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Social Life of Land class visits the Conservatory

Cooper (left) shows orchids to students in Wolford’s (right) class.

Wendy Wolford, the Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Professor of Global Development in the Department of Development Sociology and Vice Provost for International Affairs, brought students from her Social Life of Land (DSOC 6620) class for a tour of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory February 22.

CUAES greenhouse grower Paul Cooper introduced Wolford’s students to the plant collection and explained the features of the greenhouse and how greenhouses at  Cornell have been used to support research, teaching and outreach since the 1880s.

Nature photographers visit LHBC

Cayuga Nature Photographers group member Paul Schmitt composes a shot in the Conservatory February 10.

Cayuga Nature Photographers group member Paul Schmitt composes a shot in the Conservatory February 10.

Members of the Cayuga Nature Photographers group visited the Conservatory February 10 to sharpen their skills and share techniques in the warm confines of the glasshouse. Group members range from beginners to accomplished professionals. They meet monthly and sponsor outings to help improve each other’s skills.

The group’s newsletter editor Paul Schmitt passed along some of his best shots from the day:

Aristolochia gigantea & Bougainvillea spectabilis

Aristolochia gigantea & Bougainvillea spectabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis

Clerodendrum thomsoniae

Clerodendrum thomsoniae

From Nancy Ridenour:

From Brian Chabot:

From Mark Malkin:

Darwin’s orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) flowering now

Horticulture research technician Maria Gannett takes in the splendor of the Darwin Orchid. Photos: Matt Hayes

Horticulture research technician Maria Gannett takes in the splendor of the Darwin Orchid.

Several specimens of Angraecum sesquipedale, also known as Darwin’s orchid, Christmas orchid, and Star of Bethlehem orchid, are currently blooming or poised to bloom in the Conservatory. They are expected to continue to pump out flowers possibly until the end of the month.

Stop by for a visit. (We’re open to the public 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. most weekdays.) You can also see our Titan arums in their vegetative stage and the hundreds of other interesting plants in the warm confines of the Conservatory.

In addition to producing large, star-like, waxy white flowers, this plant comes with a great back story (reposted from the Cornell Chronicle 2012-12-05):

A star orchid is blooming on campus this week, but its story began 150 years earlier when Charles Darwin first observed the flower’s foot-long nectary and famously wondered: “Good Heavens, what insect can suck it?”

Darwin’s fascination with Angraecum sesquipedale — and with answering this question — led him to predict a species of moth with a proboscis capable of extending 10 to 11 inches, able to reach the flower’s nectar reserves. To explain the phenomenon, Darwin suggested an arms race of sorts resulting in flowers with perpetually lengthening floral tubes, and moths with perpetually lengthening tongues — a prediction that represents one of his major contributions to evolutionary biology.

Letters between Darwin and orchid grower James Bateman reveal Darwin was immediately captivated when a box of the orchids arrived in 1862. Paul Cooper, the greenhouse grower who cares for Cornell’s specimen, also claims love at first sight.

“I first noticed the orchid while I was watering,” says Cooper. “When I learned the story behind it, I got a little obsessed.”

Cornell’s orchid has been in its collection for more than a decade and is housed at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory, managed by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES). Generally slow in reaching maturity, this orchid has been flowering for the past few years and boasts about two dozen blooms, Cooper says.

An epiphytic plant endemic to the coastal forests of Madagascar, A. sesquipedale blooms from June to September in its native habitat, but usually peaks between December and January in North America and Europe. Also known as “Darwin’s orchid,” the flower’s timing and its star-like appearance have led people to call it the “Christmas orchid” or “Star of Bethlehem orchid.”

As with many night-blooming orchids, the flowers of A. sesquipedale are white, and its scent is strongest at night when its pollinators are on the move. And pollination is performed almost exclusively by the very insect Darwin first imagined: A hawkmoth with a proboscis long enough to reach the orchid’s nectar. The species, named Xanthopan morganii praedicta (or “predicted moth”), was discovered in 1903, but not witnessed feeding on the orchid until 1992.

Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior Robert A. Raguso says hawkmoths’ long tongues grant them entry to most flowers. “In Madagascar, they drink from tiny lantana flowers as well as the huge hibiscus-like blossoms in the canopies of baobab trees,” he said. “The orchids may indeed have arrived late on that scene.”

Raguso’s lab uses the orchid’s floral scents to study smaller-tongued relatives of the hawkmoth, and how they use fragrance to find and pollinate evening primroses and nocturnal tobaccos. A recent study from his lab showed for the first time that some pollinators may prefer flowers with slightly higher humidity levels, as remote indicators of the presence of nectar. “From the moth’s perspective, the white, perfumed flowers are billboards promising nectar at the bottom of that long spur,” Raguso says.

“The fact that the orchid’s mysteries are still unfolding is a big part of what makes this flower so special,” Cooper adds. “Plus, it is truly glorious for just one short week of the winter each year. I encourage everyone to come see it.”

Angraecum sesquipedale, also known as Darwin's orchid, Christmas orchid, and Star of Bethlehem orchid

Angraecum sesquipedale, also known as Darwin’s orchid, Christmas orchid, and Star of Bethlehem orchid

Join Nature Rx club in LHBC

CUAES greenhouse grower Paul Cooper leads tour for the Nature Rx Club at the Conservatory Dec. 7.

CUAES greenhouse grower Paul Cooper leads tour for the Nature Rx Club at the Conservatory Dec. 7.

Feeling stressed? The Nature Rx @ Cornell Club is hosting a tour of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory December 14 from noon to 1 p.m.

Kick back in the warm confines of the Conservatory and learn about some of the fascinating plants there from CUAES greenhouse greenhouse grower Paul Cooper.

If you can’t make it then, feel free to come on your own when the Conservatory is open to the public, most weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Victoria lily flowering (one more time)

Last night — for the third time in a little more than a week — the Victoria lily (Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’) in the water feature in the Palm House began its dramatic two-day flower display. But currently there are no other flower buds showing. So this might be your last chance to witness this plant’s spectacular bloom for a while.

The plant has much in common with the Conservatory’s Titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum), even though the two species are not at all closely related:

  • It’s a large plant. The cultivar we’re growing is a cross between South American natives V. cruziana and V. amazonica. The latter is the larger of the two parents, and under the right conditions it can produce pads nearly 10 feet in diameter. People often photograph small children supported by the pads to demonstrate their strength. (Obey the signage and do not try it here. It’s dangerous and you’ll injure our smaller plant.)
  • The bloom time is short. Victoria lilies open at dusk and the blooms last only about 48 hours or so.
  • The flowers use fragrance and heat to attract pollinators. The first evening, the flower is white and releases a pineapple-like scent and generates heat to attract beetles. It’s a lot more pleasant than the foul odor Titan arums use to attract pollinators in search of rotting flesh.
  • The flower goes to great lengths to assure cross-pollination. During the first evening, the flower’s female parts are ready to receive pollen the beetles might be carrying from another Victoria lily. The flower then closes, trapping the beetles inside.  During the next day, the anthers mature and start releasing pollen that the beetles carry from the flower when it opens in the evening. The flower changes to a purplish red, signaling to beetles that their pollination services are no longer needed.

Subscribe to our email updates and we’ll let you know when it flowers again.

 

Victoria lily flowering (again)

The blooms keep coming …

The Victoria lily (Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’) in the water feature in the Palm House began its dramatic two-day flower display last night. And there is another flower bud poised to open, likely in the next week.

The plant has much in common with the Conservatory’s Titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum), even though the two species are not at all closely related:

  • It’s a large plant. The cultivar we’re growing is a cross between South American natives V. cruziana and V. amazonica. The latter is the larger of the two parents, and under the right conditions it can produce pads nearly 10 feet in diameter. People often photograph small children supported by the pads to demonstrate their strength. (Obey the signage and do not try it here. It’s dangerous and you’ll injure our smaller plant.)
  • The bloom time is short. Victoria lilies open at dusk and the blooms last only about 48 hours or so.
  • The flowers use fragrance and heat to attract pollinators. The first evening, the flower is white and releases a pineapple-like scent and generates heat to attract beetles. It’s a lot more pleasant than the foul odor Titan arums use to attract pollinators in search of rotting flesh.
  • The flower goes to great lengths to assure cross-pollination. During the first evening, the flower’s female parts are ready to receive pollen the beetles might be carrying from another Victoria lily. The flower then closes, trapping the beetles inside.  During the next day, the anthers mature and start releasing pollen that the beetles carry from the flower when it opens in the evening. The flower changes to a purplish red, signaling to beetles that their pollination services are no longer needed.

One important difference: If you missed flowering this time, you won’t need to wait as long to have another chance to view this phenomena in person. Our specimen already has another flower bud poised to open soon. Subscribe to our email updates and we’ll let you know when it’s happening.

 

Victoria lily flowering

The Victoria lily (Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’) in the water feature in the Palm House began its dramatic two-day flower display last night.

The plant has much in common with the Conservatory’s Titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum), even though the two species are not at all closely related:

  • It’s a large plant. The cultivar we’re growing is a cross between South American natives V. cruziana and V. amazonica. The latter is the larger of the two parents, and under the right conditions it can produce pads nearly 10 feet in diameter. People often photograph small children supported by the pads to demonstrate their strength. (Obey the signage and do not try it here. It’s dangerous and you’ll injure our smaller plant.)
  • The bloom time is short. Victoria lilies open at dusk and the blooms last only about 48 hours or so.
  • The flowers use fragrance and heat to attract pollinators. The first evening, the flower is white and releases a pineapple-like scent and generates heat to attract beetles. It’s a lot more pleasant than the foul odor Titan arums use to attract pollinators in search of rotting flesh.
  • The flower goes to great lengths to assure cross-pollination. During the first evening, the flower’s female parts are ready to receive pollen the beetles might be carrying from another Victoria lily. The flower then closes, trapping the beetles inside.  During the next day, the anthers mature and start releasing pollen that the beetles carry from the flower when it opens in the evening. The flower changes to a purplish red, signaling to beetles that their pollination services are no longer needed.

One important difference: If you missed flowering this time, you won’t need to wait as long to have another chance to view this phenomena in person. Our specimen already has another flower bud poised to open soon. Subscribe to our email updates and we’ll let you know when it’s happening.

 

President Pollack visits LHBC

Patty Chan ’18 and Nicolas Glynos ’17 answer President Pollack's plant questions on tour of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory.

Patty Chan ’18 and Nicolas Glynos ’17 answer President Pollack’s plant questions on tour of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory. Photo: Matt Hayes, CALS Marketing and Communications.

Cornell University President Martha Pollack stopped by the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory Thursday as part of a tour of the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS). Plant sciences majors Nicolas Glynos ’17 and Patty Chan ’18 led President Pollack and CALS Dean Kathryn Boor on a tour of the Conservatory’s collection of more than 600 plant species. “Nick and Patty did a great job explaining the Conservatory and answering President Pollack’s questions about the plants,” says SIPS director Christine Smart. “We’re so lucky to have this resource to engage people in the plant sciences.”

View more images on the CALS Facebook page.

Chan and Pollack. Photo: Matt Hayes, CALS Marketing and Communications.

Chan and Pollack. Photo: Matt Hayes, CALS Marketing and Communications.

Cornell Chronicle: Titan arum blooms outside for first time

Both the Cornell Chronicle and CALS News reported this week on Carolus’s historic bloom:

Carolus in full bloom at dawn August 8, 2017.

Carolus in full bloom at dawn August 8, 2017.

Summer breezes wafting through Cornell’s Minns Garden carried the aromas of fresh grass, notes of floral and, for a few days in August, something akin to rotting meat.

Yet the chance to experience that repugnant odor drew thousands of visitors to the garden near the Plant Science Building. The reason: Carolus, one of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum), as the giant, smelly tropical plant also known as a corpse flower bloomed outdoors for the first time ever in a region outside of the tropics.

Carolus started its dramatic show Aug. 7, unleashing its mighty rotten-meat stench that, in the sweltering forests of Sumatra, Indonesia, attracts flies, carrion beetles and other pollinators looking for a snack and a place to lay eggs.

Coaxing the plant to bloom outside in the cool of an Ithaca summer takes a lot of nerve and a little luck, said Paul Cooper, the greenhouse grower for the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES), who cares for Cornell’s two flowering-sized Titan arums.

Read the whole article.

Carolus waning. Carolus dancing.

Carolus continues to wane Friday morning.

Carolus continues to wane Friday morning.

Thanks to all who stopped by this week to visit Carolus blooming in Minns Garden (map) .

Carolus continues to wane, but will remain outside at least through the weekend if you’d like to take one last look. Soon, Conservatory staff will move the pot inside where the underground corm will remain dormant for a few months before putting out a single huge leaf to begin recharging the corm for next flowering.

Many visitors this week who had visited during previous Titan arum flowerings remarked how different the plant looked outside in a more natural setting. Another big difference: There’s no wind in the Conservatory. Outside, Carolus’s spathe was free to dance in the breeze.

 

Visit our Titan arum video playlist to view timelapse and educational videos from previous flowerings.

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