Lou Christian Menezes
Discovered in 1846 by Francois Devos on the shoreline of what was then the Imperial Province of Santa Catarina, i.e. on Santa Cararina Island, currently Florianópolis, the state capital, Laelia purpurata has left us a legacy of mystery surrounding the date it was collected.
Far from its habitats in southern Brazil, Laelia purpurata flowered for the first time in cultivation in the greenhouses of the James Backhouse and Sons firm in York, England. In that same year, it was exhibited by the Royal Horticultural Society, in London, allowing it to be studied an described by the botanist John Lindley and then published by the gardener and architect Joseph Paxton in Paxton's Flower Garden, 3: 111-112, tab. 96, 1852.
The English botanist John Lindley created the genus Laelia in 1831, but without clarifying the etimology of the name. It is believed that it relates to the name of a vestal virgin or to the women of the family Laelius, a Roman statesman and friend of Cyprian the African.
In addition to describing the genus, Lindley was responsible for the first classification of Laelia species; in 1842 he established two sections: Grandiflorae, in which the flowers have petals larger than the sepals, and Parviflorae, in which the flowers have petals and sepals of the same size. Another study was published by Pfitzer in 1889 presenting 5 sections to acommodate many new species described after Lindley's classification. However, it was Schlechter who in 1917 devised a new classification system that has endured to our days, and in it several proposals or accommodations were made. In modern times, orchidologists Cassio van den Berg and Mark W. Chase [Sophronitis purpurata - Lindleyana, 15 (2): 115-119, 2000], Guy R. Chiron and Vitorino P. Castro Neto [Hadrolaelia purpurata - Ricbardiana, 2 (1): 4-28, January 2002], Campacci [Brasilaelia purpurata - Colet. Orquídeas Brasileiras, 4 (pre-anexo): 100, 2006], Guido Braem [Chironiella purpurata - Riehardiana 6 (2): 109, 200,6] and Cassio van den Berg [Cattleya purpurata - Neodiversity 3: 3-12, March 2008] have published new revisions for the genus Laelia. Such a disparity of names has reinforced our position that the species should continue to be treated within the traditional cultural context of its identification in Brazil, i.e. Laelia purpurata Lindley & Paxton.
Of all those shows held throughout the years showcasing Laelia purpurata, the Flower Festival in Joinville is considered the top state and national event exalting the species, even though other shows featuring selected plants produced from new breeding lines have caught the fancy of the major Laelia purpurata growers at the present time.
Laelia purpurata has given rise to innumerable descriptive adjectives extolling its fascinating beauty and its place in the rich Brazilian orchid flora, and it became the emblematic flower of the Barbosa Rodrigues Herbarium in Itajai, Santa Catarina on June 22, 1942. However, the greatest distinction granted to Laelia purpurata was status as the floral symbol of Santa Catarina State.
In their habitats in the Atlantic Forest, the populations of Laelia purpurata are seriously threatened with extinction by the devastation of the environment. The reduce human pressure on the habitats has provided orchid collectors with a source of income through the in vitro production of plants, possibly leading to genetic improvement of the species, resulting in flowers of high quality from the standpoint of texture, color, and the way they present themselves. This will make removing plants from the habitats less attractive; Laelia purpurata is a spectacular example of what has happened in Brazil in that regard.