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Excerpts from

VOLUME 83, NO. 4—October, November, December 2019


An Annotated Checklist of Phalaenopsis Species
W. E. Higgins
57 pages, 173 photos

Phal. × singuliflora (bellina × sumatrana)
©Conny Strohschneider

Phal. stobartiana
©Eric Hunt, grown by White Oak Orchids

This checklist follows the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families in acceptance of taxonomic names since it is an international collaboration with more than 150 contributors from 22 countries. The main goal of the Checklist is to provide high-quality, peer-reviewed baseline data on all accepted taxa. The name is the single most important element necessary to communicate about plants and the key to biodiversity information. The main focus of the Checklist is to provide the state of current knowledge on a family. The herbarium acronyms used follow Index Herbarium (2019).

Taxonomic Ranks
In biological classification, taxonomic rank is the relative level of a group of organisms (a taxon) in a taxonomic hierarchy. Examples of taxonomic ranks used in this checklist are subfamily, tribe, subtribe, genus, subgenus, section, species, and infraspecific ranks. The accepted infraspecific ranks follow Brummitt (1990) and Wood. & al. (2015) and are based on the population distribution range.

When distribution ranges are separate or nearly so, gene flow is absent or very restricted between the infraspecific populations, and differences in characters are significant for taxonomic delineation within the species, then the term subspecies (subsp.) is used. The subspecies rank is used to recognize geographic distinctiveness range of the species.

Where population distribution ranges are overlapping, gene flow is possible, and differing characters are significant for taxonomic delineation within the species, the term variety (var.) is used for the separate populations. The variety rank is appropriate if the taxon is seen throughout the geographic range of the species.

The differences between subspecies are usually less distinct than the differences between species. When a taxonomist decides to recognize a subspecies, the originally described population is retained as the “nominotypical” subspecies, which repeats the same name as the species. In botanical nomenclature, the subspecies name that repeats the species name is referred to as the subspecies “autonym.”

The Beginning of a Genus
The first Phalaenopsis species discovered by Europeans was found on a small island off the east coast of New Guinea by botanist Georgius Everhardus Rumphius in 1653. He named it Angraecum ablum majus, which was published in Herbal Ambonese, 6:99, t43. 1750. The species was already known by several different names: Angrec Puti besaar in Malay and Angrec colan in Balinese. Since the starting point for modern botanical nomenclature is Linnaeus’ Species Plantarum (1753), the Rumphius’ name has no standing.


Phalaenopsis Pollination
David Lafarge
6 pages, 10 photos

Phal. gigantea presents with a post-pollination syndrome.
©Greg Allikas, grown by Krull-Smith

As in most orchids, the floral morphology of species of the genus Phalaenopsis has adapted specifically to the environmental and ecological conditions. For example, perianth texture and labellum structure differ among species, which may be the result of a mutualistic coevolution between the plant and insects that disperse pollen specifically between plants of the same species. The mode of flowering, with some flowers open for long periods or very many flowers that all open at the same time, could also correspond to the way of life of insects (reproduction period, hatching of eggs, larval maturation), which will ensure the reproductive success of the plant species.

It is generally accepted that flowers pollinated by insects have evolved from anemogamous (wind-pollinated) plants. The first flowers certainly offered free powdery pollen, which allowed the wind to pick it up, thus ensuring the transport of light and small pollen grains. The specificity was then based solely on the recognition of pollen grains by the stigmatic surface, and a lot of pollen was simply lost, falling to the ground or on different and non-receptive plants. Gradually, there appeared insects feeding on pollen. To feed, they flew from one flower to another, ensuring a much more efficient transport of pollen, even if they ate some of their precious cargo. Many flowering plants have gone from anemogamy to entomogamy (pollination by insects).

Subsequently, some plants began to offer small amounts of nectar (in large quantities, the nectar intoxicates insects, which are then much less effective in moving from one flower to another), or to emit attractive fragrances to attract pollinators. The pollen evolved from a light powder to more compact structures. In orchids, the pollen grains are glued to each other by waxes. These pollinia are hard and are protected by a cap at the top of the column. They can be detached from the anther during the visit of an insect and then stick on its body...

An Introduction To Phalaenopsis Taxonomy
Harold Koopowitz
4 pages, 10 photos

Phal. mysorensis leaves.
©C. J. Saldanha

The genus Phalaenopsis currently contains some 86 species. A casual glance at the list of recognized species shows considerable variation in both size and shape of the flowers. Enough to make one wonder how the genus is defined, and what makes a phalaenopsis a phalaenopsis?

The first important monographs on the genus were those written by Herbert Sweet (1980) and Eric Christenson (2001). Sweet recognized 41 species while Christenson counted 65 species. Today, Lafarge (2019) recognizes 86 species. In part, the increase is from the discovery of new species and also by sinking species from other genera into Phalaenopsis following DNA analysis. There are, however, some species that are so variable in both color and form that it can be difficult to assign individual plants to specific concepts. A good example is Phal. tetraspis, discussed in a separate article in this issue of the Orchid Digest.

One usually thinks that flower form is the important factor in deciding to which genus a plant belongs, but it is vegetative characteristics that help to place species in the genus Phalaenopsis. Even plants that are not in flower can be assigned to the genus with ease. Below are the main characteristic vegetative features of this genus...

The Phalaenopsis speciosa-tetraspis Complex
Norman Fang, Olaf Gruss, and Harold Koopowitz
11 pages, 24 photos

Phalaenopsis tetraspis
©Harold Koopowitz

Phalaenopsis tetraspis
©Harold Koopowitz

When Reichenbach f. published the description of a new orchid species in 1881, he must have thought the flower especially beautiful because he bestowed the epithet speciosa to it, calling the orchid Phalaenopsis speciosa. The plants originally came from the Nicobar Islands off India. The first importations were noted for the diversity of color patterns ranging from solid purple to clean white with variable amounts of rosy-purple spotting. Early on, it was noted that flowers were intensely fragrant.

The Nicobar Islands are positioned to the east of India and Sri Lanka and directly south from Myanmar in the Indian Ocean. The islands are relatively small and today, Phal. speciosa is considered very rare. Slightly to the north are the Andaman Islands, and here in the mangrove swamps, is found another similar orchid, Phalaenopsis tetraspis. This second species also extends to the nearby Island of Sumatra, south of the Nicobar Islands. The islands are covered by tropical rainforest, so it is not surprising that they might also be home to orchids.

H. G. Reichenbach f. described Phalaenopsis tetraspis in 1868 in Xenia Orchidacea. He based his description on an incomplete plant with only one leaf, and the locality was erroneously stated as the Himalayas. The plant had been collected by Thomas Lobb for the Veitch Company, and he probably deliberately provided the wrong information; early commercial collectors did this to protect their sources. Then in 1880, additional plants came to Europe. E. S. Berkeley sent them from the Andaman Islands to William Bull, who in turn, sold them to John Day. The species, however, was lost to cultivation for many years. It was only in 1990 that plants of Phalaenopsis tetraspis appeared in the trade. These plants probably came from Sumatra, and the flowers were mostly an ivory-white...


Growing Specimen Phalaenopsis Plants:
An Interview with Eric Goo
Cindy Coty
3 pages, 6 photos

Phal. Sweet Memory 'Amy Dawn' CCE/AOS
(Brother Fancy × Brother Mirage).
Awarded with 87 flowers and three buds on nine inflorescences.
© Eric Goo


When thinking about where one can find specimen, award quality phalaenopsis plants, we normally think of the huge standard phalaenopsis with very long, precisely arranged, perfectly shingled inflorescences, such as are prominently displayed in major orchid shows like the Taiwan International Orchid Show. Phoenix, Arizona, is not the first place that comes to mind. As it turns out, Eric Goo of Phoenix has mastered the art of growing spectacular novelty phals to perfection. Eric has consented to share his hints with the readers of the Orchid Digest.

Eric and his wife, Mary, are long term residents of Phoenix, who pursue their hobbies with great passion and perfection. They also have a pet rabbit that rules the roost. Eric has to be careful not to let the rabbit get into the greenhouse; it seems orchids are a preferred food for rabbits… who knew! But rabbit bites seem to preclude awards! Besides growing orchids, Eric is an excellent photographer and has provided all the images that illustrate this article.

Eric has grown various types of phalaenopsis for
exhibition. He has grown classical standard phalaenopsis using the special grooming and training techniques that produce perfectly shingled, showy inflorescences but has come to prefer the additional challenge presented by the novelty-type phals that he loves to grow and hybridize...

How Do Phalaenopsis Have Sex?
Harold Koopowitz
2 pages, 4 photos

©Harold Koopowitz

Sex evolved to overcome two problems. The first is that organisms need to maintain genetic variability because, without that, there can be no evolution. The variation comes from mixing the genes from two different parents. In animals, the parents are usually either male or female, and they need to get together. In plants, both male and female sexes usually occur in the same individual, however, to maintain genetic variation, there must still be two different individuals as parents. Sperm and egg cells are haploid, which means they have half the number of chromosomes that are found in the parent plant. When a sperm cell fuses with an egg cell, the resulting combined cell is called a zygote, and the number of chromosomes is a combination of the two haploid sex cells. The zygote then has the same number of chromosomes as the parent plant, but the genetic composition of the zygote is a mix of the two parental plants. The zygote then develops into a new individual; this is true for both plants and animals.

The second problem: how do two plants, often attached to trees, get together? Sex cells are called gametes. Male gametes are motile sperm (they can move around) and female gametes are fixed eggs. In the flowering plants, eggs are produced in structures called ovules that are borne inside the ovary. Plant sperm cannot swim in the air; they need a liquid medium. How do phalaenopsis sperm get inside the ovary of another plant that can be twenty feet off the ground, in the air, on another tree perhaps a mile away? Plants do this by co-opting a pollinator to bring the two individuals together. For a discussion of pollinators, see David LaFarge’s article in this issue of the Orchid Digest...