90 Miles south of Florida: Orchids of Cuba

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Betty Eber

Betty Eber, a long-time Coral Gables orchid grower and teacher of orchid culture, spoke about Cuban orchids Monday night at the Coalition for Orchid Species meeting at Fairchild. Betty’s map of Cuba also featured a purple star near the town of Cienfuegos, with the notation: Betty’s Birthplace.

Orchids of Cuba are generally small and many tend to grow in coastal scrub. Some, however, are high mountain denizens. Some also have wonderful color, such as the intense yellow Tolumnia calochila, or they may produce intoxicating aromas, such as Encyclia phoenicea, known as the chocolate orchid for its cocoa smell.

Broughtonia cubensis, with rusty sepals and petals and lavender-rose lip, is one of the country’s most endangered, she said. Barrett’s ghost orchid, Dendrophylax barrettiae, (now Campylocentrum ariza-juliae) is found widely throughout the islands of the Caribbean. Some of Cuba’s orchids are found in Florida, such as the mule orchid, Cyrtopodium punctatum, Epidendrum floridense and Epidendrum nocturnum. Encyclia bipapularis  hails only from western Cuba; Encyclia acutifolia comes from eastern Cuba, and Brassia caudata, or the spider orchid, grows naturally in the center of the island.

In all, 40% to 50% of Cuba’s 7,940 plants are endemic, or found nowhere else than the main island, the Isle of Youth and the 4,000 islets that make up the country. And new orchids are being discovered al the time, Betty said, including as-yet unnamed species of Lepanthes and Polystachya. At least one orchid, Phaius tankervilleae or the nun’s orchid from Southeast Asia and the Pacific, has made itself right at home on the island and become naturalized.

For the members’ show and tell portion of the meeting, Betty brought in a beautiful specimen of Polystachya concreta (sometimes still called Polystachya flavescens).

Mirta Russis-Heineman

Mirta Russis-Heineman, a past president of COS, brought in several plants, but was thrilled most by the first blooming of her green-flowering Grammatophyllum scriptum  ‘Citrinum,’ she said. She has five specimens of the same plant, and this was the first to flower for her. So when she saw it, she kissed it. Now that’s a true orchidophile.