The Genus Epidendrum

Eric Hágsater was born in Mexico City and is graduated in Chemical Engineering and Business Administration, at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), Mexico. He is president of Productos Farmacéuticos, S.A. de C.V., CHINOIN, a Mexican phramaceutical manufacturing company with operations throughout Mexico and in various other countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America. His main interest is the taxonomy of the genus Epidendrum (Orchidaceae).
He is also the founder and director of the Herbario AMO, a research institution dedicated to the taxonomy of the Orchids in the Neotropics, between many other orchid activities.


ON: Dr. Eric Hágsater, how long have you been studying Epidendrum?
EH: I have focused on Epidendrum for some 20 years, though I had interest in the genus long before.

ON: How have you structured your studies?
EH: By building a team to cope on all aspects of the genus, and have students do their thesis on various aspects, such as leaf morphology, plant architecture, etc.

ON: Who carry on with you this work?
EH: I have headed a team within Herbario AMO, with students in various of the local universities, and collaboration of amateurs and professional botanists and propagators throughout the Americas. On the other hand we have participated in various Floras. Work has been done collecting live plants in their native habitats, growing them and studding thousands of herbarium specimens in all the major herbaria of both tropical America and the United States and Europe. Some 3000 detailed botanical illustrations have been prepared from either live plants or herbarium specimens, often types; detailed descriptions, chromatographic fragrance analysis and 300 species have been sequenced for DNA.

ON: In your lecture, you said you have inferred a molecular phylogeny of Epidendrum. Could you explain in a few words what is this.
EH: We used three different sequences: matK, trnL-F and ITS. Then used the combined information to find what consensus tree would be the most probable, by running them on a high capacity computer.

ON: You also said that you have include some related taxa: Microepidendrum, Orleanesia, Barkeria and Caularthron. What's the reason for choosing exactly those genera?
EH: You need to anchor the phylogeny with genera which we know are close, but not part or Epidendrum. That work had been done in large measure by Cassio van den Berg.

ON: Which are the vegetative traits you have mapped in the Epidendrum phylogeny and which the role played by them?
EH: The architecture of the plant and the inflorescence

ON: Could you give us an idea of the vegetative habit?
EH: Plants may be basically sympodial or monopodial, the inflorescence can flower only once, or produce new racemes from the same inflorescence over the years, it can be a raceme or distichous, with all the flowers on the same plane and alternating. The species can produce a spathaceous bract, like in Cattleya, where the inflorescence proper is protected by the spathaceous bracts during early development, or none at all.

ON: Considering the genus Epidendrum is probably the largest, monophyletic genus of Neotropical orchids, as you said in your lecture, do you think that due to the studies based on DNA, the genus Epidendrum will divided into many others?
EH: That depends on what you want to achieve. Once it is clear that the genus is monophylic, i.e. derived from a single ancestor, in my opinion, the question becomes how useful is it to human understanding and ease of identification, whatever system you propose. As Epidendrum now stands it is monophylic and easily identifiable to the average amateur and botanist. If somebody wants to add his name to the present authors of the species, he can well propose 1490 new combinations, but they will not add any valuable information and make identification of species so confusing, it will not help. With the information we have today, you could break Epidendrum up into three clades, the Mexican-Mesoamerican clade, the Andean clade and the widespread clade, but there is no way to characterize the three clades, as they all share many features. On the other hand you can break Epidendrum up into some 80 smaller, quite coherent groups of species, which can be defined by combinations of characters. I believe that this should be done very carefully and below the generic level, so that it is unnecessary to change nomenclature, and yet a specialist and even the amateur can use the infrageneric information for detail. However, in my experience, it will take more information and work throughout the neotropic to have a clear picture of these smaller groups, their limits and relationships. My own understanding of them has changed considerable as I gathered more information.

ON: How many species are considered nowadays in the genus?
EH: I have compiled a list of some 1500 species which I consider as accepted. There are, of course, many more published names.

ON: You have described a lot of species in the last years? How many?
EH: Some 450, and I have about another 100 in preparation.

ON: Which are the most widespread species?
EH: The most widespread species are lowland species such as E. rigidum Jacq. which is found from Florida through the Antillies to Brazil, and its sister species which occupies Mexico and Mesoamerica down to the Pacific coast of Ecuador. Another is Epidendrum isomerum Schltr. a continental species ranging from Mexico to Ecuador on the pacific and also the Amazon basin in Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru, and for which I have not seen any Brazilian material. Epidendrum repens Cogn. has a similar distribution, but including the Antillies. Epidendrum coronatum Ruiz & Pavón ranges from central Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia in the Amazon basin. Epidendrum nocturnum Jacq. is also widespread, from Mexico and Florida to Brazil, but there are many other species which look-alike and are cannot be distinguished by the flower, but rather by the stems, leaves and the length of the ovary and position of the capsule.

ON: Is there a typical habitat for this genus?
EH: Everywhere, from the Mangrove swamps at sea-level to the Páramo in the high Andes, though I would say the highest diversity of species is in forests at middle altitudes.

ON: Most part of them are epiphyte or lithophyte?
EH: I would say they are basically epiphytic, and their varying architecture permit them to grow along the branches, or grow away from the branch, either upright or pendent. At middle and higher elevations they are very often lithophyte, growing on rocks, or roadside banks, or on cliffs.

ON: Thank you, Eric Hágsater.

Epidendrum amethystinum

Epidendrum lacustre

Epidendrum rafael lucasii

Epidendrum marmoratum

Epidendrum porphyreum

Epidendrum pseudoschumannianum  

Photos by Eric Hágsater

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