Cymbidium sanderae is a wonderfully fragrant species, with striking coloration. With its beautiful flowers, it also brings its share of taxonomic deliberation … those long questionable identity conversations that animate many orchid growers and scientists into detailed nomenclature reviews. This particular Cymbidium sanderae — as I am labeling it at the present time — has received considerable scrutiny by those far more experienced with species classification than I. It originated from a CITES-approved wild collection of the species from Vietnam about 15 years ago. This shipment contained quite a diversity of Cymbidium, including many from the Cymbidium eburneum complex. Based upon detailed examination of the flowers, vegetative habit, and blooming times, this plant was determined to be Cymbidium sanderae.
A thoughtful Australian Cymbidium grower contacted me, after I posted the photos below, to suggest that it might actually be Cymbidium parishii. He commented that Andy Easton has selfed a plant from the collection of Emma Menninger labeled “Cymbidium parishii var. sanderae.” The progeny were found to be quite variable, indicating that the source plant (and others bearing the name “sanderae“) may be natural hybrids.
Du Puy and Cribb (2007) describe Cymbidium parishii as having 2-3 flowers that are smaller than Cymbidium eburneum and not fully open; Cymbidium sanderae as having 3-15 flowers. Additionally, Cymbidium sanderae has acute leaf tips, ovoid pseudobulbs with 10 leaves, and new growths produced each year. This plant has all of the characteristics of Cymbidium sanderae, and is quite distinct from the Cymbidium eburneum growth habit (shared with Cymbidium parishii). Its flower spikes are basal, and the blooms are much more open than the Cymbidium eburneum and related Cymbidium banaense in our collection. Ron Parsons and I reviewed the flowers on this plant as well. He has a large database of species photos, and we looked at those considered Cymbidium parishii, Cymbidium eburneum, and Cymbidium sanderae. There is considerable range in the extent of spotting of the lips for the “Cymbidium sanderae” plants, as well as the degree of blush in the petals and sepals.
It has been suggested that Cymbidium sanderae is part of a hybrid swarm with Cymbidium mastersii, and possibly Cymbidium insigne, but, many plants do not share characteristics with either of these species so the species status of Cymbidium sanderae has persisted. The question remains: if it is a natural hybrid, what are the parents with appropriately overlapping geography and contributing traits?
It would be ideal to someday self this plant to see if it breeds true, or produces offspring with diverse hybrid morphology.
Based upon all of the above, we are calling this orchid Cymbidium sanderae. For now …
Discussing the naming of this orchid prompted me to reflect more deeply on orchid taxonomy. I share my observations in an article titled: “Growing beyond orchid taxonomy troubles? A new view of species, hybrids, horticulture, and science.”
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My vision to create orchid portraits emerged from my appreciation for the “whole orchid.” So many photographs of orchids focus only on the flower. But orchids are not flowers: they are entire plants and living beings. Connect more deeply with the many dimensions of orchids …