Friday, January 23, 2009

Cymbidium floribundum or pumilum

When you make collections of plants strange things can happen. If you collect a genus of plants, like Cymbidium, there are several tacks that you can take. Many people collect hybrids. Collecting hybrids provides you with a never-ending source of new plants. If you are a follower of plant fashions or if you suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder you can constantly replace the old with new. While this can be satisfying it is also expensive. The newest hybrids are the most expensive. If you try to keep at the cutting edge you eventually find yourself buying unflowered hybrids on speculation. If you guess correctly you could be on a winner. If you get it wrong you just wasted a few years of time, effort and expense. At least you may be able to recoup a bit of money by selling your culls off to an unsuspecting 'amateur' or fashion blinded 'novice'. There are literally thousands and thousands of people who support an extensive industry supplying their needs.

Since the rise of environmentalism in the 1960's and 70's there has been a shift away from hybrids to species for the serious collector. The shallowness of fashion was eschewed for the 'connection with the earth' and 'naturalness' implicit in the growing of wild species. Granted, species have always been grown but came close to being completely wiped from collections in the 1950's. The prevailing attitude in the 50's, with vestiges of it persisting until today, is that hybrids are easier to grow and have hybrid vigour. What tosh! Most Cymbidiums are easier to grow than almost any plant. This is attested by the numerous plants sitting on back porches and patios throughout Australia and California. They barely get water, almost never get repotted and inevitably are sunburnt beyond belief but flower happily every year.

Species collectors need to get every species of a genus and usually several forms of each. In a genus like Cymbidium collecting all the species, varieties and forms is fairly straight forward. With under 50 species it is a small genus by world standards. A collection of just species and forms of Cymbidium would be modest, at least as far as collections go.

A slight variation on the species collection is the conservation collection. While the outcome is similar to the species collection, each plant comes from a known location in the wild. This type of collection is usually reserved for botanic gardens, universities and those truly concerned with the conservation of genetic diversity. Occasionally, a rogue collector uses the excuse of conservation to import cheap wild-collected plants from a developing country. I remember clearly in the early 80's, while studying orchids in the Pacific islands, the depredations of unscrupulous orchid collectors. I was taken to get photographs and herbarium specimens of a species orchid. Unbeknownst to me, an American collector had found out where I was going and the subject of my study. He had paid the local villagers what amounted to a huge salary to collect all of the plants of this species they could find. They simply followed me and my guide into the forest and stripped every plant they could find. Hundreds of them. There was absolutely nothing I could do except put my pack on top of several plants and stand in front of another group until they left, satisfied they had gotten every plant. I felt sick.

Believe it or not there is one even more extreme form of collector! This is the type that collects every slight variation there is within a species! This type of collector is not prevalent in the west, at least in Cymbidium. In Asia, particularly in China, single species Cymbidium collecting has a history at least 1,500 years old. Part of the reason for this is that people could only draw on the local species for their collections. To introduce novelty they had to collect all the variations they could from the local populations. In China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan this is the normal style of collection, or at least it was until recently.

One of the main plants that has been the focus of attention for single species collections is the plant we know as Cymbidium floribundum, or alternatively and erroneously as C. pumilum. This plant was originally named as C. floribundum in 1833 by Lindley but for some reason this name was not recognised by Rolfe when he described and named Cymbidium pumilum in 1907. This oversight and renaming of an already named species was recognise and corrected as long ago as the 1960's but people still insist on using the name C. pumilum.

In Australia there is an incredible diversity of groups of people from various countries, including from China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Thailand. It is within these groups of people that you find the tradition of single species collections. Although this type of collecting has diminished through the availability of other plants, some people maintain the traditions they grew up with.

Until fairly recently, most of the forms of Cymbidium floribundum, that were widely available in the west, were fairly non-descript browns with a pale edge or a supposed 'Alba'. This 'Alba' form is actually just a greenish form and not an albino at all. It is betrayed by the red spots on the underside of the column! There are reputedly true albinos of C. floribundum but as Andy Easton says 'there is no proof there is a true albino pumilum'. Buyer beware! Fortunately, a full range of interesting forms of this species are appearing on the market. There is even one commercial grower here that specialises in forms of C. floribundum. He rarely sells his plants and when he does the good quality ones start at Aus. $150.00. Thankfully, he makes a living from selling plants other than C. floribundum.

Over the years a dozen or so forms of C. floribundum have crept into my collection. I didn't purposely collect them. To be totally blunt, C. floribundum is not one of my favourite species. The flowers are generally short-lived, indifferent in colour (for most of them), not fragrant and every bug and its brother loves to eat the flowers. What it does have going for it is that it is easy to grow, clumping up into a specimen plant fast. There are 2N and 4N forms and those with pendulous, arching or upright flower spikes. Plants can range in size from 10 to 30cm tall when fully grown. The best thing is that a fully mature plant will live happily and flower profusely in a 6 inch pot.

While it would have been nice to include pictures of all the forms that I have, to be honest, most of the flowers look identical or much of a muchness. The main variation in most of these forms not being colour but ploidy level, plant size, disposition of the flower spike and number of flowers on the spike. The three I have chosen are three of my favourites and are the most distinct.

The first of these plants is 'Sina'. This plant has particularly dark and narrow petals and sepals with a clearly marked lip. The flower spike is arching and carries upward of 30 well-spaced flowers. This is the first form to bloom in spring. The leaves are also narrower than normal. Overall, the plant is very gracile and delicate to look at. It is actually very tough and a strong grower. This plant was imported from china and is probably a selection of a wild plant. It is a diploid.

Cymbidium floribundum 'Sina'

Cymbidium floribundum 'Pale Face' came to me with Japanese characters on the label. I asked my friend Bin at school to translate for me. It translated to 'The young woman with the pale face'. That number of words would not fit on the label so it got the name 'Pale Face'. It has the most delicate pink spots on the lip that complements the white and contrast in an interesting manner with the green of the petals and sepals. This is a robust grower with nearly upright flower spikes of 25-30 flowers. It is a tetraploid.

Cymbidium floribundum 'Pale Face'

Cymbidium floribundum 'Pale Face'

The final selection is one of the most expensive plants in my collection. You don't need to know how much was paid for it. If you did know the cost you might tell my partner, who would not be happy! There are much more important things to do with money!!! Well C. floribundum 'Tokiwa' epitomises everything that the Koreans find attractive in C. floribundum. First and foremost, variegated leaves. 'Tokiwa' has very strongly variegated leaves. It is a white variegation, the most highly prized type. The flowers are very special as well. Unlike most C. floribundums, the petals of this species are fairly wide and the flower is more widely spreading than normal. The colour is simply beautiful. You can see for yourself. The flower spikes are strongly upwardly arching and although they have only 15-20 flowers they are much showier than most other forms. 'Tokiwa' is a tetraploid. One further interesting point with this plant is that the flowers last twice as long as every other form that I grow. This is a real winner of plant. Great leaves, great flowers, and all on an easy to grow compact plant. The Koreans got this one absolutely right.

Cymbidium floribundum 'Tokiwa'

Cymbidium floribundum 'Tokiwa'

Cymbidium floribundum 'Tokiwa'

The final plant is not a Cymidium floribundum at all. It is a hybrid made with C. floribundum as one of its parents. Cymbidium Little Aussie 'Justin'. There is another clone of this hybrid that is even more spectacular called 'Honey'. 'Honey' and 'Justin' may in fact be the same plant, just purchased from different growers, variations of intensity of flower colour can vary depending on growing conditions. The other parent of this hybrid is C. Sussex Dawn. It has inherited all the best features of the species; compact plant, easy grower, prolific spiking with lots of flowers, and interesting colours. This plant, by coincidence, is called Little Aussie. It is really appropriate to put this plant on this post. I am writing this blog on the Australia Day long weekend! My friend bred this plant. You will have to agree that he did a great job! Thanks JC.

Cymbidium Little Aussie 'Justin'

1 comment:

Catman said...

Chuckie, from cold, snowy Toronto (Canada) on Jan. 6/10, an appreciation for what you wrote. I'm a member of SOOS ( At the December meeting there was a Cymbidium Sarah jean 'Ice Cascades' at the Show (Off?) and Tell Table. One of the vendors brought it in. He had more, so I fell victim yet again and bought one last Sunday.
----- Tom Atkinson -