Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Charming Cooktown Orchid

The Cooktown Orchid (Vappodes phalaenopsis), has been the floral emblem of Queensland since November 19, 1959. It was first described in 1880 as Dendrobium phalaenopsis, then included in Dendrobium bigibbum, but recently revalidated as a species after Clements reorganised the D. bigibbum cryptic species complex.

More recently, the D. bigibbum complex has been separated into the genus Vappodes. The new name of Vappodes phalaenopsis has now been accepted by the World Checklist of Monocotyledons, as a synonym of Dendrobium bigibbum Lindl., Paxton's Fl. Gard. 3: 25 (1852).

This beautiful but variable orchid is closely related to several other species now listed in Vappodes and readily forms hybrids, which are now described under the "named hybrid genus" XVappaculum.

The colour of the flowers varies from pinkish-mauve to lavender or purple and sometimes almost white, with the base of the labellum being a much darker purple.

The plants can grow up to 80 cm in height. The flowers are on canes 10–40 cm long. Flowering time is usually in the dry season between March and July; but sometimes all year in commercial cultivation. The flowers are on racemes 200–400 mm long and are usually lilac-purple, but can be bluish or even white and sometimes pinkish with darker purple labellum without a white spot.

It lives in a wide variety of habitats ranging from coastal scrub on trees and rocks, to mangroves, riverine vegetation, rainforest, vine thickets, gullies in open forest and even swamps. It used to be prolific around Cooktown but is now rare in the wild, due to over-collecting by commercial collectors. It is now listed as vulnerable by the EPBC Act.


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