In the stranger-than-fiction world of Catasetum flowers -where male and female flowers look so different that they were once classified as different species, and male flowers fire their pollen like missiles -it is the male flowers that are the peacocks and warrior princes with bold colors, sometimes elaborately fringed, toothed or spotted. Male Catasetum expansum flowers have an especially large shield shaped lip. In the center of the lip is a cavity, like a truncated spur, with thick fleshy walls. The cavity doesn't secrete nectar like a spur, but is a source of fragrance for fragrance-collecting Euglossine bees.
This week in our back up greenhouses, we have three different color forms of male Catasetum expansum flowers. First in this regiment is a handsome olive color form with a blood red center and plenty of red war paint. Release of the pollen masses is triggered by a touch to the downward pointing bristle in the center. In the photo above, notice that the flower in the upper left corner still has its pollen payload, while the flower in the center has already fired its two pollen masses.
Our second color form has pale green petals and sepals against a rich yellow-gold lip.
The most common form in our collection is a soft mint nonpareil color, to my eye the most soothing of the three. Catasetum expansum has a surprising range of color forms for a species with a relatively small distribution -northeastern Ecuador, where it grows as an epiphyte in seasonally dry forests from sea level to 1500 meters elevation.
The Fuqua Orchid Center showcases the Atlanta Botanical Garden's large and diverse collection of orchids. Orchids are exhibited year round in the 16,000 sq. ft. display space, consisting of landscaped areas and seasonal displays. Our spring orchid extravaganza, ORCHIDdaze, runs for ten weeks in Feb, March and April.