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Vol. 11(8), pp. 8-11The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalAugust 2010

One Cymbidium

Greig Russell

Editor's Note 1: Your editor received the following on 21 July, 2010 from the eagle-eyed Dr. Russell. It is printed here with the figures sent by him. RJF

Author's Note: Received the July issue of MIOS Journal today, with thanks. I enjoyed the Cypripedium piece especially - they are so foreign to my orchid experience. I also noted an error in the Cymbidium piece, so I knocked the attached together quickly, and perhaps it could do with a quick edit if you choose to publish it. Also attached is the illustration from CBM and the accompanying notes.

One Cymbidium

Our Editor's article on two of the coriaceous-leaved species of Cymbidium, published in the July issue of the MIOS Journal, is one that gratifies me greatly; I believe that this group of plants is very undervalued. They are easily grown, easy to flower under a wide range of fairly-warm to warm conditions (as I imagine would be found in the valley of the Rio Grande) and flower at a time when there is little else to grace the flowering benches of our growing houses.

They tend to grow rather large at times, which may or may not be desirable, depending upon whether one is hoping to create a great specimen; and the flowers, appearing at the warmest time of the year, are not that long-lived, but the vegetative habit is interesting or attractive even in the sterile plant. They are also hard plants to kill when one is not frankly utilising a hammer.

The identities of the species making up this group are, however, frequently confused. The Cymbidium aloifolium illustrated is a perfect example of the species and there is no question as to its identity.

The other plant is misidentified. Judging by the width of its leaves, the flower colour and the acute side-lobes of the lip, this plant represents C. finlaysonianum, a species first described from an old specimen in Wallich's Catalogue collected in Viet Nam in the early years of the 19th century.

Mike Kamp is not the only person who has a misidentified C. finlaysonianum in his collection. I had one for many years amongst my plants. In the late 1980's, I was involved in a group importation from one of the better-known Filippino nurseries. Amongst my bounty was a plant labelled "C. atropurpureum" - a little slip of a thing. When I finally flowered it in the mid 1990's, it turned out to be the dusky form of C. finlaysonianum, much to my chagrin. I had acquired a plant of C. finlaysonianum in the same batch, but this flowered out to be as labelled, and better still, it was the clear coastal form.

And this is a problem in itself, there are at least two recognisable forms of this one species. The coastal form - usually growing as a lithophyte - which has light clear yellow, open flowers and the inland, lowland form, usually epiphytic, which has greener, more clasping flowers, shaded with red - my "dusky" form. Exactly what these forms represent, I am unsure. Are they ecotypes, is the dusky form a natural hybrid, or are they two valid, if closely, related species?

The rub came when another plant from the original consignment, also labelled C. atropurpureum, flowered in the collection of a friend as C. atropurpureum itself; and a really nice dark form at that.

Fig. 1. The fine hand-coloured lithograph published in Curtis's Botanical Magazine of a drawing by W. Fitch (the elder), of Cymbidium atropurpureum, decidedly of the darker western form of the species, from a plant flowering in the nurseries of Messrs Rollison of Tooting, London in March 1868; of uncertain provenance. Digital photo CANRTLWY.jpg; G. Russell.

Fig. 2. Tab. 5710, Curtis's Botanical Magazine.

Fig. 3. Tab. 5710, Curtis's Botanical Magazine (continued).

This real C. atropurpureum is a fairly different plant (Fig. 1) (Fig. 2) (Fig. 3). Its leaves are usually quite narrow (1.5 - 2 cm. wide) and the flowers are usually deep purple, as the name implies. This dark form comes from the Philippines and Sabah in Borneo. Forms from Java, Mayasia and Thailand tend to have lighter coloured flowers, but the petals are normally solid purple; and the leaves from these forms may be somewhat broader than those of the dark form. So here we have another variable species with at least two forms. Any hybrids here?

The one feature that can apparently be used to differentiate C. atropurpureum from C. finlaysonianum is the form of the side-lobes of the lip. In C. finlaysonianum, these are acute and point forward. In C. atropurpureum, they are shorter, rounded and less prominent. In the illustration of C. atropurpureum from Curtis's Botanical Magazine, the nature of these side-lobes is rather undecided, in my opinion.

So my question is: are we just bashing our heads against walls in attempting to classify plants into things called species, when they are clearly happy to be simply what they are - and not to need any name at all?


Du Puy, D. & Cribb, P. 1988. The genus Cymbidium. London, Christopher Helm.

Hooker, J.D. 1868. Cymbidium pendulum var. atropurpureum ("atropurpurea"). Curtis's Botanical Magazine 9 4: t.5710.

For more general information on coriaceous-leaved Cymbidiums, see my Webpage: Tygerberg Orchid Group, Christmas Newsletter 2005 at http://grussell.myweb.absamail.co.za/xxx/xmas.html, which includes an article "Cymbidium aloifolium and its intrasectional hybrid(s)", later published in the CSA Journal of the Cymbidium Society of America. This newsletter also carries an article by our illustrious editor!

Editor's Note 2: On receiving the above communication from Dr. Russell, Mike Kamp was called with the correction and your editor's plant records and plant tags were promptly changed to reflect the correct identification. For all who have received plant divisions of Pl#010407-2, the correct name is:

Cymbidium finlaysonianum Lindl., Gen. Sp. Orchid. Pl.: 164 (1833).

...and it is known from Indo-China to Malesia.
Kindly correct all the appropriate plant records and tags accordingly!

Copyright © 2010 Greig Russell