Neofinetia orchid show, fuukiran-ten, part two

Here are some more pictures of fuukiran at shows I’ve been to in the past couple years.  All of these plants are valuable either due to their size (and therefore, age) and/or rarity.  Fuukiran shows are a joy to experience in person.  I hope these pictures give you an idea.

First up is a large Tamakongou, the most well known of the “bean leaf” varieties of fuukiran.  This plant is not only large, but has many flowers, something I find a bit difficult to do with this form.  My plants grow into clumps fairly quickly, but are a bit shy about flowering as well as this specimen.

Probably the best known of the bean leaf varieties of fuukiran is Tamakongou.

Kinginrasha is one of the more interesting fuukiran.  The plant is relatively small, but is generous with its blooms.  This specimen is showing off very nicely both white and golden flowers at once, hence in its name kin = silver and gin = golden.  Not rare, but a plant this size carries great value.

One of my favorite fuukiran is Kinginrasha.

Shikoku Akabana (akabana meaning “red flowered”) is another purple flowered variety, but is not an accepted fuukiran.  It is however a lovely form that is generous about flowering, but clumps slowly.  This specimen is a large one and therefore valuable.

Shikoku Akabana
Shikoku Akabana is a red flowering wild form from the island of Shikoku. Though well known it is not a registered fuukiran.

Continue reading “Neofinetia orchid show, fuukiran-ten, part two”

Neofinetia orchid show, fuukiran-ten, part one

July is flowering season for the select clones of Neofinetia falcata, known as fuukiran in Japanese.  This is always a pleasant time of year with its lazy hot days and orchid shows, or ran-ten.  I’ve managed over the years to take pictures of some pretty spectacular plants, both in terms of rarity and size.  What follows is a sampling.  So, I’ll let the pictures mostly speak for themselves.

Here is a typical scene at a fuukiran show in Japan.  In a show plants must be put into special glazed pots, some of which are elegantly hand painted.  They must be planted the traditional method – in a mound of long fibered sphagnum moss.

Fuukiran show
Fuukiran show, or ran ten.

The highest ranked fuukiran is Fukiden.  While it remains the top ranked form, it is not the most sought after these days.  In recent years the value of this plant has dropped 50%, but the cost of a single fan remains high – around $500 US.  A plant this size commands a wallet breaking price.

Fukiden, the top ranked fuukiran.

A lovely easy to grow and fairly cheap form is Tenkeifukurin.  The variegation of this form is very stable and it clumps well.  This is a wonderful specimen that represents 20 or more years of growth.

Tenkeifukurin, an easy to grow fuukiran.

Continue reading “Neofinetia orchid show, fuukiran-ten, part one”

If you dare: growing Cypripediums in a hot climate

I have been growing lady slipper orchids, genus Cypripedium (here after called Cyps), in a warm temperate climate for 7 years in southern Japan (latitude 34 N).  In the spring, when the plants are emerging and flowering, I get a jolt of shear joy – mission accomplished.  Then, in June, the monsoon rains kick in and the rotting begins. Bugs get more active and slugs are a constant threat.

By late July (as I write this), I am positively sure that all is lost for the season since just about everything is worn, torn, ripped, rotted or eaten.  The oven heat of August and September seems to only emphasize the point – growing Cyps in a hot summer climate is madness.  Come November, with its cool rains and falling maple leaves, I dare to check the plants and am often surprised with what not only endured, but even grew well that year.  The following article is the method I’ve worked out over the years to grow these lovely terrestrial orchids.

Cypripedium kentuckiense in garden
Cypripedium kentuckiense growing in its 3rd season in a raised bed at the eves of a native woodland.

First of all, let me explain the climate I’m working with.  Kyushu, the southernmost main island of Japan, is a warm temperate climate sitting on the eves of the subtropics.  A typical day in January has a high around 7 C (44.5 F) and a low of 2 C (35.6 F), with an daily average around 5 C (41 F).  Why spend so much time worrying average temperatures?  The reason is simple – to vernalize adequately (have a proper dormancy period), most Cyps require at least 3 months of an average temperature at or below 5 C.  My town, situated just on the edge of a mountain range, barely fulfills that requirement.  In fact, the average temperature is a bit warm in the winter months.

If winter weren’t trouble enough, June and July create more problems.  This is due to the inordinate rainfall of the summer monsoon.  A meter or more of it can fall in just 6 weeks, something most Cyps don’t enjoy.  In mid July the rains stop and the oven turns on.  Average highs are in the low 30s C (90-92 F) with lows only down to the upper 20s C (80-82 F).  Fall comes late, with October drying off and slowly cooling off, but the true colder nights don’t come until late November or early December.

Cypripedium henryi
Cypripedium henryi is another potentially heat tolerant species that occurs in parts of SE Asia.

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Life on the end of a twig, two miniature orchids from southern Japan

In the local mountains of Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan, there exists two miniature orchid plants that literally spend their lives hanging off the the edge of branches or even twigs of trees – most notably Japanese plum yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia, Japanese cedar, Cryptomeria japonica. and to a lesser extent, hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa.  Mind you, these trees grow on exposed ridge lines that commonly experience typhoons (the Eastern equivalent of hurricanes) and near constant winds off the sea.  Such a life is precarious to say the least, yet they manage to thrive.  Both are closely related, but in different genera.

Thrixspermum japonicum plant
Thrixspermum japonicum is always found dangling from twigs of conifer trees. This one is in seed.

Thrixspermum japonicum is a miniature evergreen epiphytic orchid.  The plant grows from one growing point (monopodial growth form) and has a trailing stem.  Offshoots can grow off this stem, sometimes forming small clumps of pendulous growths.  The entire plant is small with each growth being  3-10 cm in length, occasionally longer in really large specimens.  The thin leaves are usually a deep purplish green, between 1-3.5 cm long and 0.5-1 cm wide.  The light grey-green roots mostly grow off the leafless end of the stem and are 4-9 mm long and about 1 mm wide.  The flower buds begin to form in late summer in small clusters, and stay in stasis throughout the winter months until opening in mid spring.

The flowers hang in clusters of 3-8, hanging neatly arrayed with all the flowers facing the same way.  Each flower is tiny, not much more than 1 cm across and is a lovely creamy yellow.  The flower is cupped forward, but mostly open, however the dorsal sepal stays bent forward over the lip. The sepals and petals are pure creamy yellow.   The lip is heavily marked with reddish brown and is bulbous at its base with two flaring up swept “wings” at its sides.  The seed pods are elongate and thin;  2-2.5 cm long and about 3 mm wide.  Plants typically form small, loose colonies.

Thrixspermum japonicum flowers upclose
The flowers of T. japonicum are lovely when viewed up close.

This species is locally abundant in wet forests growing on the twigs and small branches of conifer trees, especially Japanese cedar, Cryptomeria japonica, and Japanese plum yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia.  White it is also reported to grow on the trunks of evergreen broad leafed trees such as the Camphor tree, Cinnamomum camphora, I have not seen that locally.  Plants tend to grow at fairly high elevations, from 400 m to 1000 m.  They have been collected from Iwate Prefecture in the north of Honshu and all the way southward to Kyushu, Shikoku, and Yaku Island off the Kyushu’s southern coast.

This was the first epiphytic Japanese orchid I ever saw in the wild.  I was a bit surprised to find it, especially where I found it.  It was growing on the very outermost branches of a Cephalotaxus tree high up a mountain where winters get quite cold.  Since then I’ve seen many more, with the vast bulk of these being on the forest floor attached to fallen twigs and branches.  If this orchid had a job description it would read, “dangling precariously on small twigs high up in trees and falling to the ground” – and that is about the truth!  I am constantly finding plants on the ground during my outings into the mountains.  Whenever I see a recently fallen cedar branch, I always give it a close look.
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A beautiful orchid “weed”, Spiranthes sinensis

Japan has one truly weedy orchid species, Spiranthes sinensis.  This is a remarkable plant for many reasons, not the least of which is its startling purple-pink color.  It is one of the few orchid species that has actually benefited from human activity, in particular the clearing of forests and creation of grassy areas where it thrives.  Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating plant.

Spiranthes sinensis habitat
Spiranthes sinensis is commonly seen on roadsides, fields, and lawns. These are growing in a park in Sasaguri Town, Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu.

Spiranthes sinensis is a short-lived perennial plant, growing singly or in small clumps, and capable of forming colonies of thousands of individuals.  In mid fall a small rosette of bright green leaves form around a central growing point. They are held close to the ground and are 3-6 cm long and 1-1.5 cm wide.  In the cold winter months they stop growing but remain green.  Starting in late March they begin to grow again and by May or June have elongated up to 12 cm and increased in number.

Sometime in late June the branch less flower spike begins to grow from the central growing point and by mid July is standing 15-40 cm tall and sporting anywhere from a handful of flowers to several dozen.  The flowers are arranged in a helix around the spike, and flower sequentially.  The flowers are small, no more than 6 mm across.  The sepals and petals are long and point forward with the dorsal sepal and two petals forming a little hood over the lip.  They range from pale pink to deep lavender in color.  The lip is relatively broad and tongue-like in shape and recurves downward.  It is frilled and pure white.  The overall look of the tiny flowers is crystalline.  Albino forms exist, but why would you want to have just another white Spiranthes?

Spiranthes sinensis as a well
Volunteer seedlings show up all over the garden. In this case a seedling is growing in an epiphytic cactus pot.

Seed formation is rapid, probably taking just a few weeks.  By the time of flowering the leaves are all but spent, and after flowering they disappear completely only to regrow a few months later.

These lovely plants range over all of Japan, the Korean Peninsula, part of Russia, and also China.  They favor open, sunny, grassy areas such as roadsides, fields, the berms of rice patties, and lawns, but also grow in bright shade just within the eves of a forest.  It is a common volunteer plant in garden beds and flower pots as long as these are sunny and moist.

One thing I like about Japanese orchids is that they aren’t gaudy or overstated, but rather tend to be small, simple, and elegant.  This plant is a good example.  If you are zooming down a highway you will miss this plant in flower even though thousands many be growing on the very edge of the road.  To truly enjoy it you have to get down on your hands and knees (I prefer my belly) and take a close look.  You’ll be amazed with what you see:  spirals of pristine purple-pink and pure white crystalline flowers bathed in bed of grass.

Spiranthes sinensis flowers
Up close the flowers of Spiranthes sinensis are truly spectacular.

Anyone familiar with the North American members of this genus will be surprised with the flower’s color since virtually all other species are either pure white or yellowish.  I’m constantly on the lookout for this little plant when I’m near a grassy park or field. In Japan grass is not usually cut at regular intervals as in America, but is left to grow for a month or more giving the Spiranthes plants time to grow, flower, and even set seed.  They set seed remarkably fast – possibly as fast as just a few weeks.
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To extinction and back again, a rare orchid from Kyushu, Japan

Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island is home to an extremely rare orchid species, Odontochilus hatusimanus.  This plant is so rare in fact that it was listed as extinct for several decades before being rediscovered in the late 1990s.  It just so happens that I live right next to a mountain that has one of the remaining populations left in nature.

O. hatusimanus is a low growing evergreen terrestrial orchid.  The ovate leaves originate out of a central growing point and form a small, neat rosette.  They are glossy, dark green, lightly veined, and about 5-6 cm long and 3-4 cm wide.  The rosettes grow from a trailing rhizome that is at or near the surface of the ground.  From the center of the growing point a single hairy branch less flower spike grows to a height of 6-10 cm and sports up to 8 small flowers about 1 cm across each.  The pure white lip is cleft in the center forming two lobes that are slightly serrated. The remaining sepals and petals are covered in long white hairs and are pinkish green in color.  These don’t fully open and thus form a hood-like structure.

Odontochilus hatusimanus plants
A large clump of Odontochilus hatusimanus in habitat, Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu.

It is a denizen of wet broad leaf evergreen woodlands of Kyushu Island, Japan, preferring the wettest sites possible, growing nearly in small streams and areas that commonly flood.  In these areas Calanthe reflexa, another terrestrial orchid, grows sympatrically.

This rare delight was first described by science in 1957 and was thought to be extinct, however, just a few decades later it was rediscovered. Currently it is only found at two sites on Kyushu, in Kagoshima and Fukuoka Prefectures.  The first rediscovery was in Kagoshima in 1999, and shortly thereafter in Fukuoka.  It remains critically endangered.

Through shear dumb luck and an observant eye, I stumbled upon a nonflowering plant back in May 2004  on one of the local mountains.  Unfamiliar with the local flora at the time, I wasn’t sure of its identity, but I guessed it to either be related to the genus Goodyera or to be a Goodyera itself.  A search on the internet and consultation with a native orchid expert IDed it as Goodyera foliosa.  I tried to find it in flower later that season, but the only plant I knew of grew no spike that year.

Odontochilus hatusimanus flowering plant
The plant flowers in late July in its native home.

In 2005 I returned in late August and found a small scattered colony already in seed.  That was a bit confusing since G. foliosa was supposed to bloom in August and September along with its cousins G. schlectendaliana and G. velutina, two species found in the general area.  The following year I was determined to photograph the flowers and made repeated trips to the colony starting in mid July.  I was finally rewarded in late July, finding two plants in perfect flower.  I sent the shots off to an orchid friend and he replied that it was not the Goodyera after all, but rather the extremely rare Odontochilus hatusimanus, a species I had never heard of.  What a thrill to have found such a rare species in my own backyard!
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Two sister Cypripediums from Asia, C. japonicum and C. formosanum

Two very beautiful Cypripediums hail from east Asia – C. japonicum and C. formosanum – and are the only members of the genus from the section Flabellinervia.  Considered by most taxonomists to be distinct, C. formosanum is so closely related to C. japonicum that some believe it to be a variety of its larger cousin. They are different in regard to stature, flower color and shape, and importantly, ease of culture. Having grown these plants for the past 7 years, I have experience in their needs and tolerances in the garden. Let’s have a look at C. formosanum first.

C. formosanum is endemic to the higher elevations of Taiwan’s central mountains where it is has become very rare due to collecting pressure. Thankfully, it is a pretty easy species in the garden and a natural clumper.  Due to its restricted range, it most likely is a relic population and derived from the more widespread C. japonicum.  Despite the fact that its distribution straddles the Tropic of Cancer, it is in fact a temperate plant given that it grows only at high altitude in its native range (2000-3000 meters).

Cypripedium formosanum flower
Cypripedium formosanum is one of the prettiest Cyp species.

This species is a deciduous terrestrial herb.  Its two broad fan-like, pleated leaves grow opposed to each other at the center of a lightly pubescent stem, and are up to 15 cm across each.  The stem continues on to support one flower and its floral bract with the total height ranging between 14-25 cm.  The  flower has an inflated lip with an oval, almost barbed orifice at its front.  The slipper-shaped flowers have a pink base color throughout with darker purple-pink spots and mottling.  These form striations within the lip orifice and are also more concentrated at the base of the petals and dorsal sepal. The petals are quite broad and the lip has an inflated, puffy look. The staminode (a shield shaped structure covering and attached to the column) is a deep reddish-purple color. Pure white forms exist and are as rare as hen’s teeth.

Cypripedium japonicum flower
Cypripedium japonicum has bright apple green sepals and petals and a less inflated lip than C. formosanum.

The plants grow from long stoloniferous rhizomes with new growths being up to 10 cm or so from the previous year’s growth (this section of rhizome is called the internode).  At the base of each growth at the point of attachment to the rhizome (the node) are a clump of short, branch less roots (10-20 cm long).  The rhizomes themselves are often branching and in time plants can form large continuous colonies over wide areas.
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The “only” easy to grow terrestrial orchid – Bletilla striata

Here’s a terrestrial orchid that is not only common, but can also take a fair amount of abuse and live to tell the tale.  The bulbous rhizomes can be packaged for some months, completely rootless, and yet when planted they will grow on and even flower.  Ironically, while this species is so easy to grow and is available at big box stores the world over, it also is very rare in the wild these days. Bletilla striata is a perennial, deciduous orchid of open environments.  The grass-like leaves, numbering between 4-8, grow tightly along a central, thick stem to the height of 30-50 cm on average.  The leaves are bright green and deeply ribbed, giving the overall impression of an unflowering plant as that of a typical palm tree seedling.

Bletilla striata growing in its native habitat in southern Japan, Hiraodai Karst Plateau, Kyushu, Japan.

The flower stalk arises out of the top of the leaves at the apex of the main stem and can extend for another 30 cm or more.  The typically pink-purple flowers occur in an alternating pattern along its length and open sequentually, yet several are in flower at any given time.  The flower stalks start out in a vertical position, but as more flowers open, they tend to sag down and become horizontal to the ground.

Bletilla striata, mixed forms
The author’s garden showing various color forms of Bletilla striata growing in one patch.

The flowers, which can number up to 10 or more per stalk, have a very classical orchid shape, something like a Cattleya, and are about 6 cm across.  The sepals and petals are solid pink-purple and are of similar shape and size.  The partially tubular lip is deeply ribbed with a ruffles at the end, and these are often streaked white.  The column is long and descending, becoming broader at its tip.  Plants quickly clump and individuals can number a hundred stems or more in time.

In Japan this species typically flowers from April through May.  Preferring bright environments, it can be found on forest edges, low mountain meadows, rocky cliff faces, marshlands, and along rivers in exposed, sunny environments. River “improvements”, and damn building has lead to the species becoming very rare in nature.
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Fukuoka’s biggest ferns – Woodwardia and Pteris

The lower mountain forests of Kyushu boast some of the largest fern species.  In this discussion we’ll look at the four largest types of fern in the area around Fukuoka Prefecture.  These include two species of Pteris, as well as two species of Woodwardia.

Pteris excelsa crosier
The crosier of Pteris excelsa is one of its nicest features.

Pteris excelsa is a tall evergreen fern with two frond types that are morphologically distinct:  the sterile fronds (the trophophylls) and the fertile fronds (the sporophylls).  The sterile fronds are twice pinnate with the end of each pinna ending in a spear-like pinnule that occur in an irregular pattern.  They are up to 150 cm long and around 60 cm wide.  These tend to grow horizontal to the ground or arch downwards.  The fertile fronds are much taller and stand nearly erect, sometimes as high as 240 cm long.  They lack the spear-like terminal pinnules of the sterile frond, and each pinnule tends to be much more narrow as well.

The emerging crosiers and stipe are covered in a light white pubescence, but this is lost once the frond is mature.  The sori are born on the outer margins of the pinnules, covered by the folding in of the margins.  This fern is most commonly found in lose small groups, often growing on wet seepy slopes and relatively bright forests, but occasionally next to stream sides.  It occurs at fairly low elevations, 50-600 meters.

This is a big fern, in fact taller than Woodwardia orientalis, the most massive and impressive fern in Fukuoka.  The growing crosier is a sight to behold with each pinna all curled up, ready to unfurl.  Furthermore it is covered in a light white pubescence which is stunning to see in person. This is definitely one of Fukuoka’s more spectacular ferns.

Pteris excelsa, sterile frond
The sterile fronds of Pteris excelsa have an odd, spear-like terminal pinnule.

A fern that looks more like a true bracken, Pteris wallichiana, is large, evergreen, and clumping.  Both sterile and fertile fronds have nearly the identical look and dimensions.  The stipe stands almost vertical, is completely smooth and scale less, and accounts for over 2/3 of the frond length growing up to 130 cm high.  At the highest point of the stipe the frond branches out in three directions.  The outer branches divide once more to form two forked branches.  The center branch grows the longest and doesn’t divide again.  The result is a palmate blade forming a lopsided circle ranging from 60-80 cm wide.

The fronds are twice pinnate and the pinnules are slightly lobed.  As in the former species, sori are born on the margins of the pinnules and are protected by false indusia that are in fact the pinnule margins folding in and over the sori.  Plants can form large clumps in time.  This species seems to like moist to wet slopes in bright woods, tree plantations, and also along streams.  It is found at low to mid elevations, 300-500 meters.

Pteris wallichiana habitat
Yours truly beside a clump of Pteris wallichiana in habitat, Hisayama Town, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Here’s another one of Fukuoka’s oversized ferns.  The frond can measure nearly 2 meters in length, stand up to 1.3 meters high, and be nearly a meter wide.  Now that’s a nice big fern!  The bulk of its range lies in southeast Asia in decidedly subtropical to tropical regions, although it can be found up to the central coast of Honshu.  While it appears to be evergreen here, I’ve heard that it is deciduous in winter further north.

Here’s a video showing not only Pteris excelsa and P. wallichiana, but also four other Pteris species common to northern Kyushu:  P. multifida, P. cretica, P. nipponica, and P. dispar.
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The forked ferns of Fukuoka, Dicranopteris linearis and Gleichenia japonica

The forked ferns, family Gleicheniaceae, are some of the more striking looking.  Their forked habit of branching sets them aside as something truly unique.  On Kyushu, southern Japan, two species are common, Dicranopteris linearis and Gleichenia japonica, where they inhabit lower elevations on slopes either in woodlands or on exposed sites.  Let’s have a closer look at these odd ferns.

Gleichenia japonica is an evergreen vining fern with long trailing rhizomes.  Crosiers can originate from the rhizome or from the fork of the branched fronds (pseudodichotomous branching). The new fronds are brilliant lime green and mature to a light green or to dark green depending on exposure to the sun. Each branch is 20-70 cm long and forms a distinct forked frond.  Total frond length can be 1 m.  The stipe is relatively short, 15-30 cm long, and the thicken base is covered in dark brown scales.

Gleichenia japonica habitat
Gleichenia japonica often grows in large rambling colonies on moist hillsides.

As new crosiers are formed, the resulting vine-like chain of fronds can extend for several meters and form dense colonies.  The frond is twice pinnate, but the pinnules are unlobed.  The undersides of the fronds are a white-blue color (hence the Japanese name, urajiro, meaning “below white”).  Spore production is rare. The circular and naked sori grow in pairs on either side of the costa.

Gleichenia japonica crosier
Crosiers of Gleichenia japonica form at the point of the fork in the frond. This bud-like crosier can wait for several months before expanding.

Forming large, dense colonies on hillsides, this species can often be seen growing alongside its near relative Dicranopteris linearis, but often is found on moister sites in heavier shade.  It also is a much larger fern.  Colonies  can adorn whole hillsides, creating a startling visual impact, albeit a bit rambling and “messy” looking.
Continue reading “The forked ferns of Fukuoka, Dicranopteris linearis and Gleichenia japonica”