Angraecum leonis

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Growing Angraecum Orchids Using Semi-Hydroponic Techniques

       "This guest post was written upon my request by Professor Chris Johnson from the University of Utah.  Dr. Johnson has a passion like so many of us; orchids.  This post addresses his issue regarding the watering of various genera of orchids when he has to travel as much as he does.  A fair amount of those orchids being Angraecums.  Keep in mind, doing the research and testing with one or two plants in the beginning rather than your entire collection should cut the mortality rate to a minimum.  What works for one may not work for another."  Tom K

       After I found Tom's great Angraecum orchid blog and the related Facebook page, I sent Tom a few questions regarding Angraecum culture and made several posts to his blog.  One day I was re-potting some Angraecum magdalenae seedlings to larger pots and I sent Tom a photo (Figure 1) of one of the seedling's root systems growing in semi-hydroponic media.  After seeing the photo, Tom thought that other folks growing Angraecums might be interested in learning more about growing them (and other genera) in semi-hydroponics.

(Figure 1) Angraecum magdalenae root system grown semi-hydroponically

       I started growing orchids the way I suspect most people have.  I'd purchase a wonderful orchid at the grocery store; but I was unable to get it to bloom again.  I starting reading about orchid culture on websites and in books and figured out that our very dry climate in Salt Lake City was not optimal for most orchids.  I decided to purchase an orchidarium, which is basically a Wardian case in which one can control temperature, humidity and air flow.  You can purchase (or build) one to suit your orchid needs and budget.  My first orchidarium is shown in Figure 2.

(Figure 2) First orchidarium containing traditional potted orchids

       As you can see, at this point, all of the orchids are potted in traditional media and plastic pots.  After having significant success in growing orchids in my orchidarium, I purchased a second and eventually a third.  I proceeded to build a greenhouse to hold my expanding collection of mostly fragrant orchids including Angraecums, Cattleyas, Dendrobiums, Lycastes and Zygopetalums as well as other genera.  As my collection grew, I realized that the various orchids had different culutal needs, and in particular, different watering schedules.  
       For my job as a Professor of Computer Science and director of a large research institute, I have to travel both nationally and internationally multiple times a year.  There was no practical way I could keep up with so many orchids with so many different watering needs given my travel schedule.  Fortunately I happened upon an article in the November 2006 American Orchid Society's Orchids magazine titled "No Longer a Killer" by Charles Rhodes ( ).  
       In the article Charles describes using a technique called semi-hydroponics created by Ray Barkalow; that can be used to grow most genera of orchids.  Barkalow developed the technique in part because he had a busy travel schedule similar to mine and needed an easy way to water all of his orchids at the same time.  Ray maintains a wonderful website dedicated to using semi-hydroponics to grow orchids ( )  which I devoured.  I then started experimenting with semi-hydroponics myself.
       One main feature of semi-hydroponics is that instead of using an organic potting medium such as bark or sphagnum moss it relies on an inert clay aggregate media called LECA (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate).  There are various brands of LECA, the most popular being Hydroton and PrimeAgra.  The LECA won't decay over time like bark and moss and so provides a stable medium, maintaining a constant supply of moisture with good wicking capability and providing good air flow to the roots.  According to the technique, I plant my orchids in plastic pots with one or two quarter inch holes drilled about one inch from the bottom of the pot to provide a water reservoir.  I water them by filling up the pot to the top with water then allowing the pots to drain.  The frequency of watering is determined by the season, temperature and specific genera of orchid (as with all orchid potting materials).

(Figure 3) Angcm. magdalenae growing semi-hydroponically 

       In Figure 3, Angraecum magdalenae is potted in a plastic pot with PrimeAgra LECA media.  A quarter inch hole has been drilled one inch above the bottom of the pot.  You will also notice the quarter inch black tubing with a flow valve.  All of my orchids are watered (pots filled to the top and allowed to drain) using an automatic watering system shown in Figure 4 (details for a watering system can be found at ).

(Figure 4) Automatic watering system
       I have had a lot of success growing a number of Angraecums in semi-hydroponics as you can see in the photos at the bottom of this post.  If you are looking for an easier way to grow Angraecums and other genera, you might want to try semi-hydroponics.  Be sure to understand the needs of your orchids and do extensive research regarding this technique.
       Once the orchids are  well established, they will grow very well.  Re-potting is simple due to the fact you can just lift the plant from  the old pot, place it in the new container and fill the void with additional LECA.  I have orchids growing in small three inch pots all the way up to plants growing in eighteen inch pots using the semi-hydroponics.
       One of the most important considerations when moving orchids that have been growing in traditional organic media to semi-hydroponic LECA media is timing.  You want to make sure there is new root growth on the plant before transferring it to LECA, as when transitioning an orchid from any type of  growing medium to a considerably different type (or even from the same medium if the old has decayed, as the medium properties will be significantly different between old and new).  It takes a while for the plant rootss to adapt to the new medium.  Here  are two good links that describe the process of moving orchids from traditional media to LECA: and

Angcm. Crestwood            Angcm. Memoria George Kennedy              Angcm. Longiscott

           Angcm. sesquipedale          Angcm. Lemforde White Beauty            Angcm. magdalenae

       "Professor Johnson has spent a considerable amount of time doing research as well as experimenting in perfecting this technique for himself.  Be sure to follow suit if deciding to try semi-hydroponics with your orchids.  I stress again; what works for one grower may not work for you"  TomK

Saturday, November 1, 2014

First Time Bloomers (Part 2)

       This is the second group of "First Time Bloomers" to be posted.  As I said earlier, I will post new Angraecoid plants as they bloom for the first time.  On occasions, I may show a comparison of a mature plant to that of a plant in flower for the first time.

Angraecum Memoria George Kennedy is a hybrid that was registered with the RHS in 1981; the originator was D. Nail.  The seed parent is Angcm. eburneum ssp. giryamae while the pollen parent is Angcm. eburneum ssp. comorense.  Each sub-species is a variation of Angcm. eburneum.  One of the traits that stands out is that of the nectary (spur); it resembles that of the pollen parent; close to a half inch longer than the traditional Angcm. eburneum.  Another trait that is dominant in the hybrid is the nonresupinate uppermost lip; about a half inch to three quarters of an inch larger than the seed parent.  This is one of four plants that is grown in 100% red lava rock (medium to coarse sized pcs. allowing for fast drainage and plently of room for the root system to develop).  It receives a range of bright diffused sun light that measures 2500 FC to 4000 FC year round.  The amount of water the plant is given varies depending upon the time of year.  Summer watering is every other day and what ever rain it receives late spring through early fall.  Once temperatures come down into the upper 70s, water is reduced to every three to four days.  Angcm. Memoria George Kennedy doesn't appear to have a dormant period so I fertilize every week throughout the year.  I have observed an extremely fast development in the root system where the roots will begin to grow outside of the pot or basket; be sure to prevent those roots from attaching to anything around the plant.

 Angraecum leonis, this individual plant is the Madagascar variety; the other variety is from the Comoros Islands and can be more than double the size (see the post dated February 25, 2013, Angraecum leonis [Size Identifies]).  Angcm. leonis, no matter the variety usually will show you when there is a lack of water reaching the plant.  When the plant is young, its root system hasn't really reached any length.  Leaves that show a sign of wrinkling is a warning that the plant is under stress for lack of water.  It is imperative that you watch younger plants for this sign.  A strong indication of a healthy root system is the thickness of the leaves; moisture is stored in those leaves where carbohydrates are produced to nourish the plant.  The Madagascar variety usually has leaves that are 2 to 3 times thicker. A trait common due to the lack of rain in the region.  The Comoros variety receives a large amount of rain and will be more than twice the size as mentioned.  As either variety of the plants matures, it will start to produce an aerial root system (in a natural habitat, the root system secures the plant to the branches and limbs and provides more moisture and nutrients).

  Aerangis mystacidii X Aerangis decaryana; registered in November, 2012 by Sarah Waddoups (congrats Sarah), the originator was Klinge Orchids.  The above images were the first blooms from October 2013.  The plant is mounted to a 4 x 6 inch (10x15cm) cork slab.  It receives 1,800 - 2,500 FC of medium light daily.  It is watered every morning in South Florida's 10 month warm season and very often misted late afternoon if temperatures are in the upper 80s or higher.  Watering is cut back to every other day throughout most of December and January.  The plant receives fertilizer every week through the warm season and every two weeks during the two cooler months in Winter. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

First Time Bloomers

       One of the amazing things about being an orchid hobbyist is watching the various plants blooming for the first time.  I personally will have up to a half a dozen of the same plant in various types of culture.  I will pot in clay and in baskets using different mediums and mount the plants to a selection of materials; keeping records of the growth stages and eventually photographing the first blooms that appear.  I am often asked about the size of a plant before it blooms for the first time.  That answer varies depending upon the genera and species of the individual plant.  This post will show what I have experienced in the last six months with some of the Angraecoids that are in my collection.

Neobathiea perrieri, the flower is about 2 inches (5.1cm) high, 1.5 inches (3.9cm) wide and the nectary    is 4 inches (10cm) long;  the plant is mounted to a small cube of cork that is about 2.5 - 2.75 at its widest.  The plant itself is compact and barely reaches 2 inches (5cm) high with leaves that can be 4 inches (10cm) long.  Watered every morning and late afternoon when temperatures are above the low eighties (27 degrees C); light is now stronger than 1,500 fc and air movement is steady.

Angraecum Longiscott is the Angraecoid that started it all.  My first bloomed in the summer 0f 2000.  The above plant is one from a batch I obtained from H & R Orchids about two years ago.  This plant is nearly 15 inches (38.2cm) tall with the stem reaching 9 inches (23cm) long.  The leaves are 8 - 10 inches (20.5-25.5cm) long.  Average flower width is 2.5 inches (6.3cm), the vertical measurement is 4.75 inches (7cm), the nectary is 8 inches (20.2cm).  The above plant is potted in a 6 inch (15cm) clay pot with a medium to coarse coconut husk material; it is watered every other morning when temps are above the low eighties (28 degrees C) and every third to fourth day when below 80 degrees F (26.5 degrees C) and receives direct sunlight until about 12pm and then the light level drops to about 2,500 fc for the remainder of the day.  As long as the flowers are protected from the elements, they can last 5 - 6 weeks.  FRAGRANT!

Aerangis mystacidii, the image on the left is just now starting to bloom.  It is a plant that was a part of a group I obtained two years ago.  The image on the right is that of a plant that bloomed a year ago for the first time.  Although they were from the same group of seedlings, the first blooming of each plant was a year apart.  Each are mounted to a cork slab that is 5 x 3 inches (15x7.6x3cm) in size.  These plants are watered daily and when temperatures are 85 degrees F (29.5 degrees C) or above will get watered in mid to late afternoon.  They receive about 1,200 - 1,500 fc.  These blooms will last about 10 - 14 days.

As more first time blooms appear, they will be added to this post.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Variations of Angraecum Lemforde White Beauty

       I started growing Angraecum Lemforde White Beauty about seven years ago for the simple fact that I could not get Angcm. magdalenae to bloom.  I had no problem getting Angcm. magdalenae to grow or eventually put out basal keikis.  I could not get them to bloom.  The plant grows in a natural habitat at altitudes of between 4,700 ft. to 6,000 ft. (1,433m-1,830m) and temperatures have nearly a 20 - 25 F (9-11 degrees C) difference during the day compared to night time.  It is my opinion through observation and experience that Angcm. magdalenae is not a heat tolerant orchid (it is usually described as an intermediate to cool growing plant).
       I chose Angcm. Lemforde White Beauty because the shape of the flower was so similar to that of Angcm. magdalenae.  Listed by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) as the seed parent while Angcm. sesquipedale is listed as the pollen parent.  Angcm. Lemforde White Beauty was registered in 1984 and the originator was Lemfoerder Orchids.

Two entirely different Angcm. Lemforde White Beautys

       Regarding this post, here lies the issue; I photographed what was labeled as Angcm. Lemforde White Beauty at the Miami International Orchid Show this past fall (2013).  Due to the flower's shape, I was confused as to what the plant really was.  Traits that I had become accustomed to were nowhere to be seen in the flower.  My first thought was that the plant had been labeled incorrectly.  The structure of the plant itself appeared to be that of Angcm. Lemforde White Beauty.  It had closely grown alternating leaves coming from the stem with the bottom third of the stem being thick and bulky.  Leaves were seven to nine inches (20-23cm) in length and up to 3 inches (7cm) wide.  It was suggested that the plant may have been that of Angcm. Crestwood.  That was ruled out because there was no plant structure bearing any resemblance of Crestwood traits an the flower was a very pristine white; absolutely no yellow/green tint in the sepals or the petals (the most notable Angcm. Veitchii trait in the Crestwood hybrid).
       After talking to several people about the difference of the two flowers, I looked into the variations that take place in hybridizing.  Once you have a basic understanding of creating a hybrid, the following explanation made the most sense.  
       I found an article published in the American Orchid Society (AOS) Bulletin, January 1974 issue written by Fred Hillerman.  He clearly states "...Jones and Scully sold seedlings of a cross of Angcm. sesquipedale X Angcm. magdalenae, but I have seen no mention of its flowering."  This seedling cross being sold more than fifteen years before Angraecum Lemforde White Beauty was registered.  The seedling cross (seedling #1528) was confirmed by Robert Scully as being sold in 1968.  He goes on to explain that the seedlings were actually from a flask obtained by Jones and Scully (J&S) from Marcel Lecoufle in 1965.  The small seedlings were reflasked from a single bottle to two bottles that were grown out to a salable size and then were sold as a catalog offering in 1968.  At the time, Marcel Lecoufle was considered a major link to the world of Angraecoid genera.
       Nearly twenty years had passed since the initial introduction of the unregistered hybrid between Angcm. sesquipedale and Angcm. magdalenae.  In 1984, the originator, Lemfoerder Orchids, registers the hybrid Angcm Lemforde White Beauty with the RHS.  The parents are officially listed as Angcm. magdalenae as the seed parent crossed with the pollen parent being Angcm. sesquipedale (notice that the parents have been switched from the cross obtained by J&S from Marcel Lecoufle).
       When a grower makes a decision to cross certain plants it is not uncommon that the reason(s) is to increase or decrease the size and shape of the flower, change the color(s) of the flower, lengthen the time the flower will stay in bloom or to change the size and shape of the plant itself as well as other traits.  I recently sent an email to Lemfoerder Orchideenzucht hoping that someone could answer one specific question; "...what was the main reason to creating the hybrid Angcm. Lemforde White Beauty?"  I received a response almost immediately from Dr. Peter Reuter regarding the creation of the hybrid.  He states that the main reason was to decrease the plant size of Angcm. sesquipedale; which was achieved.
       Dr. Reuter also added that the results would be different depending on the quality of plants being used in the hybridizing.  As an example switching the pod parent and the seed parent would change the overall results (I'll address this issue in a moment).  He also wrote that Angcm. bosseri systematically is the same as Angcm. sesquipedale and was used which produced additional variations. 
       In 1986, Fred Hillerman wrote in his book (An Introduction to the Cultivated Angraecoid Orchids of Madagascar, pg. 216); he states that he "...had not yet seen the plant and that it should have been crossed years ago.  That it should also avoid the twist problem suffered by Veitchii type crosses.  Magdalenae will probably greatly reduce the size of the sesquipedale plant and also result in a larger flower."  It is believed that seedlings were available through Angraecum House (Fred Hillerman's business) at the time his book was published.  A project he had started a couple of years prior.
       Upon the release of the Angraecum House 1989 price list/catalog, Fred again mentions Angcm. Lemforde White Beauty.  Listed on pg. 4 of the price list, "...beat us to the punch here but we think our 'Star of Malagasy' FCC X to the best magdalenae we have will give us a real winner.  Our first one has flowered and it;s everything we could have wished for."  I have had conversations with Lisa Hillerman (Fred's youngest daughter) and she remembers her dad crossing Angcm. magdalenae with Angcm. sesquipedale and wanting to create a larger magdalenae type flower yet smaller than the sesquipedale.  The flower type that I have bloomed now for more than six years.
       What I have tried to do here is to show that several people in different parts of the world were hybridizing Angcm. magdalenae and Angcm. sesquipedale to achieve a specific goal.  Each grower according to their own results were successful in their attempts.  Imagine hundreds of offspring from a single cross.  Not all of those plants will appear similar.  Some will carry the traits of the seed parent while others the pollen parent.  With a large portion carrying traits of both parents.
       The illustration below should give you a better understanding as to the distribution of the various flower types and the explanation I was looking for regarding the extreme difference in flower types.

       The white star represents the flower that bloomed in 2008.  Flower shape was similar to that of the seed parent and a larger size.  The sepals and petals were thick at the base and came to a point with a slight curl.  The black star represents the flower from 2013.  The flower shape was very close to the pollen parent yet still had a slight curl rather than reflex to the sepals and petals.  Looking at the illustration, you can now imagine the room for the various offspring and where that offspring may come from regarding the location on the table and the traits the offspring will carry.
       Switching the seed and pollen parents around may change the traits of some of the individual offspring is considered by some as speculative.  There is a lot of room on the table and many of those results would be similar as though they haven't traded ends of the table.  One last note, no matter what the seed or the pollen parent is, the hybrid grex name would remain the same.

       [UPDATE Oct. 27, 2014: I recently rec'd several photographs of an Angcm. Lemforde White Beauty which bloomed for Dr. Chris Johnson, one of the blog's readers. As can be seen in the image above, the form of the flower resembles traits more familiar with Angcm. magdalenae than Angcm. sesquipedale.  Comparing Chris's bloom to mine shows that both plants came from a section of a table closer to Angcm. magdalenae.] 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Terra Cotta / Clay Pipes (Burnt Earth)

       About a year ago, I received a message via the tkangraecums page that I have on Facebook.  It was from a gentleman that was experimenting with orchids growing on terra cotta/clay pipes; somehow referencing burnt earth somewhere along the line.  His name is Edward Brookes and although born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) he resides in Natal, South Africa. 
       I am always mounting various orchids on different types of wood, types of rock, materials I may find in a nursery or items I come across in my own yard.  The terra cotta pipes sounded interesting so I asked him if he wouldn't mind sharing his results and instructions how to do that just that; grow orchids mounted to a burnt earth (terra cotta) pipe.
       Eddie grows various orchid genera and has no idea as to how many are packed into his bit of Eden.  When asked which are his favorite; his prepared response is "the ones in flower at present"!  He admits he suffers from acute and chronic orchid mania and has for decades, not remembering when it all started.  Retired from the nursing profession (a trauma specialist), he has countless hours to spend with his orchids, his pets, bonsai and bromelaids and mixing up batches of what must be the best potting soil ever.  If you were to ask his family about him, their offered response may be "Oh, he;s mad, quite mad".
       I would like to introduce the second resident of South Africa to have an exciting article posted here in the Angraecums blog

            This method of growing orchids is far from being a new concept, having been practiced for generations in what used to be Burma (now Myanmar), for species of Bulbophyllum and Dendrobium.  The method is also being used in Europe with considerable success and great sophistication.
                                                                     terra cotta/clay pipe

            Essentially what one has is a clay pipe, closed at one end and at the other, holes for wires to enable the pipe to hang up.  The pipe with orchid attached is hung up, filled with water & topped up as necessary.  In theory, an elegant and simple method of growing orchids.   I approached a local nursery and they were willing to have samples made for testing.  The pipes we got were some 20 cm (8 inches) long and 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter.  The potter had etched wavy grooves into the clay so that it resembled bark, unetched pipes were also made.
As with any new terra cotta pot, thorough soaking is important before the item is suitable as accommodation for a plant.  The baked clay is remarkably "Thirsty" and will filch water from the plant at high speed.  In addition, the clay contains a lot of mineral salts and other additives utilized in the processing for molding.  None of this will contribute to the suitability of the container as a plant refuge.
I therefore soaked the new pipes for at least one week - my lazy method being to submerge them in my fish pond.  My thinking here was that the water had been thoroughly worked by the aquatic plants and would likely contain a nutrient or two for the benefit of the orchids.  The now wet and hopefully "Enriched" pipes were rinsed and wire attached for hanging after the plant was attached.
I tried various methods with the orchids on these pipes, pads of soaked sphagnum.  Coir fiber wrapped around the pipe and live moss obtained locally from trees in the vicinity.  This moss grows on the trunks and branches of trees where rain water collects long enough to provide moisture for some time.  It is very fine in texture and grows really rapidly during our rainy summers.  Clearly it is well able to withstand dry spells as well, since it is widespread and thus a successful colonizer.  It will also grow strongly as a lithophyte where rocks receive suitable amounts of water.  In practice, I found that this moss dies if kept too wet for long periods.
The orchids I tried on the pipes include miniature Cattleya hybrids, Dendrobium kingianum, Epidendrum polybulbon, Angraecum scottianum, Coelogyne fimbriata, Trias picta.  The only failure amongst this gathering was a mini Cattleya which seemed determined to die no matter what I tried with it.  A, scottianum has prospered on its pipe, with roots rambling happily and growths hanging freely below.  I tied it quite low on the pipe, since the species seemed always to strive for the free swinger lifestyle. E. polybulbon has also been very vigorous, but then it is just like that by nature.
                                                Angraecum scottianum and Coelogyne fimbriata

I refill the pipes when they have dried out - this varies greatly from pipe to pipe, some remaining wet for a good period, others drying within days.  My tree frogs seem to enjoy siesta in these pipes, and are most discommoded when I unwittingly drench them as they snooze down inside the pipes. Fertilizer is applied only to the outside of the pipes.  I found that leaching and buildup of salts on the clay surface to be a real problem.  I am sure that drenching with distilled water or reverse osmosis water would allay this nuisance.  I never pour fertilizer into the pipes, although this would seem to be a good method. The evaporation and salt build up on the clay surface would surely result in burned roots.
This technique offers enormous opportunity for further development, larger pipes, wide oval cross section shape to offer a broad surface, horizontal pipes closed at both ends with an opening mid-way in the length, ball shapes, standing instead of hanging pipes -  and so on and so on.
Thus far I'm pleased with the results, the wetter pipes for plants needing cool moisture at their roots, drier pipes for those so disposed.  I have found that sphagnum moss is unnecessary and even a hindrance to root attachment.  Coir wrapping is suitable, but rots rather too rapidly.  My live moss has completely covered the wet pipes, looks great and the orchids thereon seem happy (Trias and E. polybulbon) Den. kingianum is very successful and can be dried out to flower profusely after its rest.
Obviously fertilizer is very important on this form of mount.  I am in favor of variety - organic for preference, very dilute and being sure that the entire outside of the pipes are drenched.   A problem yet to be encountered; how to deal with this form of mount when the plant needs a bigger pipe!!  The roots attach so firmly into all the etched grooves and grow right around and down inside the pipes. I hand this dilemma in waiting to the good members who read this article.  Various species of Mystacidium are found naturally in our area and I am keen to try growing these exquisite orchids on a pipe. Being a protected species here, I shall have to wait for a legal specimen to be available.  Here again, I hope to inspire a reader to undertake the project.
            I hope this account will set Angraecum devotees to seeking and creating all manner of burnt earth vessels and succeeding mightily in cultivating their piped orchids.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Angraecoids of South Africa

       Over the last fourteen years, I have had the opportunity to meet numerous people from all parts of the globe that have a passion for Angraecoids.  Meeting some in person and others via the internet.  People such as Joyce Stewart, Johan Hermans and Bob Campbell; authors of "Angraecoid Orchids, Species from the African Region".  Sarah Waddoups, the founder and CEO of the Angraecoid Alliance.  An organization dedicated to the in-situ and ex-situ conservation of Angraecoid genera.  Lisa Hillerman, the youngest daughter of Fred Hillerman, author of "An Introduction to the Cultivated Angraecoid Orchids of Madagascar"; she has shared so much of her father's knowledge and photographs from his trips to Madagascar in the 1970s.  Craig Morell, the horticulturalist from Pinecrest Gardens in Miami, Florida; not only did I spark his interest in Angracoids; but the knowledge I picked up from him is priceless.  Alan Koch and Robert Fuchs, respected growers and accredited American Orchid Society (AOS) judges.  The list goes on and on.
       At this time, I'd like to introduce to my readers, Etienne Bosman (I met Etienne via this blog and the Facebook page).  An orchid hobbyist that is very good at what he does and resides in South Africa being surrounded by the Angraecoid genera.  The plants that are sought after for culture in our green houses in just about all corners of the world.  This guest post will hopefully be the first in a series both he and I will be working on throughout the year.  Sharing knowledge of both the natural habitats and cultures from the southern and the northern hemispheres.  Please welcome Etienne Bosman.

       "And I have thought, that as orchids are universally acknowledged to reank amongst the most singular and most modified forms in the vegetable kingdom, the facts to be presently given might lead some observers to look more curiously into the habitats of our several native species."  
                                                                     Charles Darwin  

       And so I did,, looking more curiously into the habitats of our several native species.  I must say it did take some time to do just that.  Unlike most of the Angraecoid growers around the world; I am fortunate enough to be living in an area that numerous Angraecoids call home.

Etienne Bosman

       Just 350 km north from Pretoria in the Limpopo Province, South Africa; lays the Magoebaskloof Pass.  One of the great classic passes of Limpopo and one of the most scenic passes in the country.  This pass takes you from the High Veld (Escarpment) to the Low Veld traveling in a northeastern direction; descending 446 vertical meters from a summit of 1400 m ASL.


        Magoebaskloof is part of the Limpopo Mistbelt forest; and very often, due to thick mist, the indigenous forest will not be readily visible while driving through the pass.Mistbelt forests are confined to higher altitude, soll, southern slopes of mountains.  This provides reduced radiation and longer lasting moisture on the forest floor.  These aspects combined with the temperate climate provides ideal growing conditions for orchids.


       The Limpopo Mistbelt covers a large area with vast geological differences, from the cool escarpment and upper mountain plateau to the warm and humid low veld.  The forest's typical landscape is undulating plateau , steep slopes, gullies and valleys comprising a total area of 19204ha (made up of state forests as well as small forest patches of private land owners).  Most of the annual rainfall varies from 1800mm at higher altitudes to 600mm at lower altitudes.  At altitudes above 1050m where mist is frequent the epiphytes rely on fog and mist which create the high humidity.

Georges Valley

       My passion for South African orchids started when I befriended Callie and joined the Wolkberg Orchid Society.  The Wolkberg Orchid Society was established in 1982, with a mere eleven members.  This was the first orchid society  ever to be established north of Pretoria.  Our society is still rather small only reaching 30 members in the last year or so.  A handful, about five, including our president Dr. Sarel Spies (who is a qualified SAOC judge), are indigenous orchid fanatics, explorers and vastly knowledgeable; properties I desire to attain. Our society president regularly encourages us to explore whenever and find whatever we can; which we do on a regular basis.  All of us know the easy to access locations that makes it handy to pop and appreciate the plants when in flower.  But we prefer the lesser known, and for us it is with great excitement to select a forest patch and go exploring and see what we could find.
       Our club has discovered species that were unknown to occur in our area, also finding new locations of species thought to be rare.  In my early days I would point at almost anything and shout "ORCHID!" which would draw laughter and jest; but always quickly followed with educated corrections.  It took some time for my eyes to adjust to spotting the orchids I was so eagerly seeking, but I never became discouraged.  At one stage my orchid hunting became so obsessed that my insurance company wanted to increase my insurance rates for risky driving.  We would be driving and I would spot something in my peripheral vision, I would instantly slam on the brakes with little or no regard to what might be coming up from the rear (they have eyes and can see me braking, can't they?).  My partner would always illicit and untrustfully respond, "I'll just be a minute" while fleeing the vehicle with my binoculars and machete; which is always at hand.


       Within a 150km radius in which we live, we have found eighteen Angraecoid species.  In the upper mountain plateaus, you can find Angcm. pussilum, Angcm. sacciferum, Angcm. chamaeanthus, Mystacidium gracile, Mystacidium flanaganii, Mystacidium venosum, Mystacidium braybonae and Margelliantha caffa.  These can often be spotted by their conspicuous roots; which are more visible than the plant itself.  When not in flower, some of the mentioned species can be difficult to differentiate from each other.  When found in large numbers together, (or even just a single plant in flower) they still tend to take your breath away.  Angraecum conchiferum tends to grow in clumps on the bigger branches.  When in flower the tiny flowers hang in mid-air away from the plant with the spurs dangling in the breezes.

  Mystacidium braybonae

       In the warmer riverine forests and the more humid low veld, Jumellea walleri can be found high-up in the canopies, often forming huge clumps, more than often growing together with Acampe pachyglossa.  At a much lower level you will find Aerangis somalensis and Aerangis mystacidii in deep shade.  The distinction between Aerangis somalensis and Aerangis mystacidii is sometimes debated; but they are regarded as two distinct species.  Aerangis verdickii grows in hot valleys in exposed conditions that can withstand long periods without rain; to which it has adapted through very fleshy leaves and very thick roots.  You will also find Tridactyle tricuspis and Tridactyle bicaudate; Cytorchis arcuate and Cytorchis praetermissa.  Cytorchis arcuate often grows lithophytically as well as an epiphyte; it is more widely distributed and more adaptable; but always in subtropical forest patches.

Callie Wagenaar

       Lastly, the emblem of the 21st World Orchid Conference held here in South Africa... Angraecum stella africae; which is threatened with extinction in South Africa.  Only two locations are known, both in Limpopo, with speculation about more locations making the rounds.  It needs serious protection.
       All of the orchids I have mentioned are on the red list.  The red list is the brain-work of the Threatened Species Programme of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).  The Threatened Species Programme is one of the continent's largest collaborative conservation projects to date.  South Africa has become the first mega-diverse county to fully assess the status of its "entire" flora.

Dr. Sarel Spies and Callie Wagenaar investigating a clump of orchids in full sun.

       Over the years we have noticed how locations on private, corporate and state owned properties are getting less and less populated with Angraecoids as well as other orchids due to several serious factors.  Over collection by hobbyist growers and poachers, leaving only the top unreachable branches with mature plants.  Habitat loss due to irreversible conversion of natural vegetation for infrastructure development, urban cultivation and timber plantations.  Invasive alien plants out competing indigenous plant species.  Demographic factors like species that are threatened as a result of high risk population dynamics such as small population size, poor breeding success, male-female ratios and changes in species dynamics indicating species that are threatened as a result of disturbances of the natural interactions of native species such as the loss of pollinators.

Aerangis verdickii

       A permit from the Department of Economic Development and the Environment and Tourism offices in the region of concern must be obtained if one wants to collect whole plants or even just a part thereof out of its natural habitat.  Another permit must be obtained from the Department of Agriculture if any virgin land (including forests) are to be transformed.  As far as I am concerned none of these are enforced adequately due to lack of manpower and just because of the huge task involved in doing so.  Some people do hold the opinion that some of the forests are over protected and have lost their vitality; that a large proportion of the trees are just standing there, with no orchid growth and that only the more shade-tolerant species persist and suggests that they need some controlled limited interference to flourish.
       There is some confusion amongst land owners and officials of what "virgin land" is and suggest that the policy must be further refined.  This confusion leads to landowners that may become unwilling to collaborate in conservation of indigenous tree species and forest development on their land because of the potential to be constrained in their actions in the future.  The only way to protect the indigenous orchids of South Africa (and the world) is through education.  Educating the public and landowners, with the hopes of grating conservation-conscious and to protect rare plants on their land.  The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc), has championed the cause of wildflower protection and conservation.  Through conservationand educational programmes, projects and initiatives via branches around the country.

Angraecum conchiferum

       Sadly, many people think that the indigenous orchids would look better in there greenhouse than in nature.  It has happened various times that we take visitors to the locations of rare plants and six months later; upon a return visit to the same location we would find nothing left.  For this reason alone, we are forced to keep these locations a very closely guarded secret.  For me personally, there is nothing as beautiful as to observe the indigenous species in their natural habitat.  I want to share that thought with fellow orchid lovers.

Article References:
* Field Guide to the Orchids of Northern South Africa and Swaziland, by Douglas McMurtry, Lourens
   Grobler, Jolisa Grobler and Shane Burns
* Angraecoid Orchids, Species from the African Region, by Joyce Stewart, Johan Hermans and Bob
* Dr. Coert J. Geldenhuys, Forst Ecologist, Extraordinary Associate Professor in Forest Science at 
   Stellenbosch University
* Dr. Bronwyn Egan, Curator, Larry Leach Herbarium at University of Limpopo
* Dr. Sarel Spies, Wolkberg Orchid Society
* The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)
* The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc)
* Photographs by Herbert Starker and Etienne Bosman