Monday, 8 March 2010

Another 'Est', and this Time it's Small and it's an Orchid




Warning: These two pictures are not of the world's smallest flower, or the world's smallest orchid. They show Podochilus tenuis from the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. I was told at the time it was the smallest orchid flower in the world, but apparently not...

Followers of my botanical holiday in the Grampians last spring/sprummer (October) will know that I like an orchid or two or three. I'm particularly fond of the ground orchids, the ones that produce a leaf or two, a flower or two, then disappear from site for the rest of the year.

But sometimes the less transient orchids are fun too. I do like our local Sydney Rock Lily (Dendrobium speciosum), the Bridal Veil Orchid (Dendrobium/Dockrillia teretifolia) and one or two of the Sarcochilus species... OK, lots of orchids are interesting.

The ones I have most trouble liking though are the large colourful blooms in plastic tubes. So when I see a news story headed 'Tiny Orchid', I'm interested. In the latest issue of the Royal Horticultural Society's magazine, The Garden, a new orchid species is said to be 'one of the world's smallest flowers'.

Putting aside whether that should be more correctly expressed as 'one of the world's smaller flowers' (which I'll admit doesn't have quite the same ring about it), this is being promoted as not just the smallest orchid flower, but the smallest flower!

The new species belongs to a genus called Platystele, and it was carried out of Cerro Candelaria reserve in Equador aboard a larger orchid. It was only when a botanist called Lou Jost had been growing the bigger orchid in his glasshouse for a few months that he spotted the tiny Platystele in its roots.

In the published photograph, the flower is a translucent white colour, with yellowish tinges. It is 2.1 mm wide and its floral parts (petals and other bits) are about one cell thick. The leaves of most Platystele species seem to non-descript spoon-shaped blades tufted at the base of the flower stalk.

As yet Jost hasn't given it a name but perhaps it will honour Cerro Candelaria, a 2,750 ha reserve in central Equador owned by the EcoMinga Foundation (a partner of World Land Trust) that Jost co-founded.

Big conservation conserving small things. Nice.

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