Monday, May 28, 2012

Introducing Possum!

Happy Memorial Day everyone! I'm thrilled to announce the arrival of our new cat, Possum. With five cats, Natalie and I are officially Crazy Cat People. Possum is a three-year-old Cornish Rex. We acquired him from a lovely couple who were in the process of downsizing their home. They needed to find good homes for many of the cats that they bred and showed, and we were more than happy to oblige. Possum was a champion in his younger years, winning Best of Color at the 2009-10 CFA Midwest as "Rocketman." But Rocketman ran into some health problems that damaged his coat and kept him off the show circuit. Possum has several bald patches instead of the Marcel waves characteristic of the breed. We've worked with our vet the last two weeks to tackle some of his problems and we can already see improvements in his health and coat.

Possum has been with us for two weeks, but we kept him away from the other kitties during the first week. The cats were already familiar with his smell by the time he arrived on the scene. Except for Lan Lan, all of them have made great strides to accept Possum into the household. She's concerned that he's going to take the best morning sun patches on the stairs and that he's going to eat all of the Crispies. They're going to have to work it out. As a result, though, Lan Lan has formed an unexpected alliance with Riley and Sabine.

Possum is incredibly affectionate and sweet. Riley had a much more aggressive play style when we first adopted him, so I'm confident Possum's siblings will adapt. Possum is also Griffin-like in his appetite and pushy approach.

We will keep you all abreast of Possum updates. I've made a few very short videos of Possum in action -- one of them is above, the other two are here & here. Enjoy!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and The World's Most Beautiful Orchid -- A Review

Craig Pittman's The Scent of Scandal, published last month by the University Press of Florida, deserves to be read by everyone in the orchid world. The book overviews the conflicting interests and personalities that fueled the kovachii controversy, a scandal that culminated in police raids, arrests, and ruined lives.

Most participants in the orchid world know at least the bare bones of the story: Michael Kovach visited Peru and saw a stunning new species of slipper orchid for sale at a small nursery. He brought the orchid to Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. The Selby scientists realized they possessed the most important orchid discovery of the last several decades and rushed to publish a scientific description of the species. Kovach didn't have proper permission from Peruvian authorities to take the plant home, which might not have been such a big deal if Kovach decided to name the new species peruviana instead of kovachii. Sites with kovachii were stripped bare and plants were sold on the black market for thousands of dollars. 

Pittman's book portrays Michael Kovach as self-obsessed and dishonest. Kovach knew he needed CITES permits from the import and export countries to travel with the plant. He knew he couldn't wait to acquire the right permits because Orchids was set to publish Eric Christensen's description of the new species as peruviana within weeks. Selby taxonomist Stig Dalstrรถm also comes off as shady and self-serving. 

The kovachii controversy stems from personal greed and narcissism, but it's also a rich case study in institutional breakdown. Pittman describes Selby as a dysfunctional organizational that, in many ways, invited disaster. The scientists at the Selby Orchid Identification Center didn't see the need to assess the legality of the orchids brought to them by the collectors. They reasoned that they were scientists, not policemen or lawyers, but this attitude inevitably created big problems. 

Meanwhile, the Selby leadership failed to oversee the scientists. They were so preoccupied with fundraising and institution-building that the scientists (who were housed in a separate building) developed an autonomous, and somewhat oppositional, culture. The orchid scientists regarded the Selby leadership as glorified wedding planners. In turn, the leadership thought that the scientists failed to appreciate how their botanical research was funded by weddings and fund-raising galas. The lack of mutual respect and communication among the different units at Selby led to a "circular firing squad," culminating in the ousting of Meg Lowman as executive director, mass resignations from the Board of Trustees, and a financial hemorrhage from legal fees and lost donations.        
The Scent of Scandal is terribly compelling. It answers many of the lingering questions that surround the case, and it's full of fascinating personalities. But Pittman makes a couple of minor errors. He twice refers to Phalaenopsis as a "species" of orchid instead of a "genus." And he describes the Greek origin of the word "orchid" as referring to orchid roots (instead of pseudobulbs). Although these seem like little things, they kind of "jump off the page" if you've read more than a couple of books about orchids (but could be easily fixed in a second edition).  

Craig Pittman's The Scent of Scandal brings needed clarity to the kovachii controversy. He sorts through the contradictory stories, Redlands Show rumors, and web forum gossip to convey the full story in all of its weirdness. 

Put this book on your summer reading list. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

To Hybridize Daylilies: Initial Steps

New daylily hybrids in the raised bed, May 2012
I've been interested in hybridizing daylilies for the last two years. The first year, I grew my dayliliy collection, considered different breeding goals, and built a raised bed for the new hybrids. Last summer, I made a lot of crosses. I visited my garden early in the morning armed with bug spray and a toothpick. Now, half of the raised bed is full of my new hybrids. It’s very exciting!
Daylily seedlings started in a box, March 2012

I'm raising
three crosses this summer: 'Fooled Me' x 'Pat Garrity,' 'Janice Brown' x 'Beautiful Edgings,' and 'Beautiful Edgings' x 'Janice Brown.' 'Fooled Me' and 'Pat Garrity' have orange flowers with a red eye. 'Janice Brown' is a gorgeous pink. 'Beautiful Edgings' is probably my favorite diploid, and it has a yellowish, pink, and white flower with a variable edge. We'll see what happens!

I harvested seeds in August and September and then refrigerated them. I planted the seeds into 20 oz styrofoam cups in early February. I drilled holes in the bottom of the cups and filled them with a mix of vermiculite, seedling mix, and a little dirt. The cups were placed in a cat litter box and kept under continuous florescent light (about 40 watts).

'Janice Brown' x 'Beautiful Edgings' = ?
I've killed a lot of seedlings in the last ten years, and most deaths were caused by improper watering. For my precious dayliliy seedlings, I watered from the bottom by flooding the litter boxes weekly. Every once in a while I watered the top, but I was careful about it. Problems develop, in my experience, when the top becomes too soggy or if the vegetation becomes too wet.

'Beautiful Edgings' x 'Janice Brown' = ?
I planted about forty seeds and half of them germinated. In April, most of the twenty or so seedlings developed multiple leaves. Orange roots started to poke out of the cup bottoms. At this stage, I transitioned the seedlings to the cold frame. The transition was slow and careful. At first, I put them out only a few hours at a time, and I brought them indoors when the overnight low dropped into the 40s (F). 

'Fooled Me' x 'Pat Garrity' = ?
In May, after they were adequately hardy, I placed them in the raised bed where they will stay until they flower. That might happen next summer, but a lot can happen between now and then. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mini Marvels

Christensonia vietnamica, near-blooming size!
Lucinda Winn, one of three owners of J&L Orchids, visited my local orchid society and gave a wonderful talk about miniatures. We were given a stunning visual tour of miniature species, and she discussed a good mix of familiar and unusual types. For me, two that stood out were Dendrobium cuthbertsonii (which stays in bloom 10 months) and Amesiella monticola (gorgeous white flowers).
The photo shows the Christensonia vietnamica I purchased. You can buy your own here.
Christensonia vietnamica was discovered in the early 1990s. Mine is about a year away from blooming and, when it does, I expect cool-looking green and white flowers on a very small plant. 

The genus Christensonia is named after the renown orchid taxonomist and author Eric Christensen. Harold Koopwitz described him as "closest to a true genius anyone could ever hope to come across" (Orchid Digest 75:3, 119). Lucinda Winn told me that she knew him as a high school student who came into J&L to buy orchids. I'm sad to say that he died last year at the too-young age of 55; an incredible loss for botanical science and the orchid community. 

Christensen is featured prominently in The Scent of Scandal, a book about the Phrag. kovachii controversy. I'll talk about the book in an upcoming post. Until then, please stop by J&L and buy a mini. You know you have room for one more....

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Good Fungus: Fungus & Orchid Conservation

Endangered Liparis liliifolia

I used to be very ambivalent about fungus. On the one hand, I like mushrooms on my pizza. On the other hand, I'm highly susceptible to athlete’s foot, and I hate fungus gnats with a burning passion. Now, after hearing Melissa McCormick talk at the MidAmerican Orchid Congress, I'm a fungus fan. The MAOC was held in conjunction with the Central Indianapolis Orchid Society annual show. It was an awesome show. I came home with a Paph. urbanianum and a lot of knowledge.

McCormick argued that native orchid species should be a central focus for conservation. She claimed that orchids are both the “pandas of the plant world” and “canaries in the coal mine” of entire ecosystems. The beauty of orchids can draw us into caring about conservation botanical conservation, and this is a good thing because orchids are often the first species to perish when ecosystems experience stress.

We need to have “pandas” because its hard to get people excited about fungus. But fungus is important because all orchid species form essential relationships with fungi. Orchid seeds have no self-contained source of food, so they need to find their fungus to develop and germinate. Some orchids, like the endangered
Liparis liliifolia, require a singular type of fungi. Having the proper population of insect pollinators is a key element of orchid conservation, and now we realize that we need the right fungi, too. To restore orchid populations and their ecosystem we need to identify the fungal requirements of specific orchids. This requires fancy DNA techniques like “real-time quantitative PCR.” And this requires fancy money.

Do you want to help the fungus (and by “fungus,” I mean “orchids,” and by “orchids,” I mean “pandas”)? You should donate to The North American Orchid Conservation Center.