Phragmipedium Rolfe
in The Orchid Review 4: 330, 1896.

Basionym :

Synonyms :
   Phragmopedilum Pfitzer

Homonyms :
   Uropedium Lindl. in Orchid. Linden.: 28, 1846.

Type species :
   Phragmipedium caudatum (Lindl.)Rolfe

Etymology : Phragma = separation/demarcation, which points to the fact that the ovary is trilocular; pedium (or more correctly, pedilon) = slipper or sandal which of course points to the shape of the lip.

Plant : The plants of this genus are normally fairly large terrestrials, but some species are epiphytic or lithophytic.
Leaves : Generally form-textured, the leaves appear creased along their length. Normally light green when exposed to correct light levels.
Inflorescence : The erect flower spikes emerge from the centre of the leaves. They bare multiple flowers which open successively or all at once, depending on the species.
Flower : As mentioned earlier, in most Phragmipedium species the flowers open in succession, but in some species all the blooms open at one time. The few-flowered species tend to have long-lasting blossoms and stay in bloom for months. Flower size increases with plant maturity. A remarkable fact about the flowers is, that when they fall off the inflorescence they still look as if they are fresh.
The pollen grains are united into pollinia.

Habitat : Phragmipedium species are most often found in the mountains at about 900-1500 m. However, some species are found near sea level, and others are found as high as 2500-3000 m. As can be noticed from the distribution-range of this genus, they grow in tropical to subtropical climates.

Distribution : This genus can be found from South-Mexico, through Central-America, to Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil.

Flowering season :

Number of species : In 1903 Pfitzer described in Engler's Das Pflanzenreich 11 species of Phragmipedium in 5 sections. In their A survey of the slipper orchids from 1973, V. Hugh Waters and Catherine C. Waters mention 11 species for the genus Phragmipedium. Leslie Garay mentions in his revision of the genus in 1979 in the Orchid Digest 22 species. In 1987 Kohji Karasawa describes 14 species of Phragmipedium with their varieties in his Orchid Atlas Volume I. 1989 Esmé F. Hennesy and Tessa A. Hedge show in their book The Slipper Orchids 6 species and 3 hybrids. In her monograph of the genus from 1989, Lucile McCook reduces the number of species to 13. And in 1991 Catherine Cash (formerly Waters) gives in her book that deals with the complete family of slipper orchids a description of 14 species of Phragmipedium. She also reduces some species to the status of variety without officially describing these new combinations. In his checklist of the genus in Orchid Digest (2003) Olaf Gruss lists 33 taxa; 20 at the species level; 8 at variety level and 2 at the level of form. He also mentions 2 natural hybrids. In the same issue of Orchid Digest Olaf Gruss is involved in the desciption of Phragmipedium brasiliense.
So at the moment (begin 2005) the number of taxa in the genus Phragmipedium is about 34. There are some plants that still create some debate among scientists/taxonomists whether they are indeed seperate species or varieties or even hybrids.
There are also some natural hybrids known from Ecuador. Especially Phrag. pearcei seems to have the tendency to hybridize easily.

Pollination : The flowers are so called trap flowers and, as far as known, none of the species offer any reward. According to Dressler (1990), both halictine bees and syrphid flies have been observed pollinating Phragmipedium.

Chromosomes : Dressler (1990) mentions that the chromosomes are relatively large. The exact chromosome counts, if known, can be found at the data-pages of the species.

History : The first species of this group of South-American slipper orchids was named Cypripedium vittatum by Vellozo who described it in 1831. Almost all species discovered after that until 1854 were named Cypripedium. In 1846 Lindley named the species currently known as Phragmipedium lindenii, Uropedium lindenii. Reichenbach f. suggested in 1854, to put all tropical American slipper orchids in a new genus called Selenipedium. Later in 1886 Pfitzer united the phragmipediums and the paphiopedilums in one group called Paphiopedilum, where the American species were first referred to as Paphiopedilum sect. Caudata and later in 1896 as Paphiopedilum sect. Phragmopedilum. Later on in 1896 Rolfe divided this group again in separate genera. All plants with a trilocular ovary were put together under the name of Phragmipedium. In 1896 Pfitzer agreed with this new division but changed the name into Phragmopedilum, which he thought was justified because he used this name earlier in 1886 when he called this group of plants Paphiopedilum sect. Phragmopedilum. It is true that the oldest name of Phragmipedium is Uropedium but it did not became a common name because Lindley only used it for a somewhat peculiar plant, the current Phragmipedium lindenii. With this species the lip is replaced by a third petal and therefore did not seem to fit in the group and was often called a monstrosity.
At the 12th international botanical congress in Leningrad (currently St. Petersburg) in 1975 the name Phragmipedium Rolfe was acknowledged to be the only valid name for this genus. It became a so called nomina conservanda. The older name Uropedium Lindl. was rejected, and Phragmopedilum Pfitzer was officially recognized as a synonym.
Since the description of Phrag. sargentianum in 1893 it was quiet surrounding the genus, and interest faded until in 1979 Leslie A. Garay published his "The Genus Phragmipedium" in Orchid Digest. This renewed interested received an enormous boost when in 1981 Phrag. besseae with its spectacular colour was discovered. In 2002 the (slipper-)orchidworld was turned upside down again with the somewhat controversial situation surrounding the description of the spectacular Phrag. kovachii from Peru with its huge purple flowers. The latest description of a taxon in this genus was in 2003, Phrag. brasiliense.

In 1847 the first Phragmipedium bloomed on European soil. It was Phrag. caudatum growing in Ealing Park, England.

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