The cuddly cat orchid is in blossom
A common native Thai orchid which do not mind six months of drought is the ‘cuddly cat orchid’ (Trichoglottis dawsoniana syn. Staurochilus dawsonianus, Orchidaceae). English vernacular names are needed to create an interest and concern about native Thai orchids also among tourists and foreign settlers. This vernacular name is derived from the lip looking like a yellow cat’s body stretching its paws for you, and the column which may resemble an animal’s face. An alternative name I have seen is ‘Dawson’s Staurochilus’, but I agree with André Schuiteman at Kew Gardens that the genus Staurochilus is superfluous and so the orchid should remain a Trichoglottis. In any case that vernacular name is not too different from the (obsolete) scientific name.
Since this orchid species was successfully established in the Dokmai Garden monsoon woodland we are now in the process of moving out almost all specimens from the Orchid Ark nursery. Being a strong survivor in nature we do not think this species is in immediate danger in the Thai forests. It is a good beginner’s choice for somebody interested in growing native orchids in his monsoon garden. Simply buy it from a CITES certified dealer, mount it in a deciduous tree and allow it to follow the monsoon cycle, i.e. leave it alone.
Who was the ‘Dawson’ the German orchidologist Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach wanted to immortalize by creating ‘dawsoniana’ in 1868? One source claims it is after Dawson Turner (1775-1858), a botanist. That seems unlikely since that Dawson is a first name. Another source claims the orchid was named after orchid grower James Dawson of Meadow Bank, Glasgow, Scotland. I think it is after Thomas Dawson Esq., an industrialist also from Meadow Bank near Glasgow, whose gardener James Anderson was an orchidologist corresponding with Charles Darwin. In 1868, the same year as ‘dawsoniana’ was coined, James Anderson received the Bateman medal for the greatest number of marks for orchids exhibited at the Royal Horticultural Society (England). “The wonderful Meadow Bank collection was then in its prime…” (From Lewis Castle (1886) Orchids, their structure, history and culture). It is possible that the gardener James Anderson has been confused with his patron Thomas Dawson and so ‘James Dawson’ became a fusion. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know.
Being a father of four I am forced to learn about Pokemon (Japanese cartoon characters) and to me the orchid’s lip and column reminds me of the animal ‘Pikachu’. The colours, morphology and scent (undetectable to the human nose) are aimed at its special pollinating insect, still unknown to science. Since the orchid produces fruits at Dokmai Garden, the insect seems to be present too, although hitherto unknown to us.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell