Eaten to extinction

If you were at the June evening meeting you may have heard Conrad mention the food ingredient salep when he was giving his talk and demonstration about terrestrial orchids. Salep powder is made from orchid tubers and imparts a distinctive flavour and texture to hot drinks, ice-cream and other sweets.

Coincidentally, I came across a piece about the destruction of wild orchids in eastern Europe and Africa – they’re being eaten into extinction! – on the excellent Australian gardening website Garden Drum.

To put the scale of the problem into perspective, it takes between 1000 and 4000 orchid tubers to make 1kg of salep, all harvested from wild populations. In Turkey alone 30 tonnes of tubers are harvested every year representing 38 different species of terrestrial orchid.

Salep hot drinks are said to increase resistance against colds and coughs. Image: Discover Turkey.

In Turkey the orchids used to make salep have disappeared entirely, forcing suppliers to neighbouring Iran, in which the same smash-and-grab harvesting practices are being used to collect maybe as much as 11 million tubers – and collection is increasing. Read the full story here.

In this New York Times story, Harold McGee notes that the commercial stabiliser guar gum (from the tropical cluster bean) and Japanese konjac flour (from tubers of a taro relative) contain closely related carbohydrates that behave in much the same way as salep – and there is a nice photo of just how stretchy salep ice-cream is.

The Discover Turkey website offers some orchid-collecting advice!

The largest tubers  grow best in soil with a high lime content, and those with the finest aroma and richest in starch are found at altitudes of 1000 to 1100m. In Anatolia most orchid species belong to the genera Orchis and Ophrys. The tubers are gathered while the plant is in flower (April and May). Some of the flowers are scentless, while others produce a sweet scent that is strongest in the evening, and their colours vary from white to various tones of purple

Each orchid has two tubers, one the main tuber from which the flower springs, and the other its younger offshoot. Only the young tuber is harvested (the website says, but that’s in an ideal world, I suspect).

Tubers are washed and tossed into boiling milk or water for a short while to remove the bitter flavour and make them easier to dry. They are then dried either in the open air or in ovens and after drying they may be stored whole or ground. The principal substances contained in salep vary according to the time of harvest, but basically consist of mucilage, starch, sugar and nitrates. The colour is generally creamy.

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Winter Orchids

The Peter Black Conservatory in Palmerston North’s The Esplanade is always worth a visit – beautifully maintained by orchid fancier Brian Adam, which means there are all sorts of interesting bits and pieces to see. Here are some photos from a visit in June 2017.

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A Dracula orchid. These plants are native to Central America and northern South America. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Some of the Dracula orchids are also known as monkey-face orchids. If you look at some of these photos on the American Orchid Society website, you’ll see why.

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Dendrobium subclausum var subclausum hails from Papua New Guinea. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One online source says: “Found in northern Papua and New Guinea and the Molucca Islands occuring at many elevations but mostly above 2000m, both epiphyticly and lithophyticly. This species is found in many habitats and in many sizes. It can basically bloom at any time of the year but mid-winter is the most possible on a cluster that surrounds the previous years cane arising from below the leaves.”

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Dendrobium anceps has curious ‘flat’ foliage that looks more like that of a succulent. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The AOS notes that this family of ‘flat-leafed’ orchids was originally named Amporum but was then reclassified as Dendrobiums – and now DNA seems to indicate that the first classification was right! Read more here. From Southeast Asia.

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Brassia longissima – the Brassias are commonly known as spider orchids. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The genus was named in 1813 in honor of William Brass, a botanical illustrator who collected plants for Sir Joseph Banks in Guinea and South Africa. Read more here.

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Angraceum alabaster x nasutum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Angraceums are one of the first African family of orchids ‘described’ by science. Read more about them here.

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Orchid recognised with award

There was a special presentation at the most recent Tauranga Orchid Society meeting – Helen McDonald, in her capacity as chairperson of the Bay of Plenty Orchid Judging Group, presented Brian Enticott with a certificate from the Orchid Council of New Zealand.

His Grand Champion at this year’s Te Puke Orchid Show, Paphiopedilum Gary Romagna ‘Palm Beach’, has received an Award of Merit (AM) from the OCNZ.

Paphiopedilum Gary Romagna ‘Palm Beach’, grown by Brian Enticott of the Tauranga Orchid Society, has won an Award of Merit from the Orchid Council of NZ. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The plant needed more than 80 points from the judges to receive the award and scored 82.44. Generally speaking, this is the highest award for an orchid in New Zealand as the FCC award (First Class Certificate, over 90 points) is rarely given.

Brian says the same plant was also awarded 16 years ago, which was when he was able to name it ‘Palm Beach’ for where he lives. This means that any division of the plant will also carry that name and a note on its tag that it is an AM/OCNZ plant (AM/AOS = Award of Merit from the American Orchid Society).

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Vale Natalie Simmonds

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Natalie Simmonds

It is with great sadness that we record the death of Tauranga Orchid Society stalwart Natalie Simmonds on Tuesday, May 30. Natalie had stepped down as the society’s secretary only at the AGM in April, having served the society faithfully and with good humour for some 25 years.

Natalie played a huge part in the life and development of the Tauranga Orchid Society and held such a cornerstone position that she was known throughout orchid societies and clubs of New Zealand for her knowledge and understanding of the regulations and systems that govern our orchid world.

We in Tauranga will miss her cheerful personality and her encyclopaedic knowledge of our own club and all its activities.

Our thoughts are with Brian and families.

Natalie’s funeral is at 1pm on Tuesday, June 6 at Olive Tree Cottage, Joyce Rd, Tauranga. By request, donations to Waipuna Hospice in lieu of flowers.

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Orchid fancier: Roald Dahl

Several years ago I heard author Joy Cowley reminisce about a visit she had made to the home of Roald Dahl, a superstar in the firmament of children’s literature, while he was adapting her 1967 book Nest in a Fallen Tree to the silver screen (it became the 1971 movie The Night Digger).

It was an hilarious set of stories, especially when faced with the image of Cowley throwing up into the master’s indoor swimming pool after she’d imbibed one too many of his rather strong cocktails! The pair kept in touch until Dahl’s death in 1990.

Besides the cocktails, the other thing I dredged up last night from the recesses of memory was her description of a wall beside the pool – running water, she said, and  covered in orchids. He also had a glasshouse for his orchids beside the pool.

A quick Google or three later and it turns out I remembered correctly (not always a given these days). His widow Felicity (Liccy) is on record as saying that onions and orchids were his horticultural passions and growing them appealed to his competitive nature. She mentions his ‘gold-medal-winning orchids’ but adds he gave them all away towards the end of his life. The garden, still in Liccy’s ownership and next door to the Roald Dahl Museum, is at Gipsy House, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.

A 2010 biography by Donald Sturrock records that Dahl’s childhood interest in flowers had been reawakened by an elderly colonel he came across during his war in East Africa, a man who had been to South America in search of orchids.

During the summer of 1964, spent in Hawaii where his first wife Patricia Neal was filming In Harm’s Way with John Wayne, Dahl searched the islands for Phalaenopsis to take back to a planned new, heated orchid house.

From the biography: … his orchid house also contained a huge cactus he had inherited from his mother and that periodically required the roof to be raised to accommodate it.

A Dahl quote from another website: “Some people like tomatoes, I like orchids. Partly because of their beauty, partly because they are tricky to grow – it takes two years before any buds appear, and the flowers are very small.”

His bio note on the Macmillian publishing website quotes Dahl as saying that he breeds orchids and a 1977 New York Times article has this: When not writing he is mooching restlessly around the countryside or working in his greenhouse experimenting with 400 breeds of the rare and splendid phalaeonopsis orchid and thinking up new and highly original plots — “a dreaded business” he calls it.

Later, apparently, the orchid house went in favour of a new guest wing at the property.

The Roald Dahl Rose was debuted at the 2016 Chelsea Flower Show to mark the centenary of his birth but as far as I could see there has been no orchid yet named for him. (The link also shows a photo of Dahl in his orchid house.)

Among his other hobbies were breeding budgies, breeding dogs, collecting fine art, collecting wine and playing golf! He also helped invent several medical devices.

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New Gastrodia orchids

The great Australian website Garden Drum has posted a news story about the discovery on Okinawa Island in Japan of two new parasitic orchids which have been named Gastrodia nipponicoides and Gastrodia okinawensis.

Like New Zealand’s native Gastrodia orchids, these two don’t have foliage but instead gain nutrients from a relationship with underground fungus which themselves take what they need from trees.

The orchids were discovered in March 2012 and named by Professor Kenji Suetsugu of Kobe University’s Graduate School of Science.  Read more and see photos of the newly named orchids here.

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Singapore’s national flower

Singapore’s national flower is the orchid, Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim (formerly Vanda Miss Joaquim).

Selected as the national flower in 1981, the orchid was chosen from 40 other blooms, of which 30 were orchids. The National Orchid Garden website says there are several varieties of Vanda Miss Joaquim with ‘Agnes’ chosen for its “vibrant colours, hardiness and resilience – qualities that reflect the Singapore spirit”.

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Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It became the symbol of the Malay Orchid Society in 1957, appears on Singapore’s currency and stamps, and is widely grown on the peninsula, in The Philippines and Hawaii.

The orchid was bred by Agnes Joaquim, a well-known horticulturalist in Singapore, who crossed Vanda Hookeriana and V. teres, “two plants cultivated in almost every garden in Singapore”, according to an 1893 article by H N Ridley (first director of Singapore Botanic Gardens), which described the plant for readers of The Gardeners’ Chronicle. Read the full article here. P. Miss Joaquim is recognised as the first hybrid orchid created in Singapore.

Miss Joaquim (1854-99) was a second-generation Singaporean of Armenian descent (her Armenian name was Ashkhen Hovakimian) and a keen gardener. Read more about her life here.

This article also mentions later aspersions cast on the claim that she bred the orchid rather than simply discovering a natural hybrid. An excellent post about the plant at Singapore Infopedia notes that in March 2016, Linda Locke, a great-great-grandniece of Miss Joaquim, began approaching public agencies with research proving that V. Miss Joaquim had been bred by her forebear. Later in 2016, the National Parks Board and the National Heritage Board officially recognised Miss Joaquim as the breeder.

V. Miss Joaquim was displayed publicly in Europe for the first time at the Royal Horticultural Society show in London in 1897. The RHS awarded a First Class Certificate to Trevor Lawrence, the owner of the plant, which had been grown by his gardener W H White from a cutting sent by Mr Ridley. In 1898, the orchid also gained a Cultural Commendation Certificate.

The flower debuted in Singapore at the annual Flower Show in April 1899, where Miss Joaquim won first prize for  “rarest orchid”.

Before World War 2, V. Miss Joaquim was the mainstay of Singapore’s cut-flower exports and in 1938 a crate of the orchids was flown to Amsterdam for Queen Wilhelmina’s 40th Jubilee.

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