Green Pages

Happy Landing!

gp-monk-orchidStory and Photos By Margaret Jones

Discovering Monk Orchids (Oeceoclades maculata) growing wild on Providenciales was a joyful experience. I found them secluded in leaf litter under shady native trees, close to the edge of a side road. From time to time I revisited the habitat to check on them. Undisturbed, they blossomed and increased in number. Two years later, I was in the vicinity again and on impulse turned into the road. The sight that met my eyes filled me with alarm. The shady trees had gone and lying exposed to the burning sun were the uprooted clumps of Monk Orchids.

I learned that the road was being cleared for a new development and that in a couple of hours, the orchids would be on their way to the dump. Happily, willing hands helped me to rescue them. Now they are blooming once again in the shade of native trees, but this time in the safety of a garden.

Monk Orchid, also known as the Spotted African Orchid, is one of the most widely dispersed orchid species, being found wild in places as far apart as tropical Africa, the West Indies, tropical South America and Florida. Scientists have discussed the possible ways that this African species migrated to such distant lands. One theory is that the Monk Orchid island-hopped from Africa until it first reached Florida about 30 years ago and that it did so by means of its seed.

After flowering, seed capsules develop which burst to release their seeds. This happens during the time of the Atlantic hurricane season. The seeds are as fine as dust and are carried by the winds which originate in Africa and blow across the ocean as hurricanes. These powerful storms sometimes make landfall on a West Indian island, depositing the seed. Under favourable conditions, the orchid grows and in time flowers and produces more seed. Some of these are then carried north-westward by another tropical storm to a nearby island in the Caribbean chain. The process continues until the seed eventually reaches the American continent.

En route, some of these seeds may well have landed in the Turks & Caicos Islands and finding a favourable environment, began to grow and flourish. Monk Orchid was first found on Middle Caicos about eight years ago, followed by a discovery on North Caicos and now more recently on Providenciales.

In the wild it grows terrestrially in shade, producing beautiful 9 inch light and dark green mottled leaves from which the species name is derived — maculata (from Latin) meaning “spotted.” Small pink and white flowers are borne in racemes along the length of 14 inch stems during summer. Seed capsules are green, ripening to brown. In cultivation, Monk Orchid can be grown as a rewarding pot plant on a shady verandah.

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