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The endangered musketeer orchid in blossom

May 15, 2012

The musketeer orchid (Aerides houlletiana, Orchidaceae) is currently in blossom at Dokmai Garden, Chiang Mai. It is listed in the endangered species list of Thailand and so a valuable part of the Orchid Ark.

The world distribution is limited to northern and northeastern Thailand including Chiang Mai, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia where it grows in dry deciduous dipterocarp forests. At Dokmai garden we grow it in the mango behind the teak house to keep it under close observation. Future seedlings will be transplanted to the dry monsoon woodland.

I propose the English vernacular name ‘musketeer orchid’ which alludes to the bud which looks like a 17th century boot, and to the colourful flowers which may remind one of a colourful 17th century uniform as seen from paintings. The fragrance is like a rose.

When Reichenbach coined the scientific name ‘houlletiana’ in 1872 he had the curator of Jardin des Plantes in Paris in mind: Jean Baptiste Houllet (1815-1890). He collected South American orchids. Various sources refer to ‘M. Houllet’, ‘B. Houllet’ and ‘R. Houllet’. Just as with the case of Mr Dawson behind ‘dawsoniana’, the many variants is an indication of the corruption of internet where facts get distorted and the errors repeated. According to Harvard University index of botanists Houllet used to label his own collections R.J.B. Houllet, or B. Houllet. ‘M. Houllet’ in English texts is probably a misunderstanding of French ‘M.’ for ‘Monsieur’. To avoid that we contribute to the internet confusion, I am most grateful for any suggested factual corrections in any Dokmai Dogma article. A printing error lasts for ever, but we have the power of correcting blog texts rapidly.

The column has a long eagle-like ‘beak’ and the lip is fringed with pink blotches and ear-like lobes with thin pink stripes. The petals and sepals give a yellowish appearance. The green-tipped spur points forward as can be seen from the background flower.

The musketeer boot (flowering bud) of Aerides houlletiana.

The actual orchid plant has prominent leaves and long and thick aerial roots.

The two species Aerides falcata (Lindley & Paxton 1851) and  Aerides houlletiana (Rchb. f. 1872) are very similar. A future DNA analysis in combination with morphological studies of wild strains (if any are left) and their ecology may very well reveal the two taxa are conspecific, and so we are back to Aerides falcata var. houlletiana (Rchb. f.) A. H. Kent (1891). Due to the difficulties in identifying Aerides, I have made a modest attempt to make a simple key to the Aerides of Thailand. May is the time of Aerides with four species currently in blossom at Dokmai Garden (five if you count the avatar orchid Vanda flabellata as an Aerides).

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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