The Four Noble Ones

September 3, 2017

There is something about green flowers that captures the imagination. Maybe it is the perception that they aren’t quite doing what they should, or the fact that their fascinating patterns register more intensely in the absence of more typical floral colours. For some time, I have wanted to get a plant of the Chinese orchid species pictured below, Cymbidium goeringii, on account of its mesmerising green flowers, grassy foliage and compact growth form.

This Cymbidium species is a plant of considerable significance in Chinese culture. In traditional Chinese art, four plants (bamboo, plum, orchid and chrysanthemum) are known as the Four Noble Ones (or Four Gentlemen), for the qualities that they represent. It therefore possesses a cultural importance that befits its humble, yet elegant, appearance.

I was able to observe a number of distinctive forms of Cymbidium goeringii at the Waitakere Orchid Club’s spring show, where a fascinating array of orchid species were on display (in addition to the more highly-bred varieties of orchid that one typically envisages at such shows). A South American species from the entertainingly-named genus Dracula was in full bloom (as shown below), with subtle colouration and fine proportions (Dracula berthae).

Several fine-leaved species from the genus Dendrochilum were on show, including this remarkably wispy character, D. tenellum, pictured below. Resembling an elegant sedge or reed more than an orchid, D. tenellum has tiny flowers arranged on pendulous stems.

Paphiopedilum has always been one of my favourite plants, and its appeal is not difficult to discern when one considers the flower in the photograph below, with the classic patterning and complex form that one associates with orchids. This beautiful and diverse genus belongs to a group of genera that are known collectively as the slipper orchids.

In the case of some species, such as the critically-endangered Paphiopedilum sukhakulii (pictured below), their natural distribution is highly localised, meaning that activities such as agriculture or unscrupulous collecting for horticulture can push them to (or over) the edge of survival in the wild, in the same way that some popular garden bulbs have suffer from similar pressures.

As evidence of the benefit of paying attention at the critical time, I did not take enough notice of the name of the orchid shown below, with its cloud-like inflorescences of delicate flowers. As opposed to the very composed character of Paphiopedilum (on which flowers are borne on proud stems), this orchid presented its spidery flowers in a spectacularly messy profusion.

The final species pictured in this journal entry is an example of the kind of species/variety that I was most interested in seeing at the show – orchids that can be utilised outdoors within landscape work, and which possess sets of qualities that can fit within nuanced plantings. As with several members of the terrestrial genus Calanthe, the Coelogyne pictured below (C. mooreana) is the kind of orchid that may be utilised sensitively in planting schemes; preferably in situations that bear similarities to its natural growing station (such as beneath compact, deciduous trees).