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A stream of pink orchids

May 19, 2011

Many people, including myself, may argue that young teak trees are quite untidy and not suitable as ornamentals. In the hot dry season of March and April, in some years extending into May, the native deciduous trees stand naked in a barren greyish-brown landscape, charred of fire. What we lack in such situations are the colours of orchids coating the trees adapted to such environments.

We tend to hang the epiphytic orchids in pots in a nursery, while in nature they grow up in the trees. One such wild orchid, with surprisingly beautiful pink flowers formed an masse on drooping flower clusters, is Aerides multiflora (Orchidaceae). It has thick and stiff V-shaped leaves, and like all vandoid orchids it lacks pseudobulbs. It is closely related to Rhynchostylis and has the same beak-like column. The lip in Aerides is 3-lobed and sometimes the side lobes are folded upwards like wings, sometimes folded downwards like in a lip of a European Dactylorhiza.  The lip of Rhynchostylis is more tongue-like.

Flowers or Aerides multiflora may look like many other orchid flowers. The ‘eagle head’ (the beak-like column) puts it among Aerides and Rhynchostylis.

A detached lip of Aerides multiflora seen from the underside. It is clearly 3-lobed and so an Aerides. The lip may be dented or blunt.

When the lip of Aerides multiflora is studied from the side, the spur is just a small (2 mm) white tooth pointing downwards or even slightly backwards.

Other Thai Aerides have prominent horn-like spurs pointing forwards. This is Aerides crassifolia.

Rhynchostylis retusa seen from the side. The flat white spur is very large and points backwards.

Aerides was a name coined by the Portuguese Jesuit and naturalist João de Loureiro (1717-1791) in his work ‘Flora Cochinchinensis’ from 1790. Loureiro spent 30 years (1742-1772) in Cochinchina, the southern part of today’s Vietnam. The Portuguese had Cochin in India and named the second port in Vietnam ”Cochin-China”. Anyhow, the scientific name Aerides is derived from ‘air’, referring to the epiphytic habit up in the trees. Indeed the flowers look like noble mythical birds.

A lesson from Swedish conservation efforts is that if you deal with endangered species, do not show lists of scientific names or lists of boring-looking vernacular names to politicians, use some romantic and positive names. For this splendid orchid, why not use the name ‘The pink jungle eagle’? If you support the Orchid Ark it will contribute to the efforts in keeping it in flight also in the future.

Since Aerides and Rhynchostylis are so similar, and since several species within Aerides are hard to distinguish based on pictures alone, I have here tried to make a key to the Thai species. Kindly try it and then send me comments to improve it!

Column eagle-like: Aerides and Rhynchostylis. The avatar orchid Aerides flabellata does not have an eagle-like column and has been moved to Vanda.

1. Lip tongue-like, spur never pointing forwards…………………………………………..Rhynchostylis 2.

1. Lip clearly 3-lobed, spur often pointing forwards………………………………………………..Aerides 4.

2. Flowering panicle erect…………………………………………………………..Rhynchostylis coelestis.

2. Flowering panicle hanging down……………………………………………………………………………………3.

3. Lip flat, rectangular with a blunt tip……………………………………………. Rhynchostylis retusa.

3. Lip with elevated sides, often triangular with a pointed tip………….Rhynchostylis gigantea.

4. Spur very small (2 mm), pointing down or slightly backwards……………..Aerides multiflora.

4. Spur much longer and pointing forward………………………………………………………………………….5.

5. Lip appears swollen like a balloon due to erect side lobes………………………..Aerides odorata.

5. Lip not swollen……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..6.

6. Flower with two pink stripes running down on each side of the column……………………………..7.

6. Flowers without such stripes………………………………………………………………………………………….8.

7. Flowers yellow and lavender…………………………………………………………..Aerides houlletiana.

7. Flowers white and lavender……………………………………………………………………Aerides falcata.

8. Side lobes of the lip narrowly attached to the main lobe, erect like wings.Aerides crassifolia.

8. Side lobes of the lip broadly attached to the main lobe in more or less the same plane……….9.

9. Leaves 3-5 cm broad……………………………………………………………………………….Aerides rosea.

9. Leaves 1-1.5 cm broad……………………………………………………………………..Aerides krabiensis.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 18, 2013 6:02 AM

    This is a very interesting article on a perenial issue… if you could spare some time, can you take a look at this http://www.greekorchidsociety.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=436&t=10391&p=329774#p329655 which seems to me to be A. rosea (the description and illustration of the type, talks about the truncate leaf tips of A. multiflora, so these were added to the plant in question as pictures). Thank you in advance!

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