Orchids and Their Conservation

Orchids and Their Conservation

by Harold Koopowitz


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Expert, up-to-date information on orchid biology, ecology, distribution, destruction, and conservation of these threatened treasures of the plant kingdom.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780881925234
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/14/2001
Pages: 177
Product dimensions: 7.67(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.73(d)

About the Author

Harold Koopowitz is Professor of Ecology at the University of California at Irvine. Previously, he was the Director of the University of California at Irvine Arboretum for twenty years when it specialized in African bulbous and cormous plants. Koopowitz has long-standing interests in the hybridization of a variety of specialist plants, including slipper orchids, daffodils, and clivias. He has traveled extensively to study orchids in the wild, and is diligent in his efforts to encourage discussion about endangered plants. The results of his devotion include numerous scientific papers on orchids, deforestation, and the effects of long conversion on plant extinctions. He is a long-standing member of the conservation committee of the American Orchid Society and a member of the Orchid Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission. Koopowitz is the author of several books on horticulture and conservation, including Orchids and Their Conservation, and is currently editor-in-chief for the Orchid Digest. He resides in Santa Ana, California.

Read an Excerpt

If an orchid has desirable characteristics, such as large and showy flowers, or belongs to a genus where there is intense horticultural interest, the species may be fortunate to persist in cultivation even after the wild populations have disappeared. There are several species that fit this category.

In 1888, H.G. Reichenbach described a species of Laelia that bore large flowers of spectacular deep purple coloration. The specimen bore no locality information and Reichenbach speculated that it might be of hybrid origin, possibly between the two well-known species L. autumnalis and L. anceps. Some forms of the former species approach the depth of color found in the new plant. Nevertheless, the plant was described as L. gouldiana and is still often considered to be a natural hybrid. One problem with the assertion of hybrid status is that the plant has spindle-shaped pseudobulbs with stiff erect leaves, unlike either parent and it is hard to imagine what the other parent that mated with L. autumnalis might have been. In fact, Laelia Autoceps, the man-made hybrid between L. autumnalis and L. anceps, does not resemble L. gouldiana and this also lends skepticism to the hybrid claim.

Despite searches, no known wild specimens of L. gouldiana have been found and the species is considered "probably extinct in nature" (Halbinger and Soto, 1997). The species is thought to have been endemic to the Sierra Madre Oriental and the oldest specimen was recorded from El Chico, a mining town in the State of Hidalgo. Searches in the vicinity of El Chico came up empty handed. But the species still exists. These days L. gouldianacan be found in a semi-feral state near several towns in Hidalgo. The plants have obviously been placed on stone fences and mesquite trees, where they form very large clumps and are said to be quite magnificient when in bloom. But the flowers on all the plants resemble each other fairly closely and people suggest that all are divisions of one single surviving clone. The semi-feral plants bear no seed pods.

While L. gouldiana has been used to make a few hybrids with other members of the cattleya alliance the plants are themselves self-sterile and attempts to breed additional individuals of pure L. gouldiana have been unsuccessful. It appears that the clone must be the last survivor in its species. Nevertheless, the plants are also widespread in cultivation and around the world. The species will linger on provided that it is artificially reproduced.

What had happened to the other plants of this species? Perhaps the population had dwindled down to one surviving plant, which was rescued because it bore attractive flowers. But the vigor and robustness of this last surviving clone suggests that the species had not gone extinct because it was unable to adapt to changing conditions. Was its habitat destroyed? At this point we may never know the real reasons for its disappearance. We will have to be satisfied that at least one clone still exists.

Photo above:Laelia gouldiana 'Purple Majesty' is widespread in cultivation, although it appears to be exinct in the wild.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1Introduction5
Chapter 2What are Orchids?10
Chapter 3Orchids and their Ecology21
Chapter 4Forests and Deforestation33
Chapter 5The Continuing Need for Orchid Species52
Chapter 6Orchids and Ethnobotany66
Chapter 7In Situ Conservation78
Chapter 8Ex Situ Conservation92
Chapter 9CITES and Orchids103
Chapter 10Paphiopedilums and CITES114
Chapter 11The Amateur's Role in Orchid Conservation127
Chapter 12Conservation and Commercialism135
Chapter 13Orchids in Peril145
Chapter 14Going, Going ... Gone?158
Chapter 15Last Words167
Recommended reading174

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