Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Three Cat Night

Recently, I was reading about Rhizanthella slateri, an Eastern Australian orchid that grows entirely underground. Only 90 specimens have been found, and in only ten locations. Peter Bernhardt devotes a chapter to the plant in his 1989 book Wily Violets and Underground Orchids.  The Australian government also offers fascinating information about the orchid, including a map of the tiny area of the continent wherein it’s found. It was first discovered in June 1928 by John Trott, a farmer who was burning eucalyptus bushes. He discovered flowers underneath the burnt earth, and he then took them to a prominent botanist.  The plants live off fungus. Bernhardt speculated that the flowers are designed to attract flies, which are normally drawn to mushrooms that are just below the surface.  

In any event, what does this have to do with the kitties? Well, just as the Rhizanthella slateri blooms in the winter, the cats like to sleep on the bed with Temperance and Trixie during the cold nights. All of them, except Bean, crowd the bed. Griffin, however, is the only underground kitty of the crew. Sometimes, her presence is an advantage because she’s like a little heater.  Purring and curled up next to my chest, Griffin lowers the risk of nighttime hypothermia.  Other times, she decides she wants to leave the bed at two in the morning and claws her way out. Then, a few minutes later, she will want back in . . . and then, ten minutes later, after I've fallen back asleep, she will scratch and make a fuss and exit the blankets once again.

Back to the orchid: The Australian government classifies Rhizanthella slateri as "Endangered" under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.  New South Wales lists it as a "Threatened Species."  Conservationists might reject this notion, but Griffin's pestering makes me wonder: is Rhizanthella slateri endangered for evolutionarily sound reasons?  Perhaps orchid flowers, like cats, don’t belong underground.

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