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The skywalker is in blossom!

July 23, 2012

I grow a peculiar native Thai orchid in the outdoor shower room at Dokmai Garden: Adenoncos parviflora (Orchidaceae). I have not seen it in bloom for years, probably due to my ignorance, because the small greenish-yellow flower spends a humble and secret life. The current drought* forced me to water at a time when I normally don’t, and watering is a good way of seeing what is going on. That is why I prefer hand watering to automated systems.

Obviously this orchid is not a garden ornamental, and most people would like to know why someone would spend time and money on something you can hardly see, while there are gigantic colourful roses? The answer is love for the original life, remnants of the cradle from which the human species was born. Dokmai Garden is a cathedral, not a beauty contest!

To give this little fighter fame, I spent quite some time trying to come up with a suitable English name. Since it grows high up in the trees in lowland forests of southern Thailand, Burma and Malaysia, and since the 8 mm flower looks like a pilot’s helmet, I thought ‘Skywalker’ would be a suitable name. The aim with a prominent name of a seemingly redundant flower is to create an interest for botany and life in all its forms.

The inability to see anything smaller than a polar bear has been named ‘plant blindness’. I take the opportunity to cite a very interesting horticulture diploma thesis on orchids written by Craig Williams, Kew Gardens. We communicated last year and here is an extract from his diploma thesis which I just published on the Orchid Ark’s website:

In 1998 Wandersee and Schussler defined ‘Plant blindness’ as

“The inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment, leading to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.”

This condition is founded in the brain’s inability to process all the visual information it receives, and so searches ‘for movement, conspicuous colours and patterns, objects that are known, and objects that are potential threats’ (Allen 2003).

Lawler (Pers. comm 22/2/2011) remarked that “‘Plant blindness’ could be a barrier to get visitors to develop an empathy and real interest in plants. Orchids seem to overcome this blindness because of their status in the plant and human world: their aesthetic beauty – shapes, colours, as well as their unique physical characteristics, and clever survival mechanisms that humanise them and make them similar to us in terms of developing and adapting to survive.”

So here is the bold skywalker. It has a faint fragrance of coconut, aimed at its pollinating insect. The genus ‘Adenoncos‘ was coined by Karl Ludwig von Blume in 1825, but I have difficulties translating it. Greek ‘adenos’ means ‘gland’ and ‘onkos’ is ‘tumour’. If you look at the flowering bud it looks like a ‘swollen gland’, but I am frankly uncertain about the meaning. ‘Parviflora’ is a common epithet meaning ‘small flower’. The flower is upside down, i.e. the hood or helmet is the lip. The genus Adenoncos comprises 18 hitherto described species and is only found in Southeast Asia and New Guinea. Many species are likely to die out in silence.

I dedicate this blog to toxicologist Rick Lockwood, the Orchid Society of Middle Tennessee. Rick is an active orchidologist in the orchid forum ‘Slippertalk‘ and a benefactor of Dokmai Garden’s Orchid Ark. He has performed interesting studies on orchid nutrition and I am looking forward to sharing the experience from this generous man.

*Footnote: The current drought in Chiang Mai is possibly caused by an unusually cold northern Eurasian continent, with floodings in Sweden, Russia, China and Japan. Normally the summer heat in continental Eurasia creates a suction of moist winds from the sea, resulting in monsoon rains, but due to the cold that suction has been very weak in June and July. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2012 1:23 PM

    I’m skeptical about this Plant Blindness hypothesis. The blindness we see I suggest is because folk live artificial lives so very far removed from the old ways of living off the wild things in the forest. There are plenty of country folk who are far from blind in the forest and can find almost hidden funghi and spiders to eat and ever so many herbs for food and health.

    • July 23, 2012 1:56 PM

      Indeed, ‘Plant blindness’ only affects some people. A villager sees food where a tourist sees a green wall of danger. Unfortunately many gardeners suffer from ‘Plant blindness’.

  2. July 23, 2012 1:36 PM

    As for the dry weather here cause by the cold and wet Summer further north that sounds plausable but the question to ask is why are we having extreme and unusual weather? The USA has recorded I think over 3000 record summer high temperatures and the heatwave which is killing agriculture continues as this video from documents:

    Extreme weather: Linked to climate change?
    As the US faces high temperatures with raging wildfires and droughts, we ask if this is what climate change looks like.

    Yes dears it is time the media stopped ignoring CLIMATE CHANGE

    • July 23, 2012 2:02 PM

      Yes, hot and cold weather systems seem to occupy different geographical regions different years. I admire people who try to understand complex phenomena such as climate and human psychology. My brain is too poor to grasp chaos and so I focus on weeding instead.


  3. July 23, 2012 3:21 PM

    You are correct to mention that some people have a highly developed ability to ‘see’ plants Ricky, but that does not detract from the theory of ‘plant blindness’, which arose in the USA and deals with the disconnection from the natural environment, that we are seeing more and more where an essential relationship with local flora has been lost. In the quote from Allen “objects that are known” would include plants, fungi etc that someone who forages knows full well are ebible, poisonous, useful, dangerous etc. They are important to those people and so are afforded a higher status when the brain processes the messages it receives.

    • July 24, 2012 8:24 AM

      I meet people who suffer from plant blindness almost everyday at Dokmai Garden. My job is to ‘open’ their eyes.

      One example was a large group of motor bikers stopping by. At first there was only a faint interest in seeing the garden, they were happy with their beers in the restaurant section. A couple of enthusiasts persuaded the others to join, and behold: people were very curious, asking many questions, sharing experience and the person who was most negative at first remarked when we returned ‘this was fun!’.

      I was not aware of the term ‘Plant blindness’ until Craig told me, but I knew straight away what he was talking about. The fastest way of overcoming ‘Plant blindness’ is by walking with somebody with whom you can discuss and share joy.


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