The Peekaboo Orchid
Deep in the tangled jungles of tropical Brazil, among the many wandering tributaries of the Amazon Basin, lies the fabled land of El Dorado. The appetites of the Spanish conquistadors for the elusive riches of this “Land of Gold,” was worth risking a kingdom — or even their lives — to find. For the plant hunters of the mid-1800s, El Dorado was the realm of stinging insects, biting ants, bloodsucking bats, swarms of flies, clouds of mosquitoes, malaria, dysentery and the promise of the golden treasure of a new Cattleya species.
The Rainbow Cattleya
John Rolfe was one of the giants of the orchid world during the late 1800s. He was one of the most knowledgeable and hardworking orchid botanists of his time, and was ultimately recognized for his accomplishments with Britain's highest honors, including the Victoria Medal of Honor and the Veitch Memorial Medal.
The large-flowered Cattleya species have suffered from a bad case of botanical heartburn for more than 150 years — and some of the mistakes of the past never seem to be corrected. For Laelia purpurata, which is really a Cattleya, things even seem to be going from bad to worse, as I see recent efforts to reclassify this wonderful large and showy species as a member of the genus Sophronitis, which is composed of miniatures (Lindleyana, 15:118).
The Smoke and Mirrors Cattleya
Shakespeare must have been a frustrated taxonomist when he wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” because only a taxonomist would suggest the possibility of giving a rose another name. Names are what we give plants so we all know what we are talking about. They are the everyday words that simplify our everyday life. I know what a rose is, and an apple and a pear, but I am beginning to wonder about some of the names taxonomists are inflicting on orchids these days.