Herbarium Digital Library


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

OBERON IS THE KING OF THE FAIRIES IN THE FOLKLORE AND this group of orchids bears his name because of the peculiar and fanciful form of their flowers. Approximately two hundred species of this group are dispersed throughout Africa, Tropical Asia and the islands of the Pacific from Australia to Tahiti and Samoa. Of these, about twenty-five are indigenous to the Philippines.

The genus has little to recommend it to the horticulturist, but is of botanical interest, and should_ be recognized by the orchid enthusiast because of the large number of species which it contains. The group is related to the genera Liparis and Malaxis. Most of the plants are easily identified as an Oberonia by the distichously arranged ensiform or sword-shaped leaves which somewhat resemble the foliage of the garden plant Iris, ,and by the compact cylindrical flower spike and extremely small flowers. The flowers are exceedingly beautiful in shape, if studied with a magnifying glass, but it is only upon such close observation that the irregular dentate or toothed margin of the petals and labellum can be seen and appreciated.

Species of the genus are found at various elevations and under entirely different cultural conditions. Some species can be collected from the hot low central valley of Luzon, while others are endemic to the humid, mossy forests above six thousand feet elevation. The former experience a dry season for almost five months of the year, whereas the latter are almost continually exposed to the cooler humid conditions of higher altitudes.

Oberonia iridifolia is one of the most common of the genus, having been reported from Ceylon, the Malay Archipelago, China, and Australia, as well as throughout the Philippines. The yellowish-green, sword-shaped leaves differ in size but are usually not longer than five inches and are about 1 1/2 inches wide. The specific name iridifolia is derived from the Iris-like appearance of the leaves of the species. Racemes are usually longer than the leaves, pendant, often gracefully curved and densely covered with minute yellowish-brown flowers. The flowerstalks, which resemble a "rat's tail," arise from between leaves, that are arranged in one plane. The flowers which open first are at the center of the raceme where it is thickest, and the rest of the flowers then gradually unfold towards each end. The entire inflorescence lasts for about two months. The sepals and toothed petals fold back on themselves soon after the flowers open, thereby exposing the lip which has an irregular jagged outline, to more prominent observation.

There are several members of the genus Dendrobium, belonging to the APORUM section, which have a habit that resembles the general leaf characteristics of the genus Oberonia. These Dendrobiums, however, do not have flowers on long "rat-tail-like" flower stalks and can therefore be distinguished from the Oberonia. D.distichum is a representative of this type of Dendrobium and is distinguished from the Oberonia by its larger flowers, which appear in small clusters.

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