Skip to content


July 8, 2012

A few years ago we bought a small native orchid labeled ‘Pelatantheria ctenoglossa‘. Last year I was abroad so I never saw it bloom, and this year I just returned to see one flower in blossom, largely thanks to some enthusiastic visitors from Belgium who stimulated me to take a route at Dokmai Garden I seldom use.

I fear the sales lady and also some common orchid books are wrong, but I ask our readers to make comments: I believe this is Pelatantheria bicuspidata (Orchidaceae) because it has a pointed lip tip, not fringed. That does have implications, because the sister species P. ctenoglossum (this is the correct spelling according to Kew) grows in dry savannahs, while P. bicuspidata in much more wet environments. I planted it in the garden in a drier habitat assuming the original label was right. Still, since it blooms it was apparently a good enough position. I selected an east side of a mango tree at eye-level, and not too far from the cacao plants which are watered in the dry season. In nature, the strict habitat preferences are largely due to difficulties in seed germination and establishment. Once you have a fully grown plant from a nursery, it is in fact quite tolerant in accepting substrates and climate.

I saw some more buds so most welcome to see this little flower, only about 1 cm broad. More importantly, if you see this orchid, or its sister species in the wild, kindly report its habitat to the Orchid Ark.

While the original species was described in 1896, this species was described from China in 1951. The wormlike appendage of the lip is supposedly characteristic. The scientific name ‘Pelatantheria’ is a boring name meaning ‘neighbouring flower’. ‘Bicuspidata’ refers to the tip of the lip sometimes being bifurcate. An English name could be ‘knitting grandma’ since the column looks like a bonnet, the lip’s sidelobes look like chubby arms holding something and the lip with its yellow blotch a skirt with an apron. As stated many times before, the scientific name is the only real  and useful international name, but vernacular names are needed to create an interest in orchids with the goal of securing their survival. The situation is alarming as can be seen from yesterday’s article in the Bangkok Post, about politicians illegally encroaching national forests in Surin province to replace the native flora with commercial crops to enrich their private wallets. They even fence their stolen land with barbed wire. In the future we may see signs in national parks such as ‘Keep Out – Stolen Property’.

The green shoot of this orchid is quite characteristic with its short alternating leaves in one plane. The old flowers indicate they form one at a time in the leaf axils.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

2 Comments leave one →
  1. zakjack permalink
    July 8, 2012 10:57 AM

    Hi Eric

    Outside of vernacular names, which are as you say useful for generating interest necessary for survival, what is the best way to start becoming more familiar with the international classification system for plant? For laymen and hobbyists rather than experts. I struggle to remember even the simplest names but I refuse to give up. I expect it will take a long time to build up some grasp of the names and the classification system and I have just begun. What are some good shortcuts? For visual learners? (Docentaries, videos, TV shows, blogs, etc.) I know this is broad but how do you start learning?

    • July 8, 2012 11:41 AM

      That is a very important and interesting pedagogic question.

      Indeed the mass of information and technical terms can be very confusing. The best way of learning is to take a class in basic botany, or join a botanical society. Personally I feel I learn much more in the field where you are amidst the plants in their home environment, rather than in your study with a book. The supervisor/disciple combination is the best pedagogic training.

      As to the pedagogic approach of a class, I believe in beginning with the simplest knowledge, like in physics pretend the class is held in the 17th century, and focus on 17th century experiments and their conclusions, and slowly make a journey through the centuries until we reach today’s views and methods, paving the road for future discoveries. Many classes begin with yesterday’s publication, which may seem totally illogical given the blank minds of the beginners. You do not start a beginner’s class in botany with DNA extraction, you start by picking apple blossom.

      If there is no university nearby, one can always try to find out what literature they use at a renowned university, and then order that literature and study alone. That approach is slower since you have nobody to ask or discuss with.

      If you solely aim at floristics, i.e. you want to be able to identify plants, I should suggest buying a complete flora of your country or state, and then list all the plant families, and start by learning the characteristics of each plant family. Begin with the common ones, such as the rose family, the grass family etc. There will be technical terms, but with a good dictionary and internet you will learn a little bit at a time. Once you can walk about in your neighbourhood and name most plant families, you may want to focus on the species, and for that you need a flora with keys. A key is a series of questions about the plant you hold in your hand. If you answer the questions correctly you will get the name. Always double check with many books. This practice may take months, while walking with an experienced botanist will take an afternoon, since he can tell you on the spot what characters to look for. You need a simple hand lens, 10 x. Make many notes with a pencil in your books, translating the author’s technical language to something you understand. ‘Terete’ seems like an idiotic and superfluous term for ‘cylindrical with a pointed tip’ but after a while of practice that term is as natural as any other word.

      A simultaneous approach is to buy plants from somebody who knows what he is selling. Then you have an identified plant and you can study it and read about it. This is easy in Europe, Australia and North America, but a difficult task in Southeast Asia where most vendors do not know much about botany and only provide catchy trade names.

      I hope this helps you to get started.

      Good luck!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: