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Vol. 12(12), pp. 2-20The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalDecember 2011

The Genus Gongora in Belize

R J Ferry

Introduction

Fig. 1. Description (1794) of G. quinquenervis Ruiz & Pavon.Photo: DSC_4414. Thur-01Dec11.

The Genus Gongora was described by H. Ruiz and J. Pavón in 1794 in their Prodromus Florae Peruvianae et Chilensis (p. 227) with no mention of a type specimen (Fig. 1). However, simultaneously with the description of the genus, an illustration, albeit not a very thorough one, was provided. However, the illustration does show some detail, such as the narrow base of the hypochile, the missing horns, and the outgrowths on the hypochile's dorsal aspect.

Fig. 2. First illustration (1798) of G. quinquenervis Ruiz & Pavon. Photo: DSC_4413. Thur-01Dec11.

The designation of Gongora quinquenervis as a typus came four years after the establishment of the genus (Fig. 2). Gongora quinquenervis, so called due to the five "nerves" or main veins in the lanceolate leaves, was noted as "on trees in forests around Pozuzo" in northern Peru. Although collections are known from northern Peru, including some plants that closely match the illustration of Ruiz and Pavón, at the time of this writing in the 21st century, there is no proof that the habitat of this species is in any other place than Peru. The problem is that no Gongora published under the name of Gongora quinquenervis really concurs with the illustration given by Ruiz and Pavón!

Material designated as the type exists in Madrid. It consists of three herbarium sheets which are attributed to G. quinquenervis. Two of the sheets show only vegetative parts of the plant and are therefore not classifiable. The third sheet, generally known as the typus generis, shows a single bulb with two leaves and one inflorescence. The long inflorescence carries two seed capsules. The sheet clearly belongs to the genus Gongora, but cannot be classified as a particular species. The end result is that no material collected in any country from Mexico to Panama to Peru clearly matches the original description of G. quinquenervis from Peru!

In 1923 Schlecter described a specimen of G. quinquenervis. Schlecter's original description noted that its lanceolate leaves had five nerves. However his floral description was - at best - short on specifics, and the material he described came to him from Lankester in Costa Rica second-handed. The material had come from Powell in Panama who supposedly had received it as material collected (and published on!) by Ruiz and Pavón who -- in turn -- supplied no firm validation as to where they had specifically collected it. To further muddy the waters, that original material, supposedly collected by Ruiz and Pavón and seen by Schlecter, no longer exists.

The present-day problem that has developed is that nearly every Gongora species even remotely resembling G. quinquenervis gives rise to questions that "it may be" G. quinquenervis. However, given the paucity of written descriptions, the absence of a good original herbarium specimen, and the accidents of history, there is really not enough evidence to tie any extant species to being the G. quinquenervis plant actually seen by Ruiz and Pavón!

The Chinese Whisper Effect and G. quinquenervis

There is an old parlor game described variously as "gossip" or the "Chinese whisper." Briefly, in a roomful of individuals, one whispers a short phrase to another who repeats what he thinks he has heard to a third party, and so on around the room. Not surprisingly, the statement reported by the last individual usually differs greatly from the one whispered initially. The same "Chinese whisper" effect is often seen in botanical works. One authority supplies scant or ambiguously worded information, or perhaps something is obscured in translating ideas or idiomatic expressions from one language to another. The second-hand information is referenced by one or more authorities currently high on the botanical totem pole, and the process of referencing this and that gains momentum based on the prestige of the authority referenced or the publication in which it gets published. Time passes and the more the second-hand, third-hand, and subsequently-handed references are added, the formidable list of references added to references takes on the aura of being actual "truth." In actuality, it's little more than an ever-growing collection of hubris, but academic tenure and academic stature is known to rest on the number of one's publications, not necessarily the quality. Likewise, the standing (acceptance for academic credit) of a publication may rest greatly on the number of universities who pay for subscriptions to it and the number of "peers" who cite it as their publishing. Somewhere along the way, quantity replaces quality and mere referencing replaces first-hand research plus the detailed work of personal scholarship! A few examples are offered regarding G. quinquenervis, but with regard to this specific problem and the problem of the "Chinese whisper" in general, many more such examples exist.

Fig. 3. Gongora atropurpurea Hooker. Photo: L. Grobler, South Africa.

In Dunsterville and Garay (1959) the illustration labeled as G. quinquenervis is actually of Gongora atropurpurea Hooker (Fig. 3). In Orchidaceae Brasiliensis 2:221 (Pabst & Dungs, 1977), illustration 1689 shows Gongora minax Rchb.f. or an unknown species which is certainly not G. quinquenervis, and, incidentally, the color picture mentioned on page 221 is not identical to the one shown on page 278.

Hawkes (1965), offered an admirable description of G. quinquenervis; one far more detailed than was published by Schlecter in 1923. One wonders how he did it! In addition, Hawkes noted it flowering in autumn and from "Colombia, Venezuela, Guianas, Trinidad, Ecuador, and Peru." (page 227)

Chávez & García (1988), writing about Gongora quinquenervis Ruiz y Pavón found it to be profuse, to say the least. They placed it in at least six Mexican states, much of Central America, and an indeterminate area of the continent of South America!

"Es una especie que se distribuye ampliamente en México (Veracruz, Guerrero, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco y posiblemente otros estados), Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panamá y Sudamérica." (page 47)

Bechtel et al (1992) note G. quinquenervis as "a very variable species," and state

"...it is still cultivated under other later names such as Gongora maculata which was described by John Lindley in the Botanical Register (t. 1616). The type of G. maculata was collected by Thomas Moss in Demara (Georgetown) in Guyana and he sent living plants to Richard Harrison of Liverpool in 1831."

Two references with similar examples are cited by Jenny (1993) but these references are absent in your editor's library. Hence they have not been reviewed "first hand" by this worker. However, they are listed here:

Your editor regrets lacking the two publications above, but all others cited are listed as references in this work.

Dressler (1993b) provides a key to the genus Gongora. Under Gongora quinquenervis, Dressler, never one to join the whispering party, makes the following statement:

"This catch-all name is used for any Gongora that doesn't fit clearly in another species. The species was originally named from a Peruvian plant (a very poor specimen). Careful work is still needed to sort out the species in this complex." (p. 147)

The orchid list of the website of the Belize Botanic Garden (a private estate and business, not a federal, district, or municipal institution), was downloaded and sent to this worker on 22 August, 2009. Listed as of that date are four species of Gongora (G. cassidea, G. truncata, G. quinquenervis, and G. unicolor). However, the list was offered as a "work in progress" with no sources referenced for it or any species in it. No herbarium is officially registered for this enterprise, and no mention was made of this organization having one that might be maintained privately.

Summary and Conclusions of the Botanical History

The monocot checklist at lists Gongora quinquenervis as an accepted name, and gives its distribution as "Colombia to Peru and Brazil." However, Jenny (1993) gives its distribution as "...South America, Peru and possibly south Ecuador. The locations are on the eastern side of the Andes at heights between 1200 and 1800 m above sea level." (page 39). Jenny also lists G. aromatica Rchb. f. and G. superflua Rchb. f. as closely allied to G. quinquenervis.

The many other citations made over several years appear to be little more taxonomic and editorial carelessness resulting in fine examples of this particularly long-running game of Chinese whisper! Obviously there is clutter in the botanical record, and there is still much room for detailed taxonomic work for many members of the orchid family. The work should certainly include live material, detailed field work and analyses, high resolution digital figures, accurately detailed art work, and entomological work with both pollinators and pests. In addition, all needs to be buttressed with the review of already-filed vouchers and backed with a comprehensive library search. As this writing takes place, several references lay open at hand, all available for comparison, one with the other. While the use of search engines to secure information via the internet may be of great value, nothing really takes that unique place of having live matrial and the actual volumes at hand as ready references without having to resort to computer screens or a multiplicity of printed copies!

Species of Gongora in Belize

Of the three species of Gongora native to Belize as recognized by current authorities, Gongora unicolor, being a lowland species, is generally taken as the most common. However, this reputation may indicate a lack of field work more than actual rarity. Here, these three species are reviewed alphabetically.

Section Cassidea was erected by Jenny (1993, page 103) with Gongora amparoana and Gongora cassidea assigned to it. Although in the same section, G. amparoana is known only from Costa Rica, while G. cassidea, is widespread in much of Central America. Jenny (1985b) reported G. cassidea as extending into Panama, but in his monograph of 1993 acknowledged there was no proof of reports from that country.

G. cassidea (L. cassidis, a helmet; cassideus, helmet-shaped. Common name: The "helmet-shaped" orchid) is known to flower in March, but in the northern hemisphere its peak recorded flowering months are in July and August with August being the highest. In Guatemala plants have been found growing epiphytically in forests at elevations up to 1800 m (5900 feet). In the department of Alta Verpaz, along the Rio Cobán, flowering in July and August appears to follow the month of heavy rain in June (the second "peak" rain month is not until October). Plants have also been found in the department of San Marcos and in Sololá along the Rio Bravo near Finca Mocá on the south-facing slopes of Volcán Atitlán. In El Salvador, plants have been found close to Cerro de Pilón near the Santa Ana Volcano at 1650 m (5400 ft).

1. Gongora cassidea Rchb.f., Bot. Zeitung (Berlin) 22: 298 (1864).

Fig. 4. Gongora cassidea Rchb. f. 1864. Photo: R. Maruska, Czech Republic.

The Kew monocot checklist's locations for G. cassidea (Fig. 4) are given as Mexico (Chiapas) to C. America. (79 MXT 80 BLZ COS ELS GUA HON NIC), specifically including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. McLeish et al (1995) attribute this species to the Cayo and Toledo Districts, growing on trees (not identified) in wet broad-leaved forests between 600 and 750 m. They give its flowering season as July to December with the flowers lasting about five days. They also note this species has a floral fragrance closely resembling that of freesias. As did McLeish et al, Sayers and Adams (2009) also state this species grows as an epiphyte in wet broadleaf forests, and flowers from July to December. They do not name the districts. They merely state that this species has been recorded in two of the six districts of Belize. A correctly named figure (page 37) is offered by these authors.

Each pseudobulb (3-6 cm long x 2.5 cm thick) bears two lanceolate (to elliptic-lanceolate) leaves (prominently 3-nerved). The leaves taper to sharply pointed tips and are borne at the apex of the pseudobulb. Flowers are reported at 5-10 per inflorescence, borne laterally from the base of a recently matured pseudobulb. Flower coloration is described as a "dirty yellow" (or yellow-orange) with a red stripe center, around the hypochile, and running into the labellum. The lip is basally a light yellow, distally becoming more golden.

Fig. 5. Part-inflorescences. Gongora cassidea Rchb. f. 1864. Photo: R. Maruska, Czech Republic.

Hawkes (1965), in a very short paragraph, describes this species as "inflorescence loosely few-flowered (Fig. 5), to 12 inches long, pendulous, the peduncle usually brown. Fls. fragrant, waxy, about 2" in diam., greenish brown or pinkish brown, the lip usually more waxen and brighter in colour. Lip with 2 distinct lobes at apex, these lobules linear-lanceolate, obtuse." Hawkes places this species in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

This worker is tempted to speculate that searches in Belize might be most fruitful higher altitude forests near water courses, especially during July and August. Searches at lower elevations might be promising if concentrated from late February into early April, particularly along rivers, streams, and similar areas of locally elevated humidity. Flowering of this species appears to occur three to four months after a month of particularly heavy rain.

2. Gongora truncata Lindl., Edwards's Bot. Reg. 29(Misc.): 42 (1843).

Fig. 6. Gongora truncata Lindley. 1843. Photo: P. Nelson, M.D., USA

Fig. 7. Gongora truncata Lindley. 1843. Photo: P. Nelson, M.D., USA

The Kew monocot checklist locations for G. truncata (Fig. 6) (Fig. 7) are given as Mexico to Honduras (79 MXG MXS MXT 80 BLZ GUA HON; Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras). In Mexico, plants are found in the states of Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Chiapas in tropical rainforests and in mountain rainforests from 150-950 m (500-3100 ft).

McLeish et al (1995) give the flowering season of this species as March to May with flowers lasting about two weeks. They state that it is "apparently a rare plant throughout its limited range, although it may, in some places, have been overlooked since it resembles the more common G. quinquenervis when not flowering." (page 113). In light of the historical review earlier in this essay, this worker finds it interesting that this authority finds G. quinquenervis is "more common" than G. truncata (What's being used as G. quinquenervis?).

Although three species are cited and a flower of G. truncata is correctly figured (page 37), no text is offered concerning this species by Sayers and Adams (1990). Other authorities note this species as rare in Belize, but that plants are occasionally found in the Cayo District, in moist broad-leaved forests at about 600 m (1950 ft).

As is to be expected of a plant known from rainforests as well as seasonally wet-dry habitats, flowering has been recorded from January through September with the lowest records in January and May. The peak month is in March, with February, April, and July as lesser peak flowering months. In a relatively stable annual climate of wet-dry seasons, one suspects this orchid, as with many others, tends to flower as the rainy season coincides with an abrupt increase in insect populations. This scenario would ensure pollination of the flowers followed by copius water as seed capsules are forming. Finally, as the dry season comes on, the mature capsules dehise to be spread by the winds.

Orchid "green pod" culture is generally approximated and 90% of the pollinated-to-dehiscing period. No full term data is available, but "green pod" (this idiom should be dropped in favor of "green capsule") data is given at 81 days, which translates into 90 days, or about three months after flowering and being (promptly) pollinated. Searches for plants when in flower, should be prepared to find inflorescences that are probably no longer than 60 cm (ca. 2 feet), and flowers that are frequently brown and white, with possibly only a scant splash of yellow. The pseudobulbs of G. truncata are somewhat larger (8 cm long x 3.5 cm wide, and somewhat flattened and strongly ridged) than those of G. cassidea, but those of G. truncata are inclined to be subtended by fibrous sheaths when young, and such sheaths, if the environment permits them to persist, may camouflage the pseudobulbs considerably. Given the floral coloring, and leaves that grow to 55 cm, with little or no especial assistance from the vegetative parts for spotting plants in nature, field searchers should be prepared to employ assistants with particularly sharp eyes!

3. Gongora unicolor Schltr., Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. Beih. 19: 299 (1923).

Synonym: Gongora maculata var. unicolor Teucher, H. 1966.

Fig. 8. Gongora unicolor Schlechter. 1923. Belize, Department unknown. Photo Credit P. Saqui. Photo taken: Sat-02Apr11/0701 hours.

The Kew monocot checklist offers the locations of G. unicolor (Fig. 8) as "Mexico (Veracruz, Chiapas) to C. America," (79 MXG MXT 80 BLZ COS HON NIC PAN), specifically including Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Schlechter originally described Gongora unicolor in 1923 from a plant sent to him by Lankester from Costa Rica. However, the specimen sent by Lankester actually originated from Powell's collection in Panama. Not only is exact information on the origin of that specimen unavailable, Schlechter's type specimen no longer exists. In his description of the species, Schlechter noted, "Its characteristics are meat-colored, pinky flowers which are quite large and the structure of the labellum, difficult to describe." In short, of the characters important to a clear-cut identification much was either not noted or has not been preserved for posterity.

G. unicolor is primarily a lowland orchid known mainly from 200 to 800 m (650-2600 ft), with a few collections reported from as high as 1200m (3950 ft). Sayers and Adams (1990) note G. unicolor as having been recorded from three of the six districts of Belize, and a correctly named flower is figured (page 36) in their publication. They also note this species as flowering from December to July and, despite its frequency in Belize, they report it as relatively uncommon. Other authorities offer the peak flowering period of this species as being in February-March, but note it also flowering in July and September.

Fig. 9. Gongora unicolor Schlechter 1923. labellum. Note: dissected sections, copied from Jenny, 1993. Photo: DSC_4418; Sat-03Dec-11.

The pseudobulbs of G. unicolor are 7 cm tall by 4-5 cm diameter, conical to somewhat rounded, deeply angularly ridged. The sheaths partly-enclosing the pseudobulbs at their bases are closely appressed and sharply pointed. Two broadly lanceolate (to oval) leaves (25-35 cm long by 12-15 cm wide) are distally acuminate and are carried at the apex of the pseudobulb. Dissected specimens of the labellum of G. unicolor are figured by Jenny (1993) and are offered here (Fig. 9). The flowers number 10-15 per inflorescence and are uniformly pinkish brow, flesh-colored and without markings. An alba form is known, but has not been seen by this worker, and it is strongly suspected that what is being reported as "alba" is probably, at best, closer to being "albescens," and may even be something else altogether.

Jenny (1993) is adamant that "Gongora unicolor is, as the name suggests, one of the few species of the genus constant in color. Always meat-coloured and uniformly colored, unlike its close relation, Gongora maculata. It is most clearly distinguished by its unique smell" (page 70). On the following page, Jenny continues, stating, "Gongora unicolor is only pollinated by the males of the bee species Euglossa purpurea and Euglossa cyanura." He follows this with "Dressler (1976) noted that Euglossa purpurea is the only species of bee which has been observed to pollinate Gongora unicolor. Euglossa purpurea has not the function of pollinator to any other genus or species of the subtribe Gongorinae." (page 79). The problem this worker has with at least a portion of the above statements is that having searched the reference given by Jenny (Dressler, 1976), this worker finds no mention of either pollinator in the First Scientific Symposium on Orchids as cited by Jenny! Pridgeon (ed.) et al (2009) offer a figure of Gongora unicolor in Costa Rica being pollinated by a male Euglossine bee Euglossa allenii (Pl. 169).

McLeish et al (1995) note that G. unicolor differs from G. quinquenervis (?) in its uniform rose colour, its chocolate-covered tortilla fragrance, a fleshier lip, and long acuminate horns above the hypochile. They say G. unicolor flowers (in Belize) from December to July with flowers lasting about two weeks. They give its Belize distribution as Cayo (including Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve), Stann Creek, and Toledo Districts, and note its habitat as "on trees and rotten logs in moist to wet forest between 50 and 900 m.

Several authorities (and hobbyists as well) have reported this species as being fragrant, although few venture to be specific. Fragrance descriptions tend to range from uncomplimentary to "faint but pleasant" "sweetly fragrant." Probably the best description offered is that of Dressler (1993d) who offers "flowers flesh colored (pinkish), with odor of fresh-ground corn for tortillas (nixtamal)." In the Orchids of Mexico (Hagsater et al, 2005), on page 89, the same comparison is made with the fragrance of nixtamal. However, this statement is followed with "There is a form (referring to G. unicolor) that has a different smell and another one with entirely white flowers that may represent a different species; their identities have not been resolved since no chemical analyses of their fragrances, nor observations of their pollinator, have been performed" (page 89). It also may be that an alba or albescens form of G. unicolor has a fragrance that differs to humans but retains the same essential attractants to its euglossine male bee pollinators. Finally, it may be that perhaps a favorable or unfavorable fragrance from a human standpoint may depend on the degree to which the evaluator likes or dislikes corn tortillas!

Whatever degree of abundance is enjoyed by G. unicolor as one of the three species of this genus endemic to Belize, some small degree of either condemnation or compliment probably should be attached to it as having been the one to trigger this editor-writer-worker into entering the morass of literature which has resulted in the writing of this essay!

4. Gongora leucochila Lemaire, Flore des Serres 1: 207. t/ 37. 1845.

On Friday, 08April, 2011/1024 hours, this worker received an email from Mr. Pio Saqui of the faculty of the University of Belize at Belmopan with the following message,

"Please find attached images of two species that are in full bloom in Belize; 1. "Gongora unicolor" and 2. "Gongora spp." (this is not one of the 3 species listed for Belize). You may be able to identify the second one."

Fig. 10. Gongora leucochila; Saqui # P1100868. Photo credit: P. Saqui. Date:Wed-06Apr11/0645 hours. Belize.

That species, #P1100868 (Fig. 10), was retained in this worker's computer, and a search began. No other information had been sent, but keying on the icon disclosed the digital photo had been taken 06Apr11/0645 hours, with a DMC-FZ8 camera. Not long afterward, your editor lost track of Pio Saqui and his family.

Fig. 11. Gongora sp. Heron #IMG_7373_2. Photo taken Sat-12Nov11/0952 hours. Photo: C. Heron (plant ex Ishmael)

On Sun-20Nov11, an email from Dr. Heron, also of the faculty of the University of Belize at Belmopan, contained digital photo IMG_7373_2 (Fig. 11), with the information the plant had been one of Ishmael, a student. Further, the plant had come from near his home in Punta Gorda (in the southern part of Belize). Even more enlightening was not only the information he had divided the plant and had given a division to Dr. Heron, and that the plant had flowered for her with a raceme of seven flowers on 05 November, with the flowers lasting until 18 November. Both digitals had come from the same plant! Subsequent to this, information was received from Mr. Saqui (in Florida) to the effect that the plant had been discovered at a location (known, but not named here) in the District of Toledo, Belize. At this point, knowing both photos were from the same plant, it was not difficult to identify this species inasmuch as the hypochile (labellum) in Pio's digital was a clear profile and Dr. Heron's digital presented a frontal aspect of the hypochile with its two dorsal humps. In the great majority of orchid species, color is not a good taxonomic benchmark, but in Gongora leucochila it is significant. Jenny (1993) notes, "Labellum snow white or light yellow with no marking whatsoever..." and "The species is clearly recognizable by the unmarked labellum and the lateral sepals which are sharply separated along the middle by colour" (both remarks, page 56).

The Kew monocot checklist notes Gongora leucochila as a pseudobulb epiphyte known from Mexico (Veracruz, Chiapas) to C. America. (79 MXG MXT 80 COS GUA PAN). In sum, although it is known from nearby Mexico and Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama, this is the first report of its occurrence in Belize! This brings the Belize Gongora count to four, and--to this worker--is something of a cause for a preliminary celebration!

Why "preliminary?" When the species comes in flower again, not only should critical measurements be taken, and certain descriptive remarks written,but at least one herbarium specimen should be made and filed in a recognized herbarium, preferably the one in Belize. This worker is familiar with the general format and will be quite ammenable to assist if desired, but some actions need to be taken at the local level.

For one thing, it is important that good cultural care be taken with all divisions of this species! These plant divisions attest to the existence of this species in Belize, and at this point they may be the only representatives of this species! Not only is a herbarium specimen needed, but this plant should be proliferated by pollinating flowers and culturing plants from seed.

There are other matters important to the conservation of this species, but this worker will be happy to discuss them one-on-one with Dr. Heron and/or Mr. Saqui after the opportunity to read and digest the information in this journal's issue has become available to either or both individuals. However, at least for the moment, a few of us can recognize four, not three, species of Gongora native to Belize!

Afterthoughts and Conclusions

According to the literature cited in this work, only three species of Gongora are currently recognized from Belize (disregarding, of course the above remarks in this work!). To this worker, this reflects more on the lack of critical botanical field work in Belize and the Chinese whisper effect, the combination of which has resulted in much confusion in the literature. Scanning the bibliographies in each of the works cited as references in this work, only one authority (McLeish et al, 1995) cited Halcrow and Halcrow (1967) in their bibliography, and even in this work, there is no subsequent comment relating to the Halcrows' work anywhere in the McLeish et al text! It is obvious that the work by Halcrow and Halcrow (1967), although an early landmark work in Belize, has been overlooked by nearly every botanical "authority!"

The Halcrows' Work and Gongora maculata

Fig. 12. Illustration labeled G. maculata, p. 73. Photos DSC_4415. Fig. From Halcrow & Halcrow (1967). Sat-03Dec11.

Fig. 13. Text, p. 72. Photo: DSC_4416. Fig. From Halcrow & Halcrow (1967) Sat-03Dec11.

As regards the Genus Gongora, Halcrow and Halcrow (1967) offer a life-size drawing by Mrs. Molly Halcrow (page 73) of a species identified on the facing page as Gongora maculata. The all-too-brief text notes the flower as reddish brown in colour, flowering March-June. Although the text is sparse, the flowering information is critical, and the drawing excellent (Fig. 12) (Fig. 13).

The sparse text speaks of a rare plant with reddish flowers; a plant that flowers March-June, which they identified as G. maculata. However, the current consensus is that G. maculata is a South American species known from "Trinidad to Peru" (81 TRT 82 FRG? GUY VEN 83 PER), but not from Belize. If this is correct, what is the name of the species drawn by Mrs. Halcrow? Once again we are driven to dig back into the literature of that era.

Fig. 14. Gongora maculata. Fig. 158 from Ames & Correll, 1953. Photo: DSC_4421, Sat-03Dec11.

Ames & Correll (1953) state G. maculata is "epiphytic in humid forests, up to 1,400 m altitude; common and widespread in Mexico through Central America to Panama." With an extensive botanical description they note "this species is extremely variable in the color of the flowers" (page 540) (Fig. 14).

The plates in Figs. 11 and 13 look remarkably similar! If this is not G. maculata and certainly not G. quinquenervis [although McLeish et al (1993) relegated G. maculata to that species], what is it? This same "G. maculata" was also cited in Ames & Correll (1985), as in which Vol. 31, Number 7, 1953 was bound with the previous volumes to comprise a single book. In this combined book the following information is given on page 755 for British Honduras:

"Toledo: Between Rancho Chico and Cockscomb, Monkey River, Gentile 4319. Beyond Central Camp, Edwards Road beyond Columbia, Gentile 7362."

Even farther back than Ames and Correll, L. O. Williams (1951) included G. maculata in his Orchidaceae of Mexico, and cited its range as

"Mexico (Vera Cruz, Guerrero, Michoacan, and Oaxaca), British Honduras, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the West Indies and South America."

Gongora maculata is currently recognized as an orchid species known only from the northern area of South America; from Trinidad, possibly French Guiana, Guiana, Venezuela, and Peru. One would think it would be in Colombia as well, but as of the present it is not reported from that country. It may well be that the Halcrows and these other authorities were wrong about citing Gongora maculata, but if they were wrong about the currently correct name, what did they see? One might hazard a guess that if Mrs. Halcrow intended to convey that the labellum of the plant she drew was completely white, her drawing could be one of Gongora leucochila, now known in Belize, but perhaps seen but misidentified in 1967. However, Dorothy Allen's drawing, with its obviuously colored labellum, is certainly not one of Gongora leucochila!

Are those plants inked so carefully by Molly Halcrow and Dorothy O. Allen extinct in Belize, or is one of them G. leucochila and the other one still another species of Gongora waiting to be rediscovered? If the answers are to be found to all such questions, it might well have to begin with thorough field botany work in the forests and jungles of Belize! The 1967 work by Halcrow and Halcrow has its shortcomings, but in this essay, shortcomings have been seen in publication after publication by individuals with academic fame far greater than that of the Halcrows. As the botanical literature has been perused, it occurs to this researcher that centuries of botanists might take note of how well this husband and wife team worked together. They have chosen words and combined them with careful artwork to produce information that speaks highly of their dedication to both their country and its orchid flora despite nearly half-a-century's passage. One can only muse that it is a pity the text is so limited in this work and, in fact, that the work itself was limited to a mere seventy five of the orchids of Belize!

The outlook

If an approach to collecting, culturing, and studying the orchid flora of Belize is undertaken haphazardly, and as just so many amateurs or tourists, much more will be destroyed than preserved. If the orchid flora of Belize is relegated, whether by intent or default to being the provenance of a commercial venture, any private gain is almost certain to be an educational and ecological loss to Belize as a nation. Commercial ventures have profit-making as their goal, not national conservation, and certainly not national pride!

In this worker's opinion, after several decades of studying and culturing members of the orchid family, the keys to improvement are to be found in being free and unfettered as one works as a scientist. Ultimately those keys must be in a population educated to respect the national ecological, horticultural, and social roles the orchid family plays, not for purposes of mere curiosity.

With this recent increase in number of species of Gongora we can currently recognize as Belizean, it seems presumptuous, at least to this worker, to assume that no more as-yet-undiscovered orchid species exist. Both geographically and ecologically, Belize occupies a potentially attractive niche for orchid proliferation. However, serious degradation of the ecosystem by man-made activities remains a possibility. That said, let it be clear that this worker is not advocating some fanatical "don't-build-anything" approach, or some sort of additional environmental policing in the name of "conservation." Heaven knows, we have already far-to-many impediments to conservation and scientific research with the current legal and regulatory shackles of the CITES treaty! If we are to conserve and proliferate threatened and endangered species, we need less, not more of these altruistic--yet draconian--laws and regulations! In this respect, this worker can only hope both political and scientific elements will seek and win common legal and regulatory foundations for the benefit of future generations of both humans and other members of the biological community. This worker stands ready to assist wherever and however it is desired!

References

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_______., 1985b. THE GENUS GONGORA. Part 2: The Gongora armeniaca (Ldl.) Rchb. f. Alliance. Orchid Digest 49(5): 175-186. (Sept-Oct)

_______., 1993. Monograph of the Genus Gongora Ruiz & Pavón. Champaign, Illinois: Koeltz Scientific Books (U.S.A.) 159pp. (136 pp. plus 23 pp. of plates).

McLeish, I., N. R. Pearce, B. R. Adams, with contributions by J. S. Briggs. 1995. Native Orchids of Belize. Rotterdam/Brookfield: A. A. Balkema. 278pp.

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Wiard, L. A. 1987. An Introduction to the Orchids of Mexico. Ithaca and London: Comstock Publishing Associates. 239pp.

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Copyright © 2011 R J Ferry