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A black orchid

May 4, 2011

Many flowers such as grasses have no petals at all since they are wind pollinated, and do not need animals for pollination which is often necessary for fruit and seed production. Other flowers are colourless (white) which attracts night pollinators, or they have bright colours to attract day pollinators (birds and insects mainly). Some, like Amorphophallus and Rafflesia, have the colours of a decaying carcass, paired with putrid odours. All these flowers signal ‘food’.

Totally black colours do not seem to fill any function, but such flowers have been selected to mimic an insect. Such morphology is usually paired with fragrances (pheromones) resembling the mate of such an insect, often undetectable by the human nose. Such a flower signals ‘here is sex’, but they cheat the poor insect. One example is the recently described (2002) orchid Bulbophyllum scaphiforme (Orchidaceae). It is native to Indochina including Thailand, but we do not know much about its biology. Here at Dokmai Garden we keep one specimen as a part of the Orchid Ark. Kindly send us any reports of this species (fruiting, pollinators, habitats)!

Text and Photo: Eric Danell

The flowers resemble black hairy flies. They are about 9 mm broad. The Greek word ‘Skaphe’ means ‘boat’, so the latinized ‘scaphiforme’ means ‘resembling a boat’. Look at the flower bud at the top of the inflorescence!

The flattened pseudobulbs (nutrient-storing organs) are characteristic, ca 20 mm in diameter.

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