Monday, January 26, 2009

Bulbophyllum claptonense Rolfe 1905

The beautiful and widespread orchid Bulbophyllum lobbii has many varieties which some taxonomists have historically named as distinct species. This is one of them - a form from Sabah, which has a very intense orange colour.

I think this flower is just right to herald the new Lunar Year.

To all who celebrate Chinese New Year:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Begonia from Vietnam

This is a deciduous cane Begonia from Vietnam, most likely of limestone origin. Once again, I have no names, but the unique colouration of the female flowers should be a clue, I think. Any suggestions will be much appreciated.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cirrhopetalum fascinator var alba

While I was still new to orchid growing years ago, I purchased a specimen of C. fascinator from a local nursery, which had just imported a sizeable shipment from Thailand. It was a random pick, out of the many plants with flower buds being offered. As the bud developed, I realised something was amissed - and when the bloom was fully opened, I thought I had a hybrid. I took the flowering plant to the nursery owner, who literally jumped out from his seat. He told me it was the rare "alba" variety and immediately took the remaining plants from his shelf.

You see, the usual form of this plant, has a lot of bright liver and crimson colour, but this plant has none of the red pigments. Still doubtful, I consulted Dr Leslie Garay, a Bulbophyllum authority who confirmed the identification. While semi-alba forms infrequently turn up in collection, pure alba is rather unusual.

As it turned out, none of the remaining stock from the nursery was "alba". I guessed I was really lucky.

By the way, Dr Garay, now retired, thinks that this plant should be placed in a separate genus called "Mastigion". There are some features that distinguish Mastigion from "normal" Cirrhopetalums, the most obvious being the singular flower (rather than many in an inflorescence) with a long slender "rat tail"(actually a merger of the 2 lateral sepals). I visited him in Virginia three and a half years ago and was overwhelmed both by his enthusiasm and his orchid literature - his house has many cabinets in all corners filled with reference materials.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Market finds in Vietnam

Roadside plant stands at a less touristed market near Hanoi. It was almost Christmas so Poinsettias were everywhere. I was hoping to find some local ornamental plants but all I could see were pots of foreign exotics.

Nestled between bottles of red wine and whisky, this is Vietnam's very own King Cobra wine. I must say this is the most impressive specimen I had seen there and the shop owner showed great pride in this as well. He explained to me in some length about its benefits, which I could not understand much other than it makes you strong and virile....what else......

Vining gourds, vegetables and herbs placed beside pots of flowering roses.

The large gourd of Momordica cochinchinensis is rather uncommon since it is only harvested between November to January and is known locally as Gac. Its orange pulp is used to make an orange oily sticky rice. Supposedly, it contains a lot of useful fats called lycopene and ten times as much beta-carotene as carrots. Sadly, the use of artificial colours and its limited availability had dimished its use in the local recipes.

Some kind of Stephania, another useful herb supposedly containing anti-cancer compounds.

Now this is the one I was hankering for. The "Welsel" of these coffee beans actually means "weasel", but in truth most likely some kind of civets. The coffee beans were fed to these creatures from which the partially digested crap was collected from their behinds and somehow processed into these gourmet coffee. I tried the Arabica and it was heavenly - strongly aromatic yet with none of the sour aftertaste typically associated with most coffee. I must say, its good to the last dropping....

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gouty Cay Gao

The weird trunk of the famous specimen of Cay Gao, (Salmalia malabarica or Bombax malabaricum) along the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam. This large tropical tree is a relative of the Hibiscus.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hoya spartioides- One Night Only

While visiting a friend's private garden in Sarawak, I chanced upon an unusual twig-like plant rooted upon a hollow log with Dischidias and live ants all over it. I asked if it has small yellow flowers and he was a bit surprise "How do you know ? Yes they are yellowish orange and tiny, not very pretty...." The grower had collected it from western Sarawak, which appeared to be a new geographical range for this plant, as it was previously recorded only in Sabah and Kalimantan.
The plant in question, is the odd Hoya spartiodes which is sometimes placed in its own genus Absolmsia. This is a rare plant (or perhaps easily overlooked in the field) although it has been described since last decade of 1800s. The green tips are actually the peduncles - the flower stalks ; the rest of the plant do not have chlorophyll - except for an occasional small leaves which are very short-lived. The tiny orange flower clusters open one night only, and has a sharp smell like burning rubber. Seeds of this plant are carried by ants to their nests, usually rotting tree trunks, from which a plant may grow, with its root balls deep within the nest. The ants provide protection and food for the plant. All these are adaptations to dry harsh conditions of its kerangas habitat.
Historical sketch from Hooker's Icon., 1880

Type: Absolmsia spartioides (Benth.) Kuntze (Astrostemma spartioides Benth.).

1) Absolmsia Kuntze, Rev. Gen. Pl. 2: 417 (1891).
2) Hooker's Icon. Pl. 13: pl. 1311. 1880
3) Omlor, R. Generische Revision der Marsdenieae (Asclepiadaceae). Diss. Univ. Kaiserslautern 1998.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Number game

The miniature bloom of Dendrochilum pallidiflavens.

There are between 100-200 species in this SE Asian genus of mostly small to very small orchids that produce arching sprays of tiny flowers. Similar looking species sometimes turn out to be different when flowers are viewed under magnification.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cucurma rhabdota

Before it was formally described by Sirirugas and Newman in year 2000, this plant was already available in the horticulture trade and I could see rhizomes available in the internet in USA, albeit mislabelled as C. gracillima 'Candy Cane' or "Chocolate zebra". .It was originally found in Laos but was reported to be common in Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand as well.

I was glad that my unknown rhizome from Thailand turned out to be this neat species but the plant soon proved to be an unreliable bloomer in this climate. I got this plant the same year it was described and so far had only seen its bloom three or four times.

Genus Cucurma consists of about 80 species* of mid to small-sized gingers (Family Zingiberaceae). The tumeric spice comes from the root of one of these, Cucurma domestica. Thailand and India are hot spots for number of species (about 36-40) although I suspect many little-explored regions of Indo-China may hold a lot more than what we know now.

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