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Orchid seeds behave like mushroom spores

January 12, 2013

First: thank you Lanta Orchid Nursery and Orchidgarden Khaolak in southern Thailand for a generous donation to the Orchid Ark! We should also acknowledge that these orchid lovers sell legal botanical orchids in flasks, a cheap and convenient way to bring interesting native orchids to your garden without depleting the forests. They have also sent us three boxes with orchids to be used in our seed production program.

On the theme of orchid seeds; recently I have studied how an orchid fruit (Bulbophyllum careyanum, Orchidaceae) disperse its seeds. In fact, a huge proportion is dropped just below the fruit.

Bulbophyllum careyanum seed dispersal.Dec.31.2012.72

You can see the light and dust-like orchid seeds on the mango bark, just below the brown and dry orchid fruit. I remember scientific studies on spore dispersal of mushrooms. In that case, the vast majority of spores fell immediately below the mushroom cap or within the immediate vicinity of the fruitbody. It seems only a fraction of orchid seeds or mushroom spores travel far, but of course extreme events such as storms may change that. However, this time of the year we rarely have storms, and the limited long-range dispersal may explain the limited geographical distribution ranges of some species.

In addition, orchid seeds need the symbiosis with a fungus to obtain enough carbohydrates for growth until it can make its leaves, and it needs a special insect for its pollination. Which one is largely unknown to science. These factors explain the fact that although an established epiphytic orchid from a garden centre can grow on concrete, plastic or any bark, the successful establishment of an orchid seedling demands a very special environment. Seed germination is best obtained in the laboratory or kitchen, but in this case I shall follow the fate of these seeds on the bark.

Bulbophyllum careyanum is a relatively common species in evergreen or deciduous lowland forests of northern Thailand and the Himalayas. A characteristic is the shiny, angular and reddish pseudobulb seen at the top of the picture. The orchid can survive a drought without problems and may even grow on rocks or on the ground. It flowers in the mid rainy season and inspite of an abundance of flowers, there was only one fruit.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 12, 2013 7:21 AM

    Very nice blog!

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