Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ant Orchid Blooming!

 Schomburgkia (Myrmecophila) tibcinis -- The Trumpet Player's Schomburgkia, Cow Horn Orchid

The common name of the orchid species comes from the local inhabitant’s practice of drying the pseudobulbs to make a crude trumpet. These trumpets are commonly used to call the children home from playing, for meals or bedtime.  The children also dry them out to make toy musical instruments, similar to a musical instrument made from a cow horn, which provides the basis for the other common name, Cow Horn Orchid.

The name for the genus Myrmecophila comes from the word myrmecophile, which refers to the symbiotic relationship with colonies of ants.  The genus has now been changed to fit under the Schomburgkia genus, which is classified with Laelias and Cattleyas. Ant colonies are typically found living inside the large, hollowed-out, banana-shaped pseudobulbs (the bulb-like structure at the base of each leaf). Among plant freaks, these symbiotic plants are called “ant plants”. An opening at the base of each pseudobulb serves as a doorway for the ants, which harvest nectar from the flowers and forage on other plants nearby. The ants associated with Myrmecophila tibicinis pack many of the pseudobulbs with waste debris, which includes dead ants and other insects, detritus, harvested seeds, and soil and sand; think of the depositories as small landfills. The host orchid directly utilizes mineral components of the debris deposited by the ants inside the pseudobulbs. 

The big clump, mounted on cork, about 3 1/2 feet wide by 3 1/2 feet tall

Since the tropical forest canopy is often a nutrient-poor habitat, even a minimal boost of minerals or protein harvested from the waste of the symbiotic ants can have a significant positive effect on the host plant in the wild; with a cultivated plant it is of little concern. Without that internal source nutrient boost, the orchid in the wild must rely on whatever detritus and droppings fall its way, like the rest of its orchid brethren. In return for nectar and shelter, the ants also provide some protection from insect predators that might attack the host plant, and occasionally pollinate the flowers. Myrmecophila tibicinis can grow quite well in the absence of ants, though it’s unusual for a colony of the orchid to be ant-less. The species of ants typically found colonizing the orchid are:
Brachymyrmex sp.
Camponotus planatus, abdominalis, and rectangularis
Crematogaster brevispinosa
Ectatomma tuberlactum
Monomorium ebenium
Paratrechina longicornis
Zacryptocerus maculates

The genus Schomburgkia honors Moritz Richard Schomburgk, a German-born gardener and plant collector who later become the director of the Adelaide Botanic Garden in 1865. Despite Richard being the honoree, it was his older brother Robert Hermann Schomburgk who dragged his little brother along on his second British-sponsored boundary-mapping expedition to British Guiana (1840-1844), and all eight monocots bearing the Schomburgk name are all attributed to Herman and not Richard, and only one of those eight is an orchid (Sobralia elisabethiae). Richard’s big claim to fame was the discovery of the Giant Waterlily, Victoria amazonica, which became a hugely popular plant during the Victorian era.

the smaller clump, cork mounted, about 2 feet wide by 2 feet tall

Schomburgkia (Myrmecophila) tibcinis is a big-scale, warm to hot-growing epiphyte and occasional lithophyte (grows on rocks and ledges) that is found from Southern Mexico, into Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Colombia in seasonally dry deciduous forests, growing on trunks and larger branches, in bright light to full sun, at lower elevations. Having escaped cultivation, this orchid is now seen growing on palm trunks in Southern Florida. It has 12 to 18” hollow cylindrical pseudobulbs, often with holes at the base.  There are from 2 to 5 apical, elliptic-ovate light green leaves. This orchid typically blooms in March-April. They can be grown with water year-round, but do best with a drying-out period during the cooler months.  They do best mounted on wood or cork (not fern plaques, as fern degrades over time) since they do not like to be disturbed; they root quickly and will anchor securely to whatever they are mounted. They have from an 8 to a 15-foot long bloom spike (which is unusually long), and the fragrant 2 to 3-inch wide flowers open successively, occasionally having a cluster at the end of the spike.   

Synonyms: Bletia tibicinis; Cattleya tibicinis; *Epidendrum tibicinis; Laelia tibicinis; Myrmecophila grandiflora.; Schomburgkia brysiana var intermedia; Schomburgkia grandiflora; Schomburgkia intermedia; Schomburgkia tibicinis; Schomburgkia tibicinis var grandiflora

Zone 12 , Hot

Mick Vann ©

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