and uses it to grow during the dry days.

If I hadn't regularly watered the GP would it have continued to grow?  It doesn't seem likely.  But it would have been nice to have been able to confirm this by having a "control" division of GP that didn't receive any supplemental water during the experiment.

Last year at the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate Fall Open House I purchased Epicattleya Carrot Top Katydid (Cattleya sanguiloba x Epidendrum longipetalum).  I wasn't interested in it for hercuthermal reasons... I was interested in it for hummingbird reasons...

8 Nov 2015 

Epicattleya Carrot Top Katydid

Carrot Top (CT) is a real sequential bloomer.  In fact, it's still blooming!  Five + months of blooming isn't too shabby!  Lots of blooms for my buck!

Back in January I noticed that CT's roots were still active.  It hadn't been receiving regular water like the GP and the nodosa... but... it was still potted SBOE style (pot in a pot with rocks).  Usually I mount orchids as soon as I get them... but in this case I had decided that perhaps it was adequately safe in such a well-drained medium.  If I had mounted it though... I wonder if its root tips still would have been active?  I'm guessing that, even though the rock medium was well-drained, it still provided more moisture than a mount without any moss would have.  So if I had mounted CT as soon as I got it... and didn't regularly water it... then I don't think that the roots would have continued to grow.

When I realized that CT was still actively growing... I decided to mount it.  Here's what I saw when I removed it from the outer pot... 

25 Jan 2016

Epicattleya Carrot Top Katydid

Lots of really happily active roots in the middle of winter!

According to the OrchidSpecies website, Cattleya sanguiloba is a cool grower and Epidendrum longipetalum is a cool to cold grower.  So CT is definitely a cool grower... and since it's from the SBOE... I'm guessing that it's also an intermediate grower as well.

In this case... there are two causes for CT's active roots in the middle of winter...

1. It's a cool/intermediate grower
2. It received enough water to grow

GP and Hercules are pretty much in the same boat.  The difference is that Hercules doesn't seem to need any supplemental water.

From my perspective... Hercules is the standard that all orchids should be measured against.  All orchid crosses should be made with Hercules in mind.   And hummingbirds.   Hummingbirds should be kept in mind as well!

So I've been keeping an eye out for other vitellina crosses and have managed to find a few others...

Here's a recent picture of the third one in bloom...

Hercuthermal Experiment

It would have had more flowers on it but I removed them to collect the pollen.

Out of the four orchids on that list, the last one (Laerianchea Orange Planet) is my most recent find and the one that I'm most excited about.  This is because this cross (OP) is closer to Hercules and hummingbirds than the other three are.  Guarianthe aurantiaca is pollinated by hummingbirds and Laelia rubescens is a warm grower and drought tolerant.  But is OP closer to the Hercules/hummingbird standard than GP is?

OP arrived in a small pot filled with New Zealand Sphagnum moss.  I placed the pot in a container of water to fully hydrate the orchid and the moss.  Then I carefully unpotted the orchid and used a tweezers to carefully remove all the moss that was near the new growth that was just starting to emerge.  I used fishing line and my patented (not really) slip knot technique to tightly attach the orchid and the moss to a mount (cut from a pallet)...

Laerianchea Orange Planet

OP is not yet blooming size and I'm particularly impatient for it to grow!  So I added a pouch to hold slow release fertilizer granules (Osmocote).  The pouch is made from shade cloth and I used a couple water bottle lids as placeholders.  This is my first time trying this technique but my friend Dave has had some really great results with it.  He uses little plastic baskets to hold the fertilizer pellets.  We both got the idea when we visited an orchid grower in Malibu.... but Dave actually decided to give it a try.

It's invariably the case that tightly attaching an orchid to a mount will wound the orchid to some degree.  These wounds are susceptible to pathogens/rot.  Usually it's not a problem though if the orchid is happy enough.  But since I'm super excited about OP I decided to play it really safe.  For the past three days I've kept the orchid completely dry in my garage under lights.  The weather is still a bit on the cooler side and I wanted to make sure that any wounds on OP are completely healed before I put it outside and give it a good soaking.

In addition to purchasing some vitellina crosses... I also purchased the species... which is just starting to bloom...

Prosthechea vitellina

I've wanted to purchase it for the longest time but the consensus seemed to be that it really isn't a fan of the heat.   So what changed?  The hummingbirds talked me into buying it.  I think I'm becoming more and more susceptible to their influence.  Hopefully I'll be able to keep vitellina alive!

Back in February I saw that another vendor on eBay was also selling GP at a reasonable price.  He even had 10 of them for sale.  So on Feb 26 I shared a link with the Epiphyte Society of Southern California on Facebook.   But the GPs didn't sell like hot cakes!  Well... the ESSC had less than 30 "likes" back then.  So on Mar 3 I shared the link with the Orchid Society of Southern California.   The OSSC has over 2000 likes... but the GPs still didn't sell like hot cakes!   Right now there are still 6 GPs for sale.

So here I am!   Making my case!  Showing some evidence!  Offering some logic!  Trying to increase the demand for hercuthermal orchids.  And hummingbird orchids.  And drought tolerant orchids.   And sequentially blooming orchids.   Orchids that are more like Hercules and better for hummingbirds really should sell like hot cakes!

Let's think about the long-term goal.  Here's a picture of my street...

Washingtonia robusta

None of these palms have orchids growing on them.   Should they all have orchids growing on them?  I sure think so!  The hummingbirds sure think so too!  Hopefully you will agree with us!

I suppose I could buy the six remaining GPs and then ask my closest neighbors for permission to attach them to their palms.   They might want to know who would be responsible for watering them.  Me?!  It's a given that my neighbors would be more inclined to give their permission if I offered to water the GPs.  And I suppose I could walk up and down my street with a super soaker in my hands and a couple more slung over my shoulders.  Or I could program a drone to water them for me?

The ideal orchid wouldn't require any supplemental water.  I could just go around my neighborhood attaching it to palm trees without ever having to worry about watering!  Each orchid that I attached to a palm would provide lots of color and interest for humans and lots of food for hummingbirds.

My experiment doesn't definitively prove that progress can be made in this direction.  But hopefully it will help generate interest in the possibility of progress!

What can you do if are interested in hercuthermal and/or hummingbird and/or sequential blooming and/or drought tolerant hybrids?

1. vote for these types of hybrids... HybridizeThis
2. dollar vote for these types of hybrids

Hybridizers aren't mind readers.  So if you want orchids that are substantially better, then you have to communicate your preferences to hybridizers.  You have to let them know that you want orchids that come as close as possible to meeting the Hercules/hummingbird (HH) standard.  The more hybridizers there are trying to meet the HH standard... the more fabulous outliers we will be able to grow.