National Geographic : 1971 Apr
Green-leaf valentine (right) bears a gift of fleeting loveliness. Rare Lepanthes calodictyon opens for only two days during spring in Ecuador's shadowy rain forest. Blue seldom occurs in orchids; an exception is Australia's sun orchid (left). It blooms in bright, hot weather, each flower exposing a column hooded with yellow and tufted with white hairs. This variety grows near Portland, Victoria. Natural species some of them less showy varieties which growers call "botan icals"-win increasing favor. Prices range from $5 to $100. Requirements of temperature, light, humidity, and ventilation vary from plant to plant. 6 TIMES LIFE-SIZE; OTHMARDANESCH(OPPOSITE) THELYMITRAPAUCIFLORAVAR.HOLMESII,2 1/2 TIMESLIFE-SIZE;DOROTHYM. rIu'tn specimens of many thousands of orchids. Mr. Peter F. Hunt, who is in charge of the Orchid Herbarium at Kew, told me: "At the last count-as of the first of Novem ber 1970-we accepted about 18,000 species as occurring in the world. The stud books record about 35,000 hybrids; by these counts, we might say that there are twice as many man-made orchids as natural species. But no two orchidologists agree on how many natural species there are in the world. "The question is: What is a species? As someone aptly said, nature made only popu lations; it is man who groups plants and animals into artificial categories of his own invention: species, genera, and families. But 506 what are the absolute distinguishing marks of a species? When does one feature of a flower make it a variety or a different species? "Today the orchid world is divided into what we call the 'lumpers' and the 'splitters' -those who want to reduce the mass of de scribed orchids to fewer species, and those who try to subdivide them still further." Some time later I asked Dr. Leslie Garay, curator of the Orchid Herbarium of Oakes Ames at Harvard (page 491), about this: "We, too, recognize more than 18,000 spe cies officially, but I think that's too conserva tive," he said. "At home I have a personal card file listing more than 60,000 orchids that someone has described sometime, somewhere.