Research on Selenipedium palmifolium.

The specific habitats where Selenipedium palmifolium grows in nature are called “Terras Secas” which means “dry lands” – the places that don’t have annual flooding by the Amazons rivers. This fact interferes critically with the existence of this orchid: Native people use these places for subsistence agricultural purposes, the construction of houses, roads and railroads. This is only possible with a certain amount of deforestation. So the populations of these orchids declined very quickly not because of the common reasons that others slipper orchids in the world suffer from (overcollection) but just by human civilization.

Near Belém do Pará Mr. João Batista Fernandes da Silva and his wife Mrs. Manoela rediscovered some plants of Selenipedium palmifolium in their small property, which is kept with the native forest untouched until the end of the 1980’s. Unfortunately in the early 1990’s a fire burned in the surrounding area and reached this place and destroyed many of these plants and now just a few remain. As these orchids produce very small flowers and are difficult to cultivate very few persons (amateurs/scientists) grow them and it is even more difficult to find some photos of them.

Botanically the selenipediums are important for understanding the evolutionary steps reached by the others slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum, Cypripedium, Phragmipedium and Mexipedium), as they are the most primitive of them. Close study is therefore necessary and to do this two goals are of importance:

  • First find the remaining colonies of Selenipedium to determine the natural dispersion today and
  • Second get viable seeds to germinate and have them in fact very close to these studies.

For the first step Mr. João Batista had visited, in the end of 1999, 50 favorable places where they could still exist (similar ecosystem untouched by man) but only in three of them specimen were found: one large colony with 57 individuals with 4 in flower and one seed capsule, a medium sized colony with 17 plants, 1 in flower and the third place is until now under research to determine how many plants there are (until now at the end of 2000 more then 12 were counted) and the search continues. The places are about 200 km from Belém do Pará.
A disturbing fact that was discovered at the end of 2000 is that none of the plants from the three locations that flowered produced seed pods. A sure sign that something is wrong with the local ecology. All the more reason to closely study the plants and their habitat.

As the first goal gets partial results (including photos of the habitat, plants in situ and flowers for detailed study) the second one is reaching a good point: from the large colony two juvenile plants were collected and are being cultivated in a greenhouse in Belém do Pará were in October 2000 they produced flowers – see photos and explanation- and as times goes by many seeds will be obtained for germination.

When this succeeds many juveniles will be available for a third step and maybe the most important: The reintroduction of plants in places with optimal habitat, free from human interference and closely watched and cared for their development (most of them in Mr. João Batistas property which fill Selenipedium palmifolium exigencies on growing in the wild) a small part of these juvenile plants will be cultivated in greenhouses as the two first ones to obtain more and more viable seeds.

During the researching of the colonies in the wild, it was observed that the plants of Sel. palmifolium are placed in some kind of “route” made by large trees always indicating the direction to the small river near them. For this, night observation was made and fruit bats were observed visiting Selenipedium plants, aspecially the larger ones as they may carry seed pods (at least the only one found) which are aromatic as said earlier, so the disperser of this orchid can be this kind of fruit bat. This may help at sowing time and with the pH of the cultural media for seedling process because when the bat eat the pod and other fruits it goes to the river to drink water and when returns to the resting place excrement’s containing seeds of Selenipedium are dropped and nature takes care of the rest.