Sunday, December 21, 2008
Twenty years is a long time to live in a neighbourhood and not be visited by one group of people. The scientists, the people who appreciate nature for natures sake and the non-artists are regular visitors to the house. We call each other and talk about things we have seen in the forest or the latest bird to visit. The gardeners come to see the weird plants in flower and to get cuttings. I lost track years ago how many kilos of coffee have been put through the espresso machine for my friendly neighbours who drop in. Not one cup of coffee has passed the lips of an artist in this house. Not because they are not welcome but because they feel there is no need to visit someone who is not 'cool' or in the 'in crowd'. This is an interesting viewpoint that they have. These supposed free-thinking and bohemian artists might get a little bit of enlightenment if they realised what was past the threshold to my house or even in the garden!
The house that I live in is a former artists gallery. Famous Australian artists exhibited their work here twenty years ago. There are some odd spaces in the house that are not really usable; too wide to be a hallway, too narrow to be a room. Even the living room is four times as long as it is wide.The lighting was originally gallery lighting, all halogen spot lights on swivels (now for the most part replaced. The shelves at the far end of the living room are lit. Bookshelves with lights? No, they were for displaying small objet d'art. The walls and shelves are still covered in art but art that I like, not art that the artists up here will ever get a chance to see.
Interestingly, I have always had an interest in art. In 4th grade I was designing and drawing cartoons for a anti-littering campaign. This led on to cartoons figures that were not associated with moral rectitude. When my interest in plants developed so did my interest in botanical art. This led to classes in Bot Art using water colours, pen and ink, pencil and charcoal and even wood block printing. I had the technical skill but not the eye for composition. My shading was beautiful and perspective wonderful but they all looked exactly like they did when they were lying shriveling and dying on the drawing table.
I tried photography. My first camera was an Olympus OM1. A fantastic camera with an incompetant photographer. Very occasionally the stars would come together and a stunner would stare back at me from the freshly printed photograph I actually took. Unfortunately, a strike rate of 1 in 500 - 1000 is not all that good. I persisted but didn't improve. Have you heard the story about men? They will play with a gadget but never read the manual? That was me. To be fair, I did read the manual but it was beyond me. I know, why admit incompetance when you can blame the equiptment.
Things changed when there was a reason to take pictures. Being the slightly pedantic (read as scientific) person that I am, there was a need to keep photographic records of what I was recording in writing. The pictures were better but still looked as though they were taken for a plant catalogue. That was until Dr. Sue came along. Sue is actually a university lecturer in biomedical sciences but she should have been a professional photographer. Actually, she doesn't want to be a professional photographer, hers is purely a pursuit of pleasure through the use of photography. Thankfully, we are good friends so when she said my photos were, well, S__t, I didn't take it bad at all. She wasn't that harsh but you would be well aware what it is like to be told something you think is wonderful is not. It hurts even worse when it comes from someone you respect.
Solution to this sorry and depressing situation? Chuck the camera in the river and never take another photograph? Sounded a good idea but the cost of the camera stopped me from doing that. Sell the camera? No, it might still be useful and it was certainly a better quality camera than the one used for 'happy snaps'. The only solution was to give up the male ego thing and get lessons. And yes, lessons from a women. Thankfully, that woman was Sue. She has been training me for about 6 months now. It takes me awhile and sometimes I slip back but my 'teacher' can't get away from me. Her office is next to mine and we have an agreement that I provide the plants for her pictures.
Until now most of my photos have been of orchids or the odd critter in the garden. That was until friday. There was an oxalis sitting on my desk from a picture taking session for a previous blog. I was a little late getting home from work and the sun was low in the sky, shining through the office window. In the few days that the Oxalis had been sitting on the desk it had turned its leaves to the window. Now the sun was shining through the tops of the leaves and all I could see was the bottom side of the leaves. The tops of the leaves were interesting but the bottoms were absolutely fascinating. It jumped out at me as the most startling colour combination. I wasn't hungry for dinner so I took a picture. Then a few more. Twenty-seven photos later there were several that were passable. Download, Crop adjust white balance and hey presto! The picture below.
The next day after watering the greenhouse I noticed that the seed heads had burst on a pelargonium species just inside the door. What struck me was the near perfect symmetry of the corkscrew like awns with the furry little pointed seeds all poking out. I carefully lifted it into a spot out of the wind with a dark background and after only 6 pics and a little cropping came up with this.
The end of the story? My teacher liked the photos and even used the word gorgeous. It helped that purples are her favourite colours. She also likes hairy things. Maybe that is why she has me as a friend.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Most of the plants that make it to the house are reminders of family or friends. These permanent house guests occasionally have to share space with a flowering Cymbidium that fleetingly comes for a visit and like all good house guests leaves after a few days. There are not all that many permanent members of the indoor flora but each has a special meaning.
In the corner of the dining room there is one of those old-time brass hanging baskets strung up by long brass chains. The 'basket' contains a 15cm black plastic pot with Zebrina pendula, the beautiful wine red, silver and green Wandering Jew as it was known then I was growing up. This reminds me of my mother. She had jars filled with cuttings of Zebrina that lined a narrow shelf that ran the length of the double ceramic sink that itself ran the length of the windows.
On my home office desk there is a dwarf Japanese cultivar of Raphis excelsa, the Lady Palm. It is growing in a specially designed and handcrafted pot made by a friend. Some reminders remain private.
My work office desk and windows were a bit bare. The walls have a couple of drawings of some of my special plants. I really wanted something living. The office air is very dry and most plants last a couple of days before showing stress. My approach was a bit lateral. When I was a young man terrariums were all the rage. There were hundreds of designs including plain old jars to aquariums to specially designed enormous glass vessels with narrow necks and large bulbous bases. They even sold special terrarium tools to plant these long-necked bottles. Of course I had a set.
One day we were cleaning up the marine lab making space for one of the new students. We opened one of the locked cabinets and inside was the most amazing arrays of aquariums, all with matching glass lids. I am a sucker for a well built anything! These aquariums were obviously lovingly made. One particular size took my fancy, they were about 30cm long, 20cm high and about 15cm deep. Four end-to-end would fit comfortably on each of my office window sills. I have three windows in my office! The temperatures in my office do not fall below 15C at night and do not go above 25C during the day, every day of the year! Permanent tropics.
The aquariums on the south-facing window I filled with various species of Jewel Orchids; Anoectochilus, Ludisia, Goodyera, Macodes. They look great all snuggled up in live sphagnum moss with their lids on. Once a year I have to push the glass across to leave a small gap for the flower spikes to poke through. After they flower the spikes are cut off and the lids put back into place. Life is peaceful again.
This plant provided me with another lesson from my photography teacher. How to take a picture of such a tiny plant and flower and to get it looking good. I think the second shot is much better. It is hard to get good depth of field when you are working with such tiny subjects. These little fellas will go on flowering for months so there will be plenty of opportunity to keep trying to get a good shot. In the meantime, when the boredom of some tasks at work start to get to me or some person is being, well, you know, difficult, I can always look to the windowsill and see something of beauty that asks nothing of me but provides me with so much.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Along comes our student, looking for a project to carry out. At the same time a student at another university was also looking for a project to do. As happens occasionally, both of them decided to work on the same group of plants. You could almost see the daggers being drawn as they planned how to get rid of each other and claim the project all for themselves. Thankfully, another solution soon became apparent. They worked together. One took the genetic side of the project and the other the morphological and ecological side. A pretty good split both were happy with.
Although the results are only preliminary they are fascinating none-the-less! Genetically, the plants are all more or less identical. All the bands on the gels light up in all the same places. Several different methods have been used and all show the same thing. Morphologically and ecologically, there are 5 distinct entities. Each has its own hair type and degree of hairiness. Each grows on a different geology and soil type. Statistical analysis of all of the morphological and ecological traits clearly shows there are 5 distinct entities with a greater than 95 percent accuracy. How could this be? What is going on here?
All life has genes. Genes are what control, amongst other things, what an organism looks like and how it behaves. But is it simply genes that dictate these things? Genetically, humans (Homo sapiens) are more or less identical and belong to the same species. Domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are all dogs, and cats (Felis domesticus) are all cats. There is another little thing called gene expression. The environment and a range of other factors can get a gene to either turn on or turn off. As these genes turn on it could dictate hairy or not hairy, or drought tolerant or not drought tolerant. Could this be going on with the Tobacco species in Australia?
I love to talk about inheritance in Cymbidiums. One of my local friends and I spend hours every other week or so pouring over plants looking at how various parents are expressed in the progeny. Between the two of us we grow a shipload of seedlings . As you probably guessed from previous posts there can be a great deal of variation in seedlings of the same cross. Some parents have strong influence, others are barely detectable in the offspring. What causes this variation? They all have the same parents and they all came from the same seed capsule? In the case of Cymbidium hybrids it may simply the various genes combining in different ways but could gene expression play a role as well?
As you will be familiar, I belong to a forum on the internet that deals only with plants in the genus Cymbidium. By internet standards this forum does not contain a large group of people but they are all as nutty as I am about Cymbidiums. We talk about lots of things, generally related to Cymbidium although every now and again we stray off the main topic! Occasionally there is a discussion on the Cymbidium forum that is enlightening and sparks the interest of a wide range of forum members. My last post, on Cymbidium God Only Knows, was in response to a discussion on the forum. The link in that post took you to a couple of pictures of C. God Only Knows 'Geyserland' taken by one of the forum members names Ha Bui. I have never met Ha Bui but from discussion on the net I like him and we have a friendship of sorts. More like pen pals. I am sure we would get along well if we were ever to meet.
My habit of posting 'progeny' blogs has sparked a bit of interest and people are encouraging me to carry on with it. To further this cause, Ha Bui thought it would be great if I posted a blog on Cymbidium God Only Knows (GOK for short) and its progeny. He would supply the photos and I would assemble it and put some words to it. I am not sure where he lives but he is obviously sound asleep while I am at work. After a little to and fro, the pictures all arrived safe and well. Unfortunately they arrived just as I was heading to work this morning. So here I am at 10:30 at night finishing off a joint project between Ha Bui and me. I hope you like it!
Thanks for the photos Ha. I hope you enjoy what has been done with them.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Friends on the web have been talking about this pretty little primary Cymbidium hybrid that goes under the name God Only Knows. Maybe one of them can inform me how it got this highly unusual name. It is an interesting hybrid because it is made between two quite distantly related plants within the genus. The one parent is Cymbidium floribundum (formerly known as C. pumilum) which is a small plant, rarely over 20 cm tall with flowers about 2 cm or slightly more across. The other parent is Cymbidium hookerianum (formerly known as C. grandiflorum) which, by contrast, is a large plant, upwards of 1 m tall with flowers 10 cm or more across. It is not unusual for crosses of such disparate species to not produce offspring and when they do, the young 'uns can be sterile or close to it.
Something went terribly right with this cross which is proving to be a very good parent in its own right. First of all, The taxonomists may have it all wrong, the plants may be more closely related than originally thought. The other thing is that breeders have figured out that if you double the chromosome count of the parents or the offspring, fertility can be restored.
When breeding plants so disparate in size, it is normal practice to use the larger plant/flower as the male (pollen parent) and the smaller as the female (pod parent). It is more probable that the pollen tubes from the larger will reach the ovaries of the smaller. Pollen tubes in most cases have a limited ability to increase in length. If pollen from the smaller flower was used on the larger flower it is highly likely that the pollen tubes will not elongate sufficiently to reach the ovaries. Just to contradict myself sometimes mating smaller flowers on to larger flowers does work!
Most of the Cymbidium God Only Knows appear to have been made with C. floribundum (pumilum) as the pod parent. This is evidenced by the general appearance of the offspring that more closely resemble the size and appearance of C. floribundum. Several years ago a friend of mine did the cross in the reverse order, using C. hookerianum (grandiflorum) as the pollen parent. Interestingly, while you can still clearly see C. floribundum in the offspring, the C. hookerianum parent is more strongly expressed. Just to confuse things even more, he used a green form of C. floribundum so as not to get a brownish flower. Compare this form of God Only Knows with my form. You will need to go to message 7 and open the jpg's.
Now the comparison between my plant and the breeders plant is not all that fair. My form has the normal ploidy level or 2N. The form pictured on the Cymbidium Forum has double the number of chromosomes or 4N. Most would find the breeders plant more attractive. Well, maybe not me as I tend to like the more spidery flowers. There has been no reports about the fragrance of the one pictured on the forum but mine has a beautiful fragrance. As you can see from the picture above, mine has spots instead of solid patches of colour and is much greener. Pretty isn't it?
The best part of this cross, in any of its forms, is that it is particularly cold tolerant, it will happily grow and flower profusely in a 15 cm pot and the flowers will last a good month in the middle of winter! It overcomes some of the shortcoming of both parents and emphasizes the strengths. Cymbidium floribundum flowers are short-lived and so-so in colour in most of its forms. It is however a superb grower, forms a specimen plant in no time at all and will flower regularly even after repotting or division the previous season. Cymbidium hookerianum on the other hand has the most stupendous large green fragrant flowers that last for months. Unfortunately, it is a large plant, hard to flower and tends to drop its flower buds if conditions are not just right.
Cymbidium God Only Knows is a very reliable and tough little hybrid that should be more popular. It forms specimen plants easily, flowers profusely and is fragrant and attractive. Even the leaves are a pleasant sight on a well grown plant. In the words of E.A. Bowles this plant 'Pays its rent'. Well, he was actually refering to Cyclamen hederifolium but it could equally apply to this plant.
There is a little post script to add to this blog. My friend Cliff from Gympie informed me of the source of the name God Only Knows! He said in a post 'This plant got it's name when Andy was given a flask of it in New Zealand by a hobbist grower who made the cross with the comment "God Only Knows what will come out of it!"'. Seems pretty appropriate considering the parents!
Apparently there is a post script to the post script! The original cross was made by Grant Bayley and a flask of it was traded with Andy Easton for some Cymbidium plants. The plant was later registered by Norbert Gomes mistaking Geyserland as the originator of the cross. Apparently, Norbert Gomes named the plant after the Beach Boys song "God Only Knows" and not because he was unsure of the parentage. It is amazing how fast the story can be corrected when you put things on the net, and sometime by the people actually involved. Thanks Andy!
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
In a recent posting on an international forum, one of the worlds if not the worlds best hybridizers of orchids made a very bold statement. This is a part of his post.
‘I stand by my long-held position that about 50% of the Cymbidium species are worthless for hybridizing and just space wasters in a collection. They are as insignificant as the species fanatics who grow them in most cases. I would sooner have five different forms of C. insigne than 500 of the minor species in any of their color forms.’
Now I could have been offended by such a statement as over half of my orchid collection is composed of species Cymbidiums. It is interesting though. My first encounter with the person from which the above quote emanated was in
In July 1980 my parents saw me off at
This new adventure was the opportunity to go to
The day I arrived it was cold and gloomy, little did I realise that this was normal weather in my new home. On descent from 38,000 feet we passed through 4 distinct layers of clouds, the lowest only several hundred metres from the ground and reaching almost right to the land surface. Thankfully, it thinned a little bit just before we touched down so the passengers and the pilot could see the tarmac. I was met at the airport by the driver from the
A whole two days after arriving and after being shown around the gardens and my new workplace I was whisked off to the RHS Halls at Vincent Square to steward the RHS Orchid Committee. My role was to record the names of the plants brought in for judging on cards, see if there were drawings of previous award winners related to the plant and physically walk the plant around to each of the Judges. The judges would then poke and prod the flowers and made affirmative or negative grunting noises. After this initial pass around of some persons carefully grown plant, the committee would do one of several things; dismiss the plant, call for a second look or discuss/argue its merits or otherwise.
The judges were, at least to me at the time, very intimidating. The Chairman was Maurice Mason, a hulking bulldog of a man who obviously intimidated the other judges as well as the steward. He clearly had a sharp intellect and vast knowledge of plants. He was always the first to suggest dismissal of the plant. Dr. Geoffrey Hercklots was my favourite judge. Dr. Hercklots was a slightly built, quiet and a very thoughtful man. Being the taxonomist of the group he would confirm the identity of the plant if there were doubts. He was always very generous to me and had no trouble forgiving my mistakes. I recognized Dr. Hercklots immediately as there was a picture of him examining a Phalaenopsis in the April 1971 edition of National Geographic. The article in National Geographic, entitled ‘The Exquisite Orchids’ is what really kicked along my interest in orchids. Every word and picture of that article is burned into my memory even to this day.
There were a gaggle of other judges that would come more or less regularly. Marcel Le Couffe, Joyce Stewart, Ray Bilton, Brian and Wilma Ritterhausen and Keith Andrews just to name a few. It wasn’t until the following spring, at one of the big flower shows that the originator of the quote in the first paragraph sailed into view. Periodically there were eminent persons from other countries. At this spring show it was Andy Easton from
One of the memories of this meeting was a plant that I exhibited, Cymbidium Caroll (Alexanderi x eburneum). It is like a very large and shapelier C. eburneum. It was breed in 1927 but had been ‘lost’ to cultivation until I located a plant in the collection of the RHS Garden Wisley. Half of the plant went home with Keith Andrews. I have always wondered what happened to it. I have read that additional plants have turned up in
Being a steward of the RHS Orchid Committee has certain benefits. Besides being exposed to the luminaries of the field and some of the best plants in existence, I had access to all the past records of the committee. This included a hand drawn painting of each of the award winning plants. These were stored in cabinets in the judging rooms. Each month I would get to go through them to pull out images of past winners to compare them with the present offerings. Many times I would go up a couple of hours early so that I could just look through the collection.
One of the plants that appeared repeatedly in the drawings was Cymbidium insigne. At least eight different cultivars of this species had been awarded between 1907 and 1931. This is an impressive record for a species. Below is a list of those early awards.
FCC 1907 ‘Glebelands’
FCC 1908 ‘Splendens’
FCC 1908 ’Superbum’
AM 1917 ’Album’
AM 1923 f. rhodochilum
AM 1923 ‘Saint Andre’
AM 1928 ‘Mrs Carl Holmes’
FCC 1931 ‘Bieri’
Interestingly, some of these cultivars still exist in cultivation! There are undoubtedly additional awarded plants, but these were only the ones conferred by the RHS Orchid Committee in the early years.
You will know by now that it is my penchant to seek out the more ‘interesting’ plants, be they species, primary hybrids or what are affectionately known as ‘Vintage’ hybrids. Now I know that Andy has said that he would happily have a collection of five C. insigne cultivars in preference to a collection of 500 various forms of the other species. For his sake and for anyone else that is interested, I have photographed seven forms of C. insigne subsp. insigne, a small portion of the numerous forms that I presently grow. At some later date I will include the others, including various forms of C. insigne subsp. siedenfadenii, a more recently described subsp. from