The skywalker is in blossom!
I grow a peculiar native Thai orchid in the outdoor shower room at Dokmai Garden: Adenoncos parviflora (Orchidaceae). I have not seen it in bloom for years, probably due to my ignorance, because the small greenish-yellow flower spends a humble and secret life. The current drought* forced me to water at a time when I normally don’t, and watering is a good way of seeing what is going on. That is why I prefer hand watering to automated systems.
Obviously this orchid is not a garden ornamental, and most people would like to know why someone would spend time and money on something you can hardly see, while there are gigantic colourful roses? The answer is love for the original life, remnants of the cradle from which the human species was born. Dokmai Garden is a cathedral, not a beauty contest!
To give this little fighter fame, I spent quite some time trying to come up with a suitable English name. Since it grows high up in the trees in lowland forests of southern Thailand, Burma and Malaysia, and since the 8 mm flower looks like a pilot’s helmet, I thought ‘Skywalker’ would be a suitable name. The aim with a prominent name of a seemingly redundant flower is to create an interest for botany and life in all its forms.
The inability to see anything smaller than a polar bear has been named ‘plant blindness’. I take the opportunity to cite a very interesting horticulture diploma thesis on orchids written by Craig Williams, Kew Gardens. We communicated last year and here is an extract from his diploma thesis which I just published on the Orchid Ark’s website:
In 1998 Wandersee and Schussler defined ‘Plant blindness’ as
“The inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment, leading to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.”
This condition is founded in the brain’s inability to process all the visual information it receives, and so searches ‘for movement, conspicuous colours and patterns, objects that are known, and objects that are potential threats’ (Allen 2003).
Lawler (Pers. comm 22/2/2011) remarked that “‘Plant blindness’ could be a barrier to get visitors to develop an empathy and real interest in plants. Orchids seem to overcome this blindness because of their status in the plant and human world: their aesthetic beauty – shapes, colours, as well as their unique physical characteristics, and clever survival mechanisms that humanise them and make them similar to us in terms of developing and adapting to survive.”
So here is the bold skywalker. It has a faint fragrance of coconut, aimed at its pollinating insect. The genus ‘Adenoncos‘ was coined by Karl Ludwig von Blume in 1825, but I have difficulties translating it. Greek ‘adenos’ means ‘gland’ and ‘onkos’ is ‘tumour’. If you look at the flowering bud it looks like a ‘swollen gland’, but I am frankly uncertain about the meaning. ‘Parviflora’ is a common epithet meaning ‘small flower’. The flower is upside down, i.e. the hood or helmet is the lip. The genus Adenoncos comprises 18 hitherto described species and is only found in Southeast Asia and New Guinea. Many species are likely to die out in silence.
I dedicate this blog to toxicologist Rick Lockwood, the Orchid Society of Middle Tennessee. Rick is an active orchidologist in the orchid forum ‘Slippertalk‘ and a benefactor of Dokmai Garden’s Orchid Ark. He has performed interesting studies on orchid nutrition and I am looking forward to sharing the experience from this generous man.
*Footnote: The current drought in Chiang Mai is possibly caused by an unusually cold northern Eurasian continent, with floodings in Sweden, Russia, China and Japan. Normally the summer heat in continental Eurasia creates a suction of moist winds from the sea, resulting in monsoon rains, but due to the cold that suction has been very weak in June and July. Please correct me if I am wrong.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell