Sunday, January 30, 2011

Eulophia speciosa

My first atempt at sowing Eulophia speciosa seems to be paying off. The seeds were sown on 6 November lasy year on BM-1 with 2g carbon and added sucrose. The flasks are doing quite well but admittedly the protocorm development is slow although I have come accross a number of papers that indicate the same thing with other species. My faith in BM-1 is increasing too. This medium seems to be particularly useful for most of the terrestrials I have sown, even some of the more difficult Summer rainfall Disa species. 

Eulophia speciosa is not the most beautiful of orchids as orchids go, although this is just my opinion. However, I am curious to see how far I can develop the protocorms. I hope to develop them to seedlings and pot them up eventually and hopefully I will have an excess to trade with. I have included two progressive images from the same flask of protocorms taken a month apart so as to visualise their growth below.

Eulophia speciosa 27 December 2010

Eulophia speciosa 29 January 2011
My other Eulophia species are also progressing slowly. Seeds from E. clavicornis, E. welwistchii and E. angolensis all germinated although E. welwitschii took over 2 months to germinate!

Eulophia clavicornis 29 January 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cultural experiment - the search for iPhamba


Well, this one is somewhat different and something I have been waiting to write briefly about for some time now. Most of you will be aware that South Africa is blessed with a beautiful diversity of orchids, both epiphytic and terrestrial (geophytic). I was born in the Eastern Cape and as such I was exposed to a little bit of the dominant Xhosa culture from that region in the first part of my life. The Xhosa culture has always been a sense of curiosity for me. I find the traditional medicinal aspects of the Xhosa culture very interesting. Traditional healers or Sangomas play an incredibly important role in traditional Xhosa culture. They are consulted for the treatment of the majority of daily ailments, ritual cleansing, ritual protection and divination. They are particularly highly respected in their communities and are incredibly knowledgeable of local fauna and flora which is used to make traditional medicine or muti. An apprentice of a Sangoma will often remain in humble servitute for several years, learning the aspects of traditional healing and gaining knowledge of the traditional plants and animals used in making muti. A true Sangoma will often "study" for up to six years I am told. It is this knowledge of local plants in particular that I was fascinated to learn more about. In particular, I was curious to talk to a Sangoma about the use of iPhamba (traditional Xhosa/Zulu word for orchids). After some searching on the internet I was able to work out that although the name iPhamba refers to a large diversity of orchids, there are usually only a few that are used for the traditional medicine. These, in particular are the Eulophias of which the pseudobulbs or underground tubers are used to treat stomach ache, and Polystachya species which are either used for the same purpose (the pseudobulbs) or crushed and smeared on kraal walls to serve as a deterrent to "bad things" and disease in domestic animals. The fine seeds of some orchids are also used as snuff and in the Zulu culture a fermented drink is made from the canes of Ansellia africana.

So, I was curious to see if I could find a Sangoma and ask her if I could request some iPhamba for my personal use, not knowing exactly what kind of reception I would receive as an Umlungu (white man). I spoke with a colleague of mine, a Xhosa woman who was returning to the Eastern Cape over the Christmas period for a short holiday. I asked if she could put me in touch with the Sangoma from her area so I might request iPhamba and discuss its uses in that community. After returning from the Eastern Cape, my colleague informed me that the Sangoma would come to see me personally as she was visiting in Cape Town in January. I was quite surprised one lunch time when my colleague took me to meet her in person. She was adorned with traditional white beads in her hair and was wearing several traditional beadwork bracelets and necklaces. She looked somewhat puzzled and surprised that I even knew what iPhamba was but when I spoke with her and introduced myself, giving her my history and background she seemed rather amused and even impressed that I would come to her for advice. I explained to her that I understood what the traditional uses were for iPhamba but that my uses were different and I wanted them for their flowers and not to use for muti.

After about a month she again paid me a surprise visit and handed me a small plastic bag containing three mature pseudobulbs from what look like a Eulophia sp. collected in Durban. Once potted up I will nurture them and see how they develop and eventually I should know what the mystery species will be. The whole experiece has been so interesting and I look forward to seeing these plants develop.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Progress to date and some new challenges

The New Year got off to a sweltering start here in Cape Town with temperatures exceeding 40 Degrees Celsius on the farm over the last few days. The heat wave was particularly stressful on my parent plants in the greenhouse but I managed to cool them down by converting the greenhouse roof into a make-shift wet-wall which brought the temperature to a more respectable 31. I lost a few blooms and some seed pods but otherwise all seem to be happy now. Inside the house the incubator also battled  with temperatures exceeding 30 but the protocorms and plantlets didnt seem to be phased at all.

I gratefully received some seeds from Olivia in Spain ( and am keeping a close eye on their progress. So far the Myrmecophila tibicinis seeds look like they are getting ready to germinate on P6668 half strength supplemented with sucrose.

I have included a few images below of the progress of some of the protocorms and clones to date. Looking back at some older images I realise just how fast they grow but it never appears that way when you watch them daily!

Phalaenopsis amabilis clone

Phalaenopsis hybrid clones (own recipe)

Stenoglottis fimbriata protocorms

Dendrobium delicatum protocorms

Eulophia speciosa protocorms
I recently did some re-plating of the Dendrobium delicatum (D. kingianum x D. speciosum) and D. kingianum x D. delicatum and this I must admit gets rather tricky. The problem I discovered was the increase in contamination rate because of the time taken during transfer but also the width of the neck of the re-plate tubs and flasks allowing for a higher potential for aerial contamination. So far so good though and I am handing over some Dendrobe babies to my friend who supplied me with the seeds today. The re-plate tubs I used are normal food-grade polypropylene tubs (250 - 500ml) with matching lids which are pretty cheap and can withstand autoclaving temperatures (do not exceed 130 Degreec Celsius!). I found that the larger ones (500ml) tend to implode as they cool down as the pressure inside drops but this can be avoided by leaving them to cool in the autoclave (pressure cooker) for a few hours or overnight before removing them. I drilled some holes in the lids and covered these with adhesive burn-film that is gas permeable and it can also withstand autoclaving.

I received some new plants just a few days ago from the Limpopo province from a colleague. These include Bulbophyllum scaberulum, Disperis lindleyana and possibly also what looks like Acampe sp. Apart from the link to some info on D. lindleyana, I have included an image below of the flowers of the plant given to me. It is a most interesting shape.

Disperis lindleyana flowers