24 February 2012

The orchid that smells like Chanel No 5

Hyacinth orchid
Dipodium roseum, a parasitic Australian relative. Photo by Ian Sutton.

ResearchBlogging.org The orchid genus Dipodium, collectively known as the hyacinth orchids, includes somewhere between 20 to 30 species native to Southeast Asia and Australia. Interestingly, the majority of the species are leafy epiphytes - well, terrestrials that climb and then become epiphytes - dispersed throughout Southeast Asia. A small group of these plants, however, have lost the leaves entirely and live as terrestrial parasites at the base of Eucalyptus trees in Australia.

This, of course, is interesting on its own, but what caught my attention today was the description of a new species in 2006 by Peter O'Byrne and Jaap Vermeulen. They found Dipodium fragrans growing in eastern Johor state of Peninsular Malaysia, inhabiting the lowland swamp-forests common to the area. Dipodium fragrans, as you can deduce from the species epithet, is heavily perfumed, so much so that it led to this humorous description, hidden away among the often stuffy and sometimes inaccessible language of academic botany:
D. fragrans is noteworthy in two other respects: the inflorescence is often branched, and the flowers are strongly fragrant, hence the specific name. Vermeulen describes the scent as "being like Chanel No 5", while O'Byrne (a poor schoolteacher) is ignorant about luxury fragrances and likens the scent to frangipani's.
Science, including the scientific descriptions of  new species, could learn a lesson from O'Byrne and Vermeulen. A little humor, properly placed, makes for a more engaging read. It certainly stuck with me more than if that comment had been omitted!


O'Byrne, Peter, and Jaap Vermeulen (2006). Two Cheirostylis species and a new Dipodium. Malayan Orchid Review, 40, 91-94

14 February 2012

Fairy aprons

This plant was given to me by Douglas Darnowski identified as Utricularia paulineae, a beautiful species of bladderwort from southwest Western Australia described by Allen Lowrie in 1998 and named in honor of his wife. However, now that it has flowered, I believe this to be a specimen of the variable Australasian species Utricularia dichotoma (the lower corolla lip is not nearly reniform enough to be U. paulineae), commonly called fairy aprons. Isn't that precious? The small size of these flowers - no larger than your pinky fingernail - and the ruffles certainly fit the common name perfectly. And those colors! Brilliant violet with a neon yellow landing guide.

02 February 2012

Carnival of Evolution #44

The newest edition of the Carnival of Evolution, this month's writings on evolution from the busy denizens of science blogosphere, is up at The Atavism. As always, I'm impressed by the work of Carl Zimmer, this time on ion pumps in fungi. Also interesting are the posts "How the cricket lost its song" and another on how extinction isn't always, well, extinction. Even my earlier post on triggerplant morphology was chosen. Got some free time and feel like a little bit of science today? Go check out all the links!