Simond’s mute orchid
Aren’t all plants mute? The orchid genus Cleisostoma literally means ‘closed mouth’ in latinized Greek. The flowers of Cleisostoma look like many other small brownish orchids, but this genus is identified by its tumour-like ‘callus’ blocking the mouth to the spur.
The genus Cleisostoma was coined by the German botanist Carl Ludwig von Blume in 1825. He spent nearly ten years in Java where he part of the time directed the Bogor botanical gardens. In 1829 he became the director of Rijksherbarium in Leiden. The orchid genus Cleisostoma contains over 100 species found in Southeast Asia and Australia.
So who was Simond after which this orchid (Cleisostoma simondii, Orchidaceae) is named? He was originally a physician at the Pasteur Institute but he also worked as a botanist and discovered this orchid. The French botanist Francois Gagnepain (1866-1952) published its scientific species description in honour of Simond. Gagnepain spent many years in Southeast Asia, mainly in Vietnam. Simond’s mute orchid has been found from Nepal and India to Southeast Asia including Thailand. It is native to Chiang Mai, and just began displaying its unusually large flowers (for being a Cleisostoma) at Dokmai Garden.
How do you recognize it from other Cleisostoma? The size of the pink and greenish brown flowers, 1.5 cm, is striking. The lip is triangular and pink, and the spur’s sides are decorated with veins. The orchid plant has erect and terete (cylindrical) leaves, while many other Cleisostoma have leaves hanging down. It prefers evergreen forests but is usually well exposed to the sun.
We do not consider this species acutely endangered since it is fairly common here in the north and is widespread in many countries, but it is still a member of the Orchid Ark.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell