Friday, March 31, 2017

Mysterious ghost orchid

The Dawna Range was in dry season in March but in between the parched landscapes there were pockets of oases fed by mountain streams. Stepping into this dark worlds, one of the first thing we saw was the ghost orchid....Epipogium roseum

This is a strange leafless orchid that has flower spikes rising straight out from a longish tuber. They are fungi associated with the tubers that help to digest the leaf litter and provide food for the plant. 

Unlike its cousin, Epipogium aphylla, which has larger and more rosy flowers to attract insects, this species is mostly self-pollinating, as the tiny rosetellum is unable to separate the pollens falling into its own stigma. Another abnomality: most small terrestrial orchids would have an upright fruit capsules in order to disperse the seeds as far as possible but this species has a drooping one which means the seeds will drop next to the parent. Nevertheless, its methods have proven to be quite successful as it is widespread in the old tropics, from West Africa, down to Indian Peninsula, Indo-China, Thailand, Philippines, New Guinea and Australia. One can understand why they do not need the picky insects.

Many pictures in the internet showed the flowers past their prime, which is a bit unfair. The fully opened flower is quite elegant, though rather bloodless. It actually reminds me of another pale leafless plant with a common name of Ghost plant or Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) below....which I found in New Brunswick many years ago. Unlike the orchid though, this one is parasitic on a fungus, which means the fungus did not benefit from the association.

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