The Odontoglossum crispum Philip Seaton

Images and notes discussed with members of the Silent Orchid Summer School, 10th July 2020.

'Collecting crispum in Colombia'. A painting by Philip Seaton based upon an image from Albert Millican's Adventures of an Orchid Hunter, (1895).

It is difficult to envisage what the early collectors actually saw when the entered the cloud forests in search of orchids. Taken from the photo taken by Millican, this is just a personal attempt to illustrate what collectors with thousands of plants of Odontoglossum crispum (according to the latest findings, now more correctly Oncidium alexandrae).

Although most of my time is taken up with activities related to orchid conservation, I have tried to set aside some time for painting, and thought you might like to share what I have been doing in those odd spare moments.

Crating up orchids on mules.

Although taken in the 1930’s I think, this image gives a good idea of how the orchids were packed into crates to be transported down from cool cloud forests to the shores of a hot and steamy Río Magdalena on the backs of mules.

Paddle steamer on the Río Magdalena

Plants were transported down the Magdalena to the coast on paddle steamers.

An illustration of Odontoglossum bluntii from John Day's Scrapbook. Image courtesy of Kew Gardens.

John Day recorded many of the early importations in his ‘Scrapbooks’. Although labelled Odontoglossum bluntii, it is now known as Odontoglossum crispum (Oncidium alexandrae).

An illustration of Odontoglossum bluntii and notes from John Day's Scrapbook. Image courtesy of Kew Gardens.

The notes in his scrapbooks are as interesting as the illustrations, as they give information about where the plant was collected for example: 'A nice round crispum’.

An illustration of Odontoglossum crispum from John Day's Scrapbook. Image courtesy of Kew Gardens.
An image of the RHS Committee in 1917, with R. Brooman White seated fifth from the left. Image Courtesy of The Orchid Review.

A meeting of the RHS Orchid Committee taken in 1917. Albert Millican was sponsored by R. Brooman White. Brooman White is fifth from the left, with what looks like an Odontoglossum in his buttonhole.

A commemorative postcard of Joseph Chamberlain wearing an Odontoglossum cripsum in his buttonhole
Cattleya fabia FCC (9 Nov 1897). Image courtesy of Kew Gardens.

Although never a member of the Orchid Committee, some of Chamberlain's plants did receive awards.

Brassocattleya Mrs Chamberlain (1902). Image courtesy of Kew Gardens.

This orchid was named for Chamberlain's third wife Mary Endicott.

Odontoglossum crispum 'Avalanche'.

A question remains, in horticultural circles at least, as to whether what we see in the UK today is ‘pure’ crispum, or has it been hybridised with other species? Certainly Joseph Charlesworth was breeding some very fine crispums in the early 20th century, most notably his ‘Premier’ type.

Odontoglossum crispum 'The Premier' (1923). Image from the records of the North of England Orchid Society

The North of England Orchid Society also awarded plants in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries.

Jim Durrant from Mc Beans orchid nursery continues to grow Oncidium crispum 'Avalanche' derived from Charlesworth's original collection.

Amazingly divisions of some of the original plants still exist today.

Colombian orchid nursery

Seed-raised plants are to be found in large numbers in some Colombian orchid nurseries.

O. crispum growing in its natural habitat. Image courtesy of Stig Dalstrom

Although known to be endangered in the wild today, it can still be found growing in some regions.

As a footnote, orchid importations today are subject to the Convention on International Trades in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Nagoya Protocol (2014); all of which are designed to aid in the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of resources, and fair and equitable benefit sharing. They are also subject, of course, to phytosanitary regulations.

Images (unless stated) and text © Philip Seaton

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Philip Seaton