Friday, 29 July 2016

Perils of nature


An open-pit mine is the latest in unlikely locations to host a natural colony of wild orchids. But not for long ... Once again, orchids symbolise the transient nature of landscape change.

Privately-owned wetland Adirondack Park in upstate NY is a wetland is formed of coarse sand left over when granite ore was crushed to extract iron from 1900 until 1978. Bare sand was eventually colonised by moss, lichen, grasses, sedges and trees, including willows, poplars and tamaracks.

As part of this evolutionary process, tiny orchid seeds blew in, and now the wetland is the proud owner of six species of bog orchids, including millions of rose pogonias and grass pinks.

Experts report the variety of fungi that colonise a plant’s root system and enhance its ability to absorb nutrients is partly responsible for the colonisation.

But nature moves on, and the orchids may be a fleeting botanical memory, for the already, an aggressive non-native reed called phragmites is choking out other plants in the area. With the inevitable lack of sunshine, it is expected they will decline.

A classic case of botanical carpe diem.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Fitting new look for lady’s slipper orchid


Orchids pop up in so many designs, from wallpaper to food art, that it was a treat to find that one particular specimen appearing on a new coin.

The National Bank of Ukraine has issued the latest coin in its continuing series, “Flora and Fauna of Ukraine” in an inspired project honouring endangered species of plants found in and around the country. The latest issue features the orchid affectionately referred to as Lady’s Slipper, or Cypripedium Calceolus.

Regarded as one of the most famous orchids of the northern hemisphere, the elegant lady’s slipper orchid is said to be named after the footwear of Eastern European footwear.

The slipper-shaped lip traps insects as they are forced to climb up past the staminode, a stem modified to produce nectar.

Experts will also know that, unlike most other orchids, these blooms have two fertile anthers which classifies them as “diandrous”, causing botanists to question whether this clade or group of organisms should be classified within the orchid family, Orchidaceae, or if they should be designated as a separate family altogether, referred to as Cypripediaceae.

Other things you might not know?  It has declined over much of the European part of its range, and as a result is legally protected in a number of countries.

The Norwegian municipality of Snåsa has a Cypripedium calceolus in its coat-of-arms. And finally, in Pavel Ivanovich Melnikov's “In the Forests”, a znakharka (Russian wise woman) calls this Adam’s head, Adam’s grass, and even Cuckoo’s slippers and says the flower is good for every ill including driving away evil spirits.

But back to the coins (ten and two Hryvnia worth 30p and 6p respectively), produced by the Mint of Ukraine, are designed by Volodymyr Demianenko. What makes the two-hryvnia coins particularly stunning is that the obverse of the nickel silver pieces includes a faithfully replicated colour depiction of the lady slipper orchid, with the semi-circular inscription, зозулині черевички справжні, above the primary design, and CYPRIPEDIUM CALCEOLUS L below.


The reverse side includes the Ukrainian crest positioned toward the top with a garland of flowers, and a songbird that surrounds the coin’s denomination.

I am not a numismatologist, but I would find it hard not to keep one of these. I hope it wouldn't be insulting to suggest that it would make delightful charms for a bracelet, necklace or key fob, for example?

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Grandeur of a miniature world

The Public Domain Review newsletter is a gem. Take the latest essay: Richard Spruce and the Trials of Victorian Bryology.

It’s a fascinating tale of Amazonian botanical espionage and the secret sexuality of mosses as indulged in by obsessive Victorians. Apparently, it was associated with illicit passion, enabling romps outside the strictures of a residence.

Who said moss was boring?
 
Spruce was not one for the regular beauties of the jungle. The beauty of the Amazon, to Spruce, lay in the humble, Godly mosses and hepatics that hearkened back to his botanical ramblings back in Europe, providing respite from the rainforest’s apparently underwhelming — albeit dangerous — daily existence.

Pictured is Plate 72 of the fabulous Kunstformen der Natur (1904), depicting a grove of mosses (referred to by Haeckel as “Muscinae”, a label now obsolete).

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