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GRAMMATOPHYLLUM


Category: Plants and Orchids
Date Posted: 2006-10-18


IN THE PHILIPPINES, THE GENUS GRAMMATOPHYLLUM IS represented by two species, G. speciosum and G. scriptum, both of which appear to have numerous forms. This group has a wide distribution throughout the islands of the Malaysian, Philippine and New Guinea areas and was probably first detected 'by the early naturalists Rumphus and Osbec during the middle of the eighteenth century, when they were traveling in the East Indies. It was not until 1825, however, that the genus was first officially described by the botanist Blume and established with G, speciosum as the type. The first plants of the genus to be introduced into Europe was in 1852 and their flowering caused considerable sensatiop among horticulturists of that era.

The generic name Grammatophyllum is derived from the* Greek words gramma, meaning "a mark or character," and phyllum, "a leaf." This title is possibly an allusion to the markings on the petals and sepals of the flowers, which resulted in the plant frequently being called the "Letter Plant." This genus is related to the Cymbidiums from which it differs botanically, chiefly in the structure of the pollenary apparatus.

G. speciosum, the largest member of this genus of giant orchids and one of the largest of the entire orchid family, is found growing as an-aerial on trees or rocks of low-altitude forests from sea level to about one thousand feet elevation. The thickened canelike stems of the plant are six to eight feet long and two to three inches in diameter. Often plants, weighing several hundred pounds, girdle the massive trunks of their host trees at a height of fifty feet from the ground. The thickened stems are covered by leaf-sheaths, the bases of straplike narrow pointed leaves sixteen to twenty-two inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches wide. The flowerscape is produced

from the base of the stem and grows with great rapidity, attaining a height of six to eight feet. The plant flowers during June and July, and the inflorescence which often carries more than fifty flowers is a striking display.

The individual flowers are about four to five inches in diameter, spreading, with ochre yellow background, blotched with wine-red and purple and the lip is marked carmine-red. The flowers last for more than a month in perfection. These tremendous plants are supported by innumerable branched fleshy roots, well adapted for the purpose of carrying the great weight.

This species can be collected from the low mountains and coast of eastern Luzon centered about the Province of Quezon (Tayabas), a region of high temperature, high average annual precipitation and high relative humidity. Apparently, the plant requires a condition such as this for most satisfactory cultivation, because in Manila, where there is a long, dry season, from November through April, this plant cannot be grown with great success and seldom flowers for consecutive years. Besides, in Quezon Province, this plant can also be found in Mindoro, Mindanao, and other southern islands of the Philippine Group. Although in its natural state the plant grows as a true epiphyte, it apparently responds favorably to cultivation if placed in rich humus soil with broken crock a-ad leafmold. This plant is quite hardy and can be transported and shipped with success. However, because of its size, it is most inconvenient and expensive to ship and therefore few plants are found in private collections. The specific name speciosum is derived from speciosus, meaning "handsome or showy." Other synonyms of this plant are: G. fastuosum,
G. gigantum, G. sanderianum, G. wallisii, and Pattonia macrantha.

It appears that Cuming sent the first plant of the other indigenous member of the genus, G. srcriptum, from Manila in 1837 and that it flowered in Bateman's collection in England during 1838. This species is an extremely variable plant and has been described under many synonyms. Oakes Ames, however, now reduces the forms G. multiflorum, G. Fenzlianum, and G, measurianum to one species, namely, G. srcriptum. The specific name scriptum is derived from the Latin word
srcriptum, meaning "written," in reference to the curious markings of the flower, which sometimes resemble illegible writing.

This plant is epiphytic and develops an unusual strong branched root system for the support of its large clumps. The thickened, squat pseudo-bulbs are slightly compressed and furrowed about. four to six inches long and two to three inches thick. The young bulbs are clothed with a silvery membranaceous sheath and each pseudo-bulb is terminated with four to six oblong leaves fourteen to twenty inches long and three to four inches wide in the widest portion. Up to one hundred flowers are borne on an erect arching scape twenty to forty inches long which grows out of the base of the pseudobulbs.

Individual blossoms are one to 3 1/2 inches across, and of great diversity in color. The background color is generally greenish yellow which is variously blotched or spotted with brown, purple,'a bronze tint or olive green. In addition, some varieties are fragrant in the morning. These handsome sprays last from one to two months and the main blooming season is during April and May.

Private collectors are often attracted by this lush plant, which bears attractive foliage if grown in big clumps. Ordinary forms of G. .rcriptunz are quite common but the fine varieties with large and brighter flowers are rare. This species ,has been collected on the Island of Luzon in the following provinces: Cavite, Quezon, Laguna, Camarines, Sorsogon, as well as the islands of Mindoro, Leyte, Palawan, and Mindanao, at sea level to about one thousand feet elevation. It is also indigenous to the East Indies Islands of Amboina, Celebes, Borneo, and New Guinea.
This species has a short resting period and should be kept drier from December through February but during the months of June through October, which are its main growing season, liberal amounts of water should be applied if the natural
rains are not adequate. The plant requires a medium amount of sunlight for satisfactory growth, and asexual propagation of new plants can be obtained by separating pseudo-bulbs from a big clump. The strong rapid growing root system easily breaks ordinary pots and therefore open wooden or wire baskets are more advisable for potting.

Both members of the genus Grammatophyllum exhibit an interesting malformation of the flowers. This condition, known as teratology, can be detected on the lower flowers of the large inflorescence of the genus. The bottom flowers are often incomplete and abnormal, lacking a labellum, petal, sepal, or column, and at times produce an organ which is a combination of two others, such as half a petal and half a labellum.



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