October 8, 2010

Orchid Spotlight: Catasetum maculatum




CATASETUM. - Richard, in Kunth Synops. I. 330. Lindley, Gen. et Species Orch. 136.


AN EPIPHYTE. PSEUOBULBS large and inclining to be globular, each bearing several broadly lanceolate, plicated, acute LEAVES, of a foot or a foot and a half in length. SCAPES radical, about the same length as the leaves, bearing from 4 to 8 flowers. SEPALS narrow, acuminate, the lateral ones arched after the manner of the half of a bow, whitish on the outer side, and faintly spotted with claret color on the inner; PETALS broader than the sepals, with blotches of a clear reddish chestnut hue. LlP cucullate, with a small circular opening on its face (the sides of which are delicately fringed), and furnished in front with a not very prominent tooth; the lip is of a uniform yellowish green on the outside, but is dark brown, approaching to black, within. COLUMN erect, nearly straight, bearing two short and stout bristles, which point downwards and lean towards each other, with their extremities almost touching; spotted on the back after the manner of a frog.
Although the figure on the opposite side does not exactly agree with the description of Catasetum maculatum given by M. Kunth in his Synopsis, still we have little or no doubt that we are correct in referring it to that species; and we have, moreover, the satisfaction of knowing that the opinion of Professor “setse," bristles, the column of all the species being furnished with two processes like hair which point downwards.

Lindley on this point coincides with our own. The only discrepancies of any moment are, that M. Kunth's plant is described as having serrated petals, and leaves only three inches long. Now, as to the latter character, it is too variable in this genus to be of any weight; and as to the former, we apprehend there must be some mistake, for no such a thing as a "serrated petal" has, we believe, ever been seen amongst Orchidaceae. The nearest affinity of this species is, undoubtedly, with Catasetum tridentatum; but from that it is easily distinguished, by the fringed margin of its lip (the apex of which terminates in a single tooth), and by its sepals and petals, which stand away from, and clear of, the lip, instead of half concealing it.

Catasetum maculatum was originally discovered by Humboldt, near the town of Turbaco, in New Grenada (and at that time was the only Catasetum known); but Mr. Skinner, who met with it on the eastern coast of Nicaragua, has the merit of having introduced it into this country; and our figure is taken from a plant which we received from him in the summer of 1836, and which flowered in the following winter. Having had occasion, in these remarks, to mention the name of the Baron Von Humboldt, we cannot deny ourselves the satisfaction of taking this opportunity of alluding, in terms of the most respectful gratitude, to the courtesy and kindness with which we were received by that illustrious traveler, when we visited Berlin in 1836. How deep was the admiration with which we gazed on his expressive countenance! and how great was our wonder when we found nothing to lead us to conclude that the perils and hardships of his long and laborious life had in any way impaired his physical energies, or damped the scientific ardor of his mind! His recollection of the scenes and incidents of his travels in South America (anno 1799), seemed as fresh as if he had returned but yesterday from those sultry shores! of the truth of which observation, the following anecdote will furnish a good illustration. Having had occasion to put a question to him respecting the Orchidaceae of a portion of Columbia, he at once proceeded to name the different genera and species which it contained, and to point out their respective localities, with such ease and precision, that one would almost have supposed Botany to have been his only study, and the Orchidaceae, his favorite tribe: this will appear not a little remarkable, when we remember that there is scarcely a science with which he is not even more familiar than with Botany.

Nothing can be easier to cultivate than the different species of Catasetum; they flower profusely alike under damp or dry, under hot or cold treatment; perhaps, however, they attain their highest vigor if subjected during the summer to a powerful moist heat, with a plentiful supply of water; but in the winter they should be kept tolerably dry.

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