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The succulent raspberry orchid

February 1, 2013

There is a wild Thai miniature orchid with flower heads resembling yellow raspberries, but a closer look at 20 times magnification reveals individual flowers reminding one of sad poodle dogs.

Bulbophyllum xylophyllum.Jan.31.2013.72

The flowers of the ’raspberry orchid’ Bulbophyllum xylophyllum (Orchidaceae) comes in yellow or red. The long, reddish and delicate flowering stalks emerge at intervals along the rhizome (stem). Each flowering head is about one cm across, and each individual flower about 3 mm. The ’ears’ of the ’poodle face’ are the sepals, and the ’snout’ is a pruinose lip (petal). It is frequently blooming during the cool season at Dokmai Garden.

Bulbophyllum xylophyllum fruits.Jan 31.2013.72

We even have two fruits developing, hinting the pollinating insect is present within the garden. Which one is unknown to me, and I can not detect any particular fragrance.

Some 2000 species are grouped in the genus Bulbophyllum, a name meaning ’bulbleaf’, so named after its single-leaved and conspicuous pseudobulbs. To complicate matters, this particular species has no pseudobulbs (or if they still exist they are very rudimentary). There is a creeping rhizome (stem) from which 3-4 mm thick, long-stalked (2 cm) and spatula-shaped leaves (7-8 cm long including the stalk) emerge. They may resemble some types of ferns. The species name ’xylophyllum’ means ’woody leaf’ and they are not flexible like leather, but snap when you bend them. There is a faint fragrance and taste of acidity inside the leaf, and long, viscous, slimy threads emerge when you separate two leaf pieces. Instead of storing nutrients in pseudobulbs and shedding the leaves during the dry season, this species stores nutrients and water in succulent evergreen leaves.

You may find it in monsoon forests in the north and northeast of Thailand, and also in adjacent jungles in Burma, India (Assam) and Bhutan.

A question I received the day before yesterday, when Barry Natusch made a film on orchids for the Orchid Ark, was why we should preserve such tiny orchids which hardly anyone (human) would notice?

One part of the answer is that a forest is not complete without its inhabitants (orchids, butterflies, mushrooms, birds, mammals). A bunch of trees without their companions is nothing more than a plank plantation. Another part of the answer is that plants and mushrooms provide important chemical factories for medicine and other industrial products, and it would be plain stupid to eradicate them instead of exploring them. These are rational arguments. My primary driving force is not rational, but to prevent the suffering I feel when I learn that supreme creations have been bulldozed. Sensibility is a feature of civilization, requiring never-ending educational efforts to keep generations of gentlemen.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell (Precipitation report: last night we received 3 mm of rain. It was terribly windy, Lamphun longan orchards were ruined and the Thai internet suffered a lot, still not fully repaired. Kindly phone us to make reservations: 08-13866244).

5 Comments leave one →
  1. List hasson permalink
    February 1, 2013 5:20 AM

    We would like to visit and spend a few hours/full day with you. Can we have an e mail we can send you a more detailed request?

  2. February 1, 2013 8:06 AM

    Nice blog!

    • Jacqueline Owen-Barraza permalink
      February 2, 2013 3:18 AM

      Enlightening article. I live in S.A., more precisely in Barranquilla, Colombia. I have never seen the brassavola orchid in our mangrove forests. However, I understand that this orchid grows in the mangrove forest in Panama. Is this a native orchid to our mangrove forest or is it exotic ? Thanks.

      • February 2, 2013 9:17 AM

        The Brassavola is a genus of orchid species, encompassing some 18-20 species. A peculiar feature is the presence of one single cylindrical leaf, emerging from a pseudobulb shaped like a pencil. They are indeed native to Central and South America, although there are also many man-made cultivars and hybridizations in the trade. Their fragrance of Citrus is also most appealing.

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