Genus Caucaea (former Oncidium section cucullata)
was born in New York City. Six years ago, he moved from New York
City to Quito, Ecuador where he paints, illustrates, writes and
is a part time-gardener for more than 6.000 orchids.
His writing has been published, he has lectured and exhibited
nationally and internationally and has received many awards for
After thirteen years of painting Oncidium, he designed and published
the first edition of "The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Oncidium"
and after another seven years, published the second revised edition
with more than 850 same-size paintings of plants and flowers.
During the 18th WOC, he presents a lecture about "The Oncidium
alliance with an emphasis on Caucaea" and exhibited
paintings from his book.
in the traditional sense, seems to be a large genus.
HZ: Yes. According to Mark W. Chase, there are
more than 1,400 species in the alliance. One of my favorite groups (I
love the color purple) is now called Caucaea. Caucaea radiata
was recognized by Schltr in 1920 but remained somewhat obscure until
2001, when N.H. Williams & M.W. Chase proposed the transference
of some species in the Cucullata section to Caucaea based
on DNA analysis.
ON: It seems that Oncidium cucullatum (Caucaea olivaceum)
is one of your favorites, what is your opinion about this change?
HZ: Chase and Norris Williams discovered with
molecular analysis that Caucaea radiata was consistent with the
DNA of what we called Oncidium cucullatum and its relatives,
and the genus was renamed based on Caucaea being the oldest name.
Caucaea radiata is a small-flowered white and brown species named
for the locale where it was found IN Cauca, Colombia. Lindley’s
name, Oncidium cucullatum had been preceded by the name Oncidium
olivaceum by Kunth in the early 1800’s. Caucaea olivaceum
is now the correct nomenclature for what we have been calling Oncidium
cucullatum. Some taxonomists feel that DNA results are open to interpretation
and for that reason may be in question. I believe that molecular studies
offer the most accurate information and should be accepted until something
more definitive comes along.
ON: How many species are included in this genus?
HZ: In my opinion the genus Caucaea is currently
limited to about seven species and that geographic distribution and
different “living conditions” account for the variety of
color, shape, size, and pattern. The group includes the species Caucaea
sanguinolenta from Colombia and Ecuador, C. mimetica from
Colombia and Venezuela, C. olivaceum from Colombia, Ecuador and
Peru; C. phalaenopsis from Ecuador and Peru, C. nubigena
from Ecuador and Peru, C. radiata from Colombia and Caucaea
andigena, a yellow flowered form from the Ecuador.
ON: Do you consider Caucaea mimetica and Caucaea olivaceum
as two different species?
HZ: Yes. Caucaea mimetica has a somewhat
different shape and callus from Caucaea olivaceum but could,
with future DNA analysis, turn out to be a variety rather than a separate
species. Of course, there might be new species to be discovered as more
areas become open to field researchers. Colombia is a bit difficult
these days, but Ecuador and Peru beckon for new discoveries.
ON: And about Caucaea phalaenopsis?
HZ: Caucaea phalaenopsis is a group found
in many different locations in Ecuador and Peru. The plants of this
lovely species exhibit enormous pattern and color variation within a
population. The flowers not only vary from valley to valley, but from
tree to tree--- and sometimes one finds different plants with different
patterns on the same tree. If one were to apply species designation
to each of the myriad forms, hundreds of names would have to be applied---
perhaps thousands. But it is generally accepted that this varied group
is a singular species. I do believe that the same occurs with Caucaea
olivaceum and Caucaea nubigena, another variable species
with many different color forms.
ON: How did you get the plants for your book Orchids: The Pictorial
Encyclopedia of Oncidium?
HZ: When I began working on the book, I had no
problem obtaining plants from Mexico, Central and South America, and
the Caribbean by mail or courier services. In the middle of developing
the book, CITES arrived one day, bringing with it untold aggravation
and heartache. Because of the new importing restrictions, it became
necessary for me to travel to different countries in Central and South
America, and the Caribbean to legally obtain plants. About the only
positive happening that came along with the advent of CITES was that
I got to see and study Oncidium species in situ. And over the years,
I was fortunate to meet more than two hundred knowledgeable people who
generously offered information, plants and flowers. Many of these men
and women became good friends, and have remained so to the present.
ON: What might you conclude about the cites?
HZ: While cites has been valuable in preventing
international trade in animals, I do not believe that CITES has saved
a single orchid plant from extinction. Every orchid person seriously
interested in conservation knows that because of unregulated habitat
destruction for farming, millions upon millions of orchids have been
destroyed along with other plants and trees to provide secondary growth
for cattle or to grow food crops. By comparison, orchid collectors have
taken a miniscule number of plants out of the field. Even over-collecting
is no match to the destruction of orchids that a local farmer can do
with a match. Slash and burn agriculture is continuing as you read this,
with a blind eye from CITES. I think that the CITES convention got it
wrong when they included orchids in their rulings… they should
have stayed with animals. Even bottled seedlings are subject to CITES
restrictions. And scientists are prohibited to carry or send vouchers
or dried and pressed material from country to country without a permit.
I believe that all the people in the orchid world should be free of
the deadening effect of non-productive, cumbersome, overbearing regulations.
ON: Ecuador is not a very big country however it has many species of
orchids, since you live there nowadays, could you tell us how many?
HZ: Ecuador has more species of orchids than any
other country in the world. More than 4,000 have been described! Most
of the species occur in the higher elevations of the Andes.
ON: Thank you, Harry Zelenko.
by Harry Zelenko
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