Saturday, September 26, 2009

Vanda motesiana - Who's your Daddy?

The bright colored flags are up at Motes Orchids, like a car dealership. Martin, Dr. Martin R Motes, has just received- no, earned- the ultimate honor for an orchid breeder, or any orchid nut: he has a new species named for him- Vanda motesiana - the plant long inaccurately known as Vanda stangeana.

He's right up there now with Mr. Sanders, Mr. Schiller (Phal Schilleriana, etc) the two Dr.Hookers- father and son. All nineteenth century gentlemen, their names somehow right for long black coats and top hats, gas light and cobblestones, alongside Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. Whereas twenty-first century Motesiana has a lightness to it; it sounds like a music festival.

So in the wake of this great event I set out to interview Dr. Motes on this honor and found a happy man.
First question of course, is: "Why the name change?""
"Well," said Dr. Motes, "the species formerly known in horticulture as Vanda stangeana was NOT the plant described by Reichenbach."
Oh. "How could that be?"
"Ignorance! Everyone thought they knew what V. stangeana Reich. f. was but the plant in cultivation had never been described! And now this young graduate student in botany from Pennsylvania, has discovered that the plant in cultivation was not that described by Reichenbach."

Pennsylvania? Vandas are warm-loving orchids-you would think it should be Manila, or Bangkok or Hawaii.. In the same odd way it happens that the revised rules for fertilizing vandas have come from research at the University of Michigan, that hot house of a state.
"So how did the lad in Pennsylvania..?"
"He went to the old plates and pictures, examined them." Played, in fact, the botanical Sherlock Holmes. "And when he pointed out these discrepancies to me and Dr. Eric Christenson" (the two top hats)-"we agreed."
"-That that was not the orchid described by Reichenbach?"

For those for whom this explanation seems a little thin and lacking in detail I refer them to the September edition of The Orchid Review, the journal of the Royal Horticultural Society: page 147: "A new species of Vanda." "Timothy Choltco describes and illustrates Vanda motesiana Choltco, a new species and the correct name for plants in cultivation hiding as Vanda stangeana hort."

"And why did you get the name?"
"I've done more breeding with Vanda motesiana than anyone else- as with many vanda species- It was just that no-one else was very interested." Dr Motes here exhibits a pleasing modesty.

I know the aforenamed "V stangeana"- a not very brilliant yellow vanda but with interesting tessellations-that was why Dr.Motes used it in breeding. (When you live with someone who breeds orchids you learn there are often odd reasons why they like a certain plant: -Me-"What's so special about that one?"- Dr. Motes: "It's the length of the stem!" Me: "Oh."

And of course Dr. Motes helped Timothy Choltco and provided the type specimen of the vanda that was "hiding" under a false identity so the young botanist offered the name to Martin and Dr. Motes is now proposing to name our best "stangeana"- now motesiana- cross after the sharp-eyed young botanist.

So I asked Dr. Motes what did this mean for him, the family, society at large and civilization in general?
Dr. Motes modestly drew attention back to the domestic scene, as well he should: "I will no longer be known as the man married to the woman who has more orchids named after her than anyone else."
Oh. OK. So from now on I'll be the woman married to.. . I'll be Mrs. Motesiana.


  1. This is so fascinating and funny too. Glad to know you Mrs. Motesisana.

  2. Hey Jan! Great to know you're reading all this!

  3. Congratulations to the good doctor. The name has a nice ring to it. Someday I shall retire to the faraway Land of Motesiana.

  4. ...all for the length of a stem. the better to hold multitudes of blooms, my dear! Congrats and well wishes to you both!