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I have an Iris in my tree!

July 25, 2011

No, although the leaves may resemble the flattened sword-like leaves of an iris, this is a fairy orchid. There are at least 90, perhaps more than 300, species of fairy orchids (Oberonia, Orchidaceae), and all are native to Africa, Asia and Australia. In Thailand there are ca 35 species which grow up in the trees or sometimes on rocks.

The scientific name Oberonia is derived from Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummernight’s Dream’, where Oberon was king of the fairies. The name Oberon goes back to the Merovingians (5th-8th centuries). The scientific name Oberonia was coined by the British Orchidologist John Lindley (1799-1865) in 1830.

Due to their inconspicuous flowers, not many are appreciated as ornamentals. The orchid book from the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden do not treat any fairy orchids. Fairy orchids in general are actually common around Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, but some are endangered.

The flattened sword-like leaves of a fairy orchid are characteristic.

In reality, each flower is 1.6 mm long. You can see them in blossom now at Dokmai Garden. It has been argued these orchids are pollinated by rain, but such a hypothesis would quickly result in colourless and petal-less flowers. Useless traits are quickly lost in nature. Some Oberonia are indeed green or white, but this species is orange, so the pollinator is probably a tiny insect.

Text, photo and finger: Eric Danell

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2011 1:09 AM

    What’s the flower-count on that spike?

    he he…

  2. July 26, 2011 1:43 PM

    Dear Dan,

    You challenged me! Today I detached a 58 mm long flowering spike. Each circle contains 10-12 flowers, and I counted 24 circles on the spike. That means over 250 flowers per spike!

    Eric

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