About Me

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Canberra-based naturalist, conservationist, educator since 1980. I’m passionate about the natural world (especially the southern hemisphere), and trying to understand it and to share such understandings. To that aim I’ve written several books (most recently 'Birds in Their Habitats' and 'Australian Bird Names; origins and meanings'), run tours all over Australia, and for the last decade to South America, done a lot of ABC radio work, chaired a government environmental advisory committee and taught many adult education classes – and of course presented this blog, since 2012. I am the recipient of the Australian Natural History Medallion, the Australian Plants Award and most recently a Medal of the Order of Australia for ‘services to conservation and the environment’. I live happily in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise surrounded by a dense native garden and lots of birds.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Orchids of Southern Peru 2; the eastern slopes

As I mentioned a few days ago we've been having some serious health distractions in our home this week; the patient (not me!) came home today, to my immense relief, so it's time to make you another offering. I'm feeling pretty wrung out, so maybe a gentle return to the orchids of southern Peru is in order. We began this exploration here, a few weeks ago.

From the Acjanaco Pass the road to Manu begins a huge winding descent of the eastern Andes into the Amazon Basin, ending at the somewhat wild little town of Atalaya on the Upper Madre de Dios River where the journey continues by boat. There is so much to see en route however that you are likely to make a couple of overnight stops before beginning your Amazon experience. If you are lucky and well-informed, the first of these might be at the Wayquecha Research Station run by ACCA, the Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (Association for the Conservation of the Amazon Basin). The station, at 3000 metres in the rich dripping cloud forest, also provides basic accommodation for visitors who can use the reserve walking tracks and learn something of the research being carried out at the time by visiting scientists from all over the world.
Cloud forests at Wayquecha, in unusually clear conditions!

The views from the balconies are superb.
However, this is a post about orchids, so having set the scene, I should show you some orchids! Yet again I will plead for any help you can give me with any of these identifications - inevitably there are species and even some genera I can't put a name to.

Cyrtochilum is a genus of nearly 150 species of the high Andes, from Venezuela to southern Peru. Many of them have huge sprays of flowers, a metre or more long.
Cyrtochilum sp. Wayquecha.
Full raceme above, and close-up below.

Odontoglossum is another commonly-met genus of the cloud forests; once its members numbered in the hundreds, but taxonomic reallocation of many of them leaves us with only 100 or so select from!
Odontoglossum auroincarum, above and and an unidentified (by me) Odontoglossum species below, Wayquecha.

Pachyphyllum ('thick leaf') is a genus of some 50 species found from northern South America to Mexico; we found two species along the research centre forest walking tracks.
Two Pachyphyllum species, Wayquecha, above and below.

Habenaria is a vast genus of some 800 species, found in much of Africa, southern Asia, tropical Australia and North and South America. It is believed that it arose in Africa and only reached South America relatively recently; tiny dust-like orchids seeds are very suited to being distributed by winds over huge distances.
Habenaria sp., Wayquecha.
(Though Richard Hoyer - see comments below - suggest that this could actually be Epidendrum fimbriatum.)
Maxillaria is yet another huge genus - nearly 600 species - but this one is limited to the tropical and subtropical Americas.
Maxillaria sp., Wayquecha.
Perhaps we can almost see the resemblance to a jawbone referred to in the name.
Maybe if you squint??
Stelis is yet another massive genus, of at least 500 small-flowered species, over 40 of which are found in Peru.
Stelis sp., Wayquecha.
If the identification is correct, it is atypical in that most Stelis have white flowers.
And inevitably there were a couple I couldn't even get to genus level; I really would be grateful if you can help!
Unidentified orchids, above and below, Wayquecha.
Much lower down the mountain, but still within the cloud forest zone, the San Pedro area is at around 1200 metres above sea level. The orchids are not as obviously abundant here as in the high elevation forests - perhaps just because the trees are higher - but there are some delights, notably among the Sobralias which, unusually for tropical orchids, are terrestrial. These are big plants; in some remarkable species the flower stems can be 10 metres tall!

We found two of the 120 or so Sobralia species along the roads near the lodge.
Sobralia virginalis, San Pedro area.
Sobralia sp. San Pedro area.
I hope you've enjoyed this little orchid ramble; I've found it decidedly therapeutic! I look forward to my next visit to this most wonderful part of this wonderful world.



Flabmeister said...

Excellent memory provoking post! Thank you.

Very pleased to hear the patient is home.


Birdernaturalist said...

Thanks for the nice post. Your "Habenaria sp." looks like what I've had identified as Epidendrum fimbriatum, though a more spotted form, in Bolivia.

Ian Fraser said...

Many thanks for this feedback Richard - I make no claims to expertise on South American orchids and always gratefully accept suggestions and corrections. I thought I had Epidendrum reasonably in my head, but it seems that I'll have to expand my image of them!

Ian Fraser said...

PS, I've enjoyed reading your blog page too Richard!