INTRODUCTION

 

Due to its continental dimensions, Brazil has, and it could not be different, a great diversity of ecosystems. None of them is homogenous and all of them are subdivided into many micro-systems, each one with its own characteristics. Frequently they are so close or one inside the others that is difficult to separate or even to do classification. Besides, there are the areas of transitions between them.
The most known and the richest is the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest) however, there also are the great rain forest, Amazon Forest; the Cerrado (Savannah) placed in the Central Plateau where appear the high mountain grasslands also known as Rupestrian mountain fields (campos de altitude or campos rupestres); the Caatinga; Mata dos Pinhais or Floresta de Araucária (considered as a continuation of the Atlantic Forest); the Pantanal; the Swamps areas (Alagados - Manguezais and Brejos), the Coastal Dunes (Restingas) and some others.
This work is not exhaustive and, in order not to be so extensive, it is limited to approach the richest and most interesting ecosystems and habitats, although there are some others that also disserve an approach as those wonderful "Chapadas" (plateau - rock outcropping) such as Veadeiros (where occurs Encyclia chapadensis), Guimarães and Parecis.
In a high or low degree, the presence of orchids is always constant and that is in the Atlantic Forest where occurs the most part of the Brazilian species of this family. Only in the state of Espírito Santo, more than 600 species of orchids can be found.
Due to this diversity, when we want to cultivate Brazilian genera and species, we should know a little about the habitat of those we choose because the climatic conditions are really very distinct and it is not enough to know which is the geographic location of the ecosystem as a whole. It is essential to know the particularities of its micro-ecosystem (temperature, environmental humidity- rain, mist and fog, ventilation, luminosity, change a lot even inside the same habitat), the condition found by the orchids which grow on the top of a tree is not the same as this one found on the lower trunk or on the ground.
Some orchids coming from the Amazon region love a high level of humidity and stay submerged for weeks during the floods period (Acacallis cyanea, Galeandra devoniana, for example), but they are an exception, the most part will not withstand this excess. Another ones, coming form the Cerrado (Savannah), need the drastic seasonal alternation of drought and rain (such as Cattleya nobilior, the terrestrial species of Cyrtopodium which take advantage of the annual fire), some others also growing in the same area, but in the woods along the rivers need more humidity. Some need a daily thermal shock (species growing in place where the temperature drops more than 30º C day-night), some others depend on having low temperature in winter with a period of dormancy less drastic and high level of humidity during the summer, some other need humidity all year long, low luminosity e cold winter (species from the shady part of Atlantic Forest), some other require strong luminosity, wind, heat during the day and cold during the night (lithophyte species of
high mountain grasslands).

 
Brassavola tuberculata (photo:FM)
Some plants can grow exposed to direct sunlight, on the rocks such as Bifrenaria harrisoniae, Laelia lobata, Brassavola tuberculata, Epidendrum denticulatum, robustum, however they can also grow as epiphyte on the trees.
Brief, the variants are numerous and know a little about those habitats allow us to adequate a little more our environment of cultivation. Closer we get to the natural cultivation conditions, more success we can expect in the blooming of our plants. However, in any way, we should not forget that we will never have the same conditions, so a plant that, in the nature, grows completely exposed
  to sunlight, sometimes straight on the rocks (even its roots), taking advantage of the constant wind, environmental humidity, removed from its habitat, imprisoned in a pot, will not withstand if keeping in this particular condition. If, in the nature, it grows in a specific condition, it has taken an eternity to adapt itself, to get this stage. Besides this condition is not the only one, there are some others interacting in a almost perfect balance, allowing in this way, its survival. So, in cultivation, we need to compensate, in a way or another, the lack of the natural conditions trying to equilibrate all the essential elements: Luminosity, environmental humidity, watering, ventilation, feeding and temperature.

 

ATLANTIC FOREST (RAINFOREST)

The Mata Atlântica is the second great rainforest of the South America, just after the Amazon Forest.
Primitively, it extend from Rio Grande do Norte through Rio Grande do Sul, crossing 17 Brazilian states, following the Atlantic coastal strip. It is mainly located in mountain regions in areas from 800m to 1.700m altitude (Serra do Mar, Serra Geral, Serra da Mantiqueira and Serra dos Órgãos). It is estimated, according to the information of Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest SOS Foundation) that the remainder wood is about 5 to 8% of the original existent when Brazil has been discovered, it means, about 100 thousands km². Some states have been more devastated and some others are a little more preserved.

 
Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo
Usual landscape during the springtime and summer (season of rains),
with clouds and mist surround the peak, in a mountainous region
at
1.600m altitude. (photo:SA)
It has practically just two seasons, a rainy season (springtime and summer) with a higher temperature and a dry season (fall and winter) with a lower temperature.
The average temperature is not uniform in all its extension, in northern areas, it is higher than in the south and southern areas and, in some places, the minimum temperature can lower until -6º C (even lower) and in another, the maximum temperature can reach 35ºC. In the mountains even the summer, it is not very hot, it is mild.
  In this kind of ecosystem, the rivers and brooks are very common, consequently besides de humidity provided by the mist coming every night from the sea, there is also the humidity provided by them. "... this system is quite humid, therefore the great difficult of cultivating orchids coming from, specially the Oncidiuns because they are well adapted to the mist of the night that, not only helps to drop down the temperature, something that they really need, but also, provides the humidity they require to grow up. The great enemy of an orchid is the excess of water, although those orchids from the Atlantic Forest grow in a humid environment, they are settled in the bark of the tree and they dry out very quickly. The water of the rains drips, the sun comes and dries out all those things. Il you leave your plant in a too much sheltered place in a pot or under a very dense foliage, it will not dry out. As a result, the roots rot and kill the plant." (Carlos Eduardo de Britto Pereira in a lecture about habitats of Brazilian orchids, at the Botanical Garden, September 2002).

Trunks covered with moss and
Phymatidium
in a very humid environment
(photo:FM)
 
  The trees in "Mata Atlântica" are high and reach 30, or even 40 m. height projecting in the canopy, allowing the presence of a rich and diversified flora and the environmental humidity propitiates the presence of the epiphytes, mainly orchids and bromeliads. In many cases, there is a very rich subjacent vegetation, characterized by shrubs and plants that need high level of humidity.
Home of the most part of Cattleya, Sophronitis, Miltonia, Oncidium, Maxillaria, but also of Laelia (with big flowers), an enormous quantity of Pleurothallis as well Stelis and Ornithocephalus, Atlantic Forest has genera and species with big and very small flowers (those called micro-orchids). The group which presents a biggest number of specimens and also the most variety in number of species is the sub-tribe Pleurothallidinae (with the genera Pleurothallis - more than 100 species, Stellis, Masdevallia, Barbosella, Octomeria). Many terrestrial genera such as Habenaria and genera of the sub-tribe Spiranthinae, are well represented in the interior of the Forest such as Cyclopogon, Pelexia, Hapalorchis, Erythrodes and Sarcoglottis, between others.
According to the separation of four climatic regions or four ecological provinces of the orchids (G. J. Pabst e F. Dungs, in Orchidaceae Brasilienses), Serra do Mar, presenting a temperate climate, is enclosed in the first province which has more or less 60% of the genera and species in Brazil. In order to understand a little more about this habitat, we transcribe what Guido Pabst said about: " ... Serra do Mar is characterized by chains of hills at whose base hot and humid air collects, and as it rises up the hills its humidity condenses in the cooler air into mist or rain. Those are regions of higher atmospheric humidity, with more or less strong precipitations during the whole year. The richness of orchids in those places is due not only to the presence of the local humid air, but also thanks to its constant renovation by new masses of atmospheric humidity coming from other regions... Inside the Mata Atlântica, the orchids grow since the soil, lower and medium trunks until the top of the trees, looking for the best conditions to thrive...
...The periods of condensation of humidity and rainfall in province number 1 are not what are generally utilized in watering in cultivation. The formation of mist and clouds usually begins late in the day. An hour later the forest is wholly saturated. The morning breeze, the drier air during the day and the sun's rays dry the environment quickly...
...Plants originating from misty regions occur in a great number of genera, species and varieties. Individual plants are showier and quicker to develop...".

Even inside the Atlantic Forest, the occurrence of orchids is not uniform. Although they can be find at the sea level until 4000m altitude, they occur more often in altitude place from 500m to 2000m altitude. The forest at the sea level or a little higher, are relatively poor in species if compared with the area referred above. Besides, as said, the climatic conditions vary a lot depending mainly on the altitude in which the specific habitat is placed.

 
Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo
Masdevalia discoides (photo:SA)
Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo
Miltonia spectabilis (photo:SA)
Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo
Maxillaria tenuiflora (photo:SA)
 
Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo
Aspasia lunata (photo:SA)
Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo
Laelia crispa (photo:SA)
Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo
Cattleya bicolor (photo:SA)
  The list of the genera of Orchidaceae family is big and we can go through almost all the alphabet: Aspasia lunata, Baptistonia echinata, Barbosella, Bifrenaria aurea-fulva, atropurpurea, clavigera, harrisoniae, inodora, melanopoda, vitellina, Bulbophyllym sp, Campylocentrum sp, Capanemia superflua, thereziae, Catasetum macrocarpum, Cattleya bicolor, dormaniana, forbesii, harrisoniana, loddigesii, velutina, warneri, Cirrhaea sp, Cleistes sp, Comparettia coccinea, Dichaea sp, Dipteranthus grandiflorus, Dryadella sp., Elleanthus, Encyclia euosma, oncidioides, patens, Epidendrum addae, armeniacum, denticulatum, ecostatum, Gomesa barkeri, crispa, recurva, Gongora bufonia, Govenia utriculata, Habenaria, Isabelia virginalis, Laelia alaorii, cinnabarina, crispa, dayana, fidelensis, lobata, perrinii, virens, Leptotes bicolor, tenuis, Masdevallia infracta and other species, Maxillaria rufescens and other species, Octomeria robusta e outras espécies Miltonia cuneata, spectabilis e outras espécies, Notylia, Oncidium concolor, cornigerum, crispum, curtum, divaricatum, forbesi, gardneri, harrisonianum, lietzei, longipes, majevskyi, marshallianum, pabstii, pumilum (Lophiaris pumila), schunkianum, schwambachiae (Lophiaris schwambachiae) sphegiferum, Pabstia jugosa, modestior, schunkiana, triptera, viridis, Phymatidium, Pleurothallis, Promenaea guttata, ovatiloba, stapelioides, xanthina,Prosthechea inversa, kautskyi, vespa,
  Rodriguezia, Scuticaria, Sophronitella violacea, Sophronitis acuensis, coccinea, brevipedunculata, pygmaea, Stanhopea graveolens, Stelis sp, Zygopetalum brachypetalum, crinitum, intermedium, mackayi, maxillare, pedicellatum, Zygostates multiflora, between others (This list is not complet and the information has been taken mainly from the book "Brazilian Orchids", Chapter "Orchid's Map Over the Continent", by Francisco Miranda and "Orchidaceae Brasilienses", by G. J. Pabst e F. Dungs (the nomenclature is updated). Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo
Promenaea guttata (photo:SA)
 
(photo:FM)
"...Although the high mountain grasslands (or rupestrian mountain fields - campos de altitude) are mainly placed in Serra Espinhaço, there is, in Atlantic Forest, another kind which is found specially in the mountains region. As the hill gets up, the size of the trees going on decreasing, the vegetation going on modifying until get a rock and it is over that rock this grassland is found.
If we pay attention to the hills of Petrópolis, Friburgo, we will see the Atlantic Forest and above it, the rock with those high mountain grasslands with characteristics rather different from those which occurs in Serra do Espinhaço where there is a predominance of
 

gramineae and, in this case, the rock is naked and the plants are settled down in places where there is the decomposition of the rocks. We find an example in Caxambu district, in Petrópolis.
It is like a valley surrounded by the Atlantic Forest still untouched.
Getting up the wood, the transition starts into the high grassland, the trees disappear and starts a vegetation composed basically by the gramineae
..."

(Carlos Eduardo de Britto Pereira, in the lecture about Brazilian habitats, in Botanical Garden, Rio de Janeiro, in September 2002).

Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo
Hapalorchis rhombiglossa
(terrestrial species of Atlantic Forest)
(photo:SA)

   


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