June 15, 2009

The Exotic Black Orchid

By Steve Fortuna

Orchids are a very popular flower most likely because of its exotic look. Even more unique is the the black orchid, whose genus name is bulbophyllum, this specific orchid accompanies many species in its class that can vary greatly in its appearance. The name bulbophyllum originates from both the Latin and the Greek. The latin "bulbus" means bulb-like and the greek, "phyllon" meaning leaf are descriptive of its form. This exotic plant is the largest genus in the Orchidaceae or Orchid family, as well as being one of the the largest in the entire plant kingdom. Numbering at about 1805 species, the study of the black orchid is no small feat.

The many different species of the bulbphyllum can vary greatly in their look, form, smell, growth pattern, and environment. This can make it difficult to identify and most times is done so by looking at the specifics and the structure of the flower on the plant. The genus itself can range from anything like an erect plant to a winding root climber. This, again is why it is so important to have the specifics of identifying a true bulbophyllum. For this reason it can be extremely difficult for even the most experienced taxonomist and yet since it is so challenging it makes it all the more interesting.

The environments that the black orchid grow in, also vary. The different countries that they thrive in range from Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America and, last but not least Papua New Guinea. Almost a third of the species originate out of Papua New Guinea, making its forests diverse with these sophisticated plants. Some of these forests and habitats are losing their natural form, which, in turn, is inhibiting growth. There are several species that are under the threat of becoming extinct. Four are on the endangered list and unfortunately, two are critically endangered. The bulbophyllum filiforme is native to Nigeria and Cameroon where it grows in tropical or sub-tropical dry forests and is now on the critically threatened list because of the loss of its natural habitat. Another on that same list is the bulbophyllum Kupense, also native to Cameroon but this species grows in a sub-tropical moist montane.

The black orchid is both beautiful and exotic, not to mention intricate in its design. A common person may not be able to label a black orchid as such which makes it all the more interesting to those who study them and are able to differentiate. It is important that we preserve the environments that they grow in so that we can continue to study this complex and obscure plant.

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