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The amazing one-day wonders

By Jim Cootes and Ronny Boos

One can only wonder why a plant would expend so much energy to create a flower that only lasts for a few hours. It is a phenomenon that I have often pondered over the years, particularly when I see masses of Dendrobium crumenatum in bloom.

Pteroceras  unguiculatum (Ronny Boos / 2016.mb.com.ph)

Pteroceras
unguiculatum
(Ronny Boos / 2016.mb.com.ph)

Dendrobium crumenatum is one of the most commonly seen orchids in the Philippines, and I don’t think I have ever been to a province or island and not seen plants of it growing somewhere, whether in the wild or in someone’s garden. Without a doubt one of the reasons for its popularity is that the plants are very easily grown, and seems to thrive on lack of care. This species also has the added attraction of a most delightful fragrance. The flowers are produced nine days after there has been a sudden drop in temperature, such as when a thunder storm occurs.

When I stayed on the island of Mindoro, during the late 1990s, I had many plants of Dendrobium crumenatum growing in my garden. These plants were a constant wonder to my neighbour’s, because they would frequently flower, whereas those in my neighbour’s gardens would only flower after storms. I never told my neighbor’s that when the mood took me, I would take a pitcher of cold water from the refrigerator, and water a number of the plants to induce their flowering. It is quite amazing how many flowers can be produced from one inflorescence over the years. Another interesting feature of this species is that small plants are often produced from along the flowering stem.

Dendrobium crumenatum (Ronny Boos / 2016.mb.com.ph)

Dendrobium crumenatum
(Ronny Boos / 2016.mb.com.ph)

Another very nice species which shares the same flowering habits as Dendrobium crumenatum is Pteroceras unguiculatum. The plant of this species, has a resemblance to that of a Phalaenopsis, but with very tough, leathery foliage, that has rough surface. As soon as an inflorescence is seen there is absolutely no confusion that the plant may be a Phalaenopsis. The inflorescence is pendent and somewhat thickened, and very near the apex a number of 4 to 5 cm diameter flowers will appear after a sudden drop in temperature. The inflorescences grow longer with each flowering. One thing, which I have noticed with this species is that the fragrance is variable between populations, with some being very fragrant and others barely having any scent at all.

Both of the above species are widely spread, throughout much of Asia, and they appear to be common wherever they are found.

Pteroceras longicalcarum (Ravan Schneider / 2016.mb.com.ph)

Pteroceras longicalcarum (Ravan Schneider / 2016.mb.com.ph)

There is another member of the genus Pteroceras that is a real wonder to behold, when the plant is in bloom. This is Pteroceras longicalcareum. The plant will produce several inflorescences, and on a well-established plant these can reach up to a meter in length. The flowers themselves are not particularly big, but they are produced in such numbers that they cannot fail to attract attention. Sadly the plant is not very common, so it is rarely seen in cultivation. It is also endemic (not found in any other country) to the Philippines and is widely spread throughout the archipelago.

The big advantage of the three species mentioned here is that they are all species from the lowlands, though Pteroceras longicalcareum does grow to elevations of up to about 1,000 meters. The plants prefer to be grown on the trunks and branches of trees in good light, maybe with a coconut husk over the roots to maintain a bit of moisture for the plants.

The only disadvantage is that the flowers barely last a day, but then again, the flowers are produced a number of times throughout the year.