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.

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