Moustached Puffbird, never before seen in Ecuador, has just been found in our Dracula Reserve


First record of the Moustached Puffbird (Malacoptila mystacalis) for Ecuador. Click to enlarge. Photo: Alex Boas.

Ecuador is one of the world’s richest countries for birds, and it just got richer. Jose Maria Loaiza B. (a noted professional ornithologist who is EcoMinga’s community relations person in our Manduriacu Reserve), Juan Carlos Crespo (also an experienced ornithologist), and Alex Boas (ornithologist and photographer) visited Cerro Oscuro in our Dracula Reserve last week, partly because they suspected that the riparian habitat near the base of Cerro Oscuro might be appropriate for the elegant Moustached Puffbird (Malacoptila mystacalis), previously known only from Colombia and Venezuela. Puffbirds are tough to spot, since they spend most of their time perched quietly in the forest looking for large insects, but they have distinctive calls. Jose Maria heard a puffbird call near the edge of the stream that flows past Cerro Oscuro, and when they tracked it down, they were thrilled to find the first Moustached Puffbird ever seen in Ecuador! Continued searching turned up the mate of the first bird, and also a second pair of Moustached Puffbirds nearby.  Fortunately Alex was able to take some excellent photos and video to document the find. The team was not able to find any Moustached Puffbirds outside of the Dracula Reserve.  So for now, our Dracula Reserve is the only place in Ecuador where this bird can be seen.

Alex Boas’ video of the Ecuadorian sighting of the Moustached Puffbird.

Here are Jose Maria’s own words on the discovery:

“Novedades en la Reserva Cerro Oscuro

Por: José María Loaiza B.

Este pasado fin de semana realizamos una visita a la Reserva Cerro Oscuro en el noroccidente del Carchi y nos encontramos con una increíble sorpresa: la presencia de Mosutached Puffbird / Malacoptila mystacalis, especie que es registrada por primera vez en el Ecuador. Por el momento, la única localidad conocida es la parte baja de esta Reserva.

Este descubrimiento no fue del todo fortuito, ya desde hace tiempo sospechábamos que este esponjoso pájaro podía estar entre la vegetación ribereña. Dos parejas fueron encontradas: la primera justo a la orilla del río y la segunda más arriba de la casa-estación. Este hallazgo también contribuye con la extensión de su rango de distribución, y nuestra reserva asegura la supervivencia de lo que podría constituir una pequeña población en la frontera  noroccidental del Ecuador, posiblemente la única en todo el país.

El comportamiento característico de esta especie (y todos los Puffbirds), perchada sigilosa  en el sotobosque y relativamente quieta,   nos permitió detectarla por su canto y luego hacer excelentes fotografías y videos.   El equipo en campo estuvo conformado por la experticia de Juan Carlos Crespo, la experiencia fotográfica de Alex Boas y el  oído de José María Loaiza….”

They also made a second thrilling discovery in Cerro Oscuro. More on that in a future post. EcoMinga thanks Joe Maria, Juan Carlos, and Alex for their dedication and curiosity about the avifauna of our reserve.


Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation


Andean toad, thought to be extinct in Ecuador, has just been rediscovered in our Dracula Reserve!


Rhaebo colomai, a critically endangered species of Andean toad. This is the first individual found in Ecuador since 1984. Photo: Carolina Reyes-Puig.

A few weeks ago, at a major herpetology conference in Ecuador, our reserve manager Juan Pablo Reyes presented his recent work. After the conference his sister, herpetologist Carolina Reyes Puig from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, led a group of herpetologists from the Natural History Museum of London (Jeffrey Streicher, Mark Wilkinson, Gabriela Bittencourt Silva, Simon Maddock), and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (María Torres Sánchez)  on a field trip to our Dracula Reserve in northwestern Ecuador. The Natural History Museum group was primarily interested in caecilians, strange legless snakelike amphibians that are very poorly known.


A caecilian found by this group of scientists in the Dracula Reserve. Photo: Carolina Reyes-Puig.

While they were exploring our reserve mosaic, they found a fancy toad which Carolina immediately recognized as a species thought to be extinct in Ecuador, Rhaebo colomai! This species had been discovered near Chical, the town closest to our reserve, in 1983. It was last seen in Ecuador in 1984. Another population was discovered two years ago in nearby Colombia. It is classified as Critically Endangered in the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Here is an excerpt from a news item about this discovery, which just appeared in the Amphibian Survival Alliance newsletter:

An expedition in July 2017 found a small population in the Dracula Reserve, in the northwestern Andes of Ecuador. The expedition was carried out by scientists from the Laboratory of Terrestrial Zoology of University San Francisco de Quito USFQ, the Natural History Museum of London, and the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad INABIO.

“We found these little toads near streams of crystal clear water with lush surrounding vegetation. When we saw the first individual, we immediately knew that we were in front of a species thought extinct”, said Carolina Reyes-Puig, professor and researcher at University of San Francisco de Quito USFQ.

The Dracula Reserve is the only protected area in Ecuador that could maintain populations of this threatened species today. This reserve is managed by the Ecominga Foundation and is key for the conservation of not only amphibians but also other rare and threatened biodiversity, such as Dracula and Lepanthes orchids and Spectacled Bear.

This toad is the closest living relative of another “lost” species, Rhaebo olallai, which was rediscovered recently in our new Manduriacu Reserve. These discoveries are exciting news for conservation—they prove that the current mass extinctions affecting so many tropical amphibian species can sometimes leave pockets of survivors. If those pockets can be preserved, perhaps the species will survive. EcoMinga now protects the only known Ecuadorian habitats for both these Rhaebo species.


Rhaebo olollai from our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Ryan Lynch

We’d like to thank the School for International Training (SIT) for sponsoring Juan Pablo’s participation in the herpetology conference!

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.




Ladyslippers 2: Conservation


Phragmipedium fischeri, one of the most endangered plants in Ecuador. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

As I mentioned in a recent post, ladyslippers as a group are the most endangered of all orchids. More than 37% of the world’s critically endangered orchid species are slipper orchids,  even though they make up less than 2% of orchid species worldwide. Our EcoMinga reserves are fortunate to host at least six slipper orchids in the genus Phragmipedium. Some of these are among the most critically endangered orchids in the world.


Phragmipedium lindenii near Banos. Photo: Lou Jost.

The most common of our slipper orchids is the one species that doesn’t have a slipper, Phragmipedium lindenii. It grows in drier habitats in some of our Banos-area reserves. A fortunate mutation in the distant past changed the symmetry of the flower, so that instead of two normal petals and a slipper, it has three normal petals. In slipper orchids there is an anther above each normal petal, and in this mutation the third petal also has an anther, which grows straight into the stigma, always fertilizing the flower.


Phragmipedium pearcei in our Rio Anzu Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost.

Our Phragmipedium pearcei is another widespread slipper orchid. In remote places where people do not strip it, this species forms immense colonies along streams which pass through limestone outcrops at the base of the eastern Andes, on the edge of the Amazon basin. Our Rio Anzu reserve protects several large colonies.


Phragmipedium pearcei is often underwater. Photo: Lou Jost.

Several slipper orchids are also found in the vicinity of our Dracula Reserve mosaic in northwest Ecuador. Widespread Phragmipedium longifolium can be found on moist roadside cliffs . There is also a more unusual species whose flowers we have not seen yet, but judging from the leaves, it must be a long-petaled species, perhaps the endangered  Phrag. caudatum.


Phragmipedium longifolium in our Dracula Reserve. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.


 Phragmipedium caudatum. Photo: Wikipedia.

The species I’ve mentioned so far are fairly widespread, though they are rapidly disappearing as a result of habitat destruction and plant collectors. Much more important for conservation are two slipper orchids which have very limited distributions centered around our Dracula Reserve: Phragmipedium hirtzii and Phragmipedium fischeri.


Phragmipedium hirtzii. It is easily distinguished from Phragmipedium longifolium by the lack of black “eyelashes” on its staminode (the shield-like green thing covering the entrance to the pouch). Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Phragmipedium hirtzii is classified as “Endangered” in the IUCN Red List, and is only known from a few sites in extreme southwest Colombia and adjacent extreme northwest Ecuador. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) reports that there are only three sites covering a total of 12 sq. kilometers. It is under heavy pressure by plant collectors. One of the populations is in our target area for expansion of the Dracula Reserve.


Critically endangered Phragmipedium fischeri in its natural habitat. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Phragmipedium fischeri is even more threatened than Phragmipedium hirtzii. It is endemic to a very small area near our existing Dracula Reserve in extreme northwest Ecuador, and nearby southwest Colombia. It is classified by the IUCN as “Critically Endangered,” and they estimate the total area of occupied habitat is only around 4 sq. kilometers. The IUCN estimates there may be fewer than 100 adult individuals, and reports that even this small number is rapidly declining. If this is true, the species is on the brink of extinction and it is among the most endangered plants in Ecuador.


Fallen Phragmipedium fischeri and Phragmipedium longifolium gathered at the P.  fischeri site. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

This beautiful orchid urgently needs protection. We are therefore assuming the responsibility to buy and conserve the only known Ecuadorian location for this species. Because of its importance and because increasing demand for the species from collectors, we have taken the unusual step of temporarily securing the property using borrowed money, which we must replace quickly.

The Orchid Conservation Alliance is committed to help us  extend the Dracula Reserve to include this Phragmipedium fischeri site, a Phragmipedium hirtzii site, and additional unusual habitats rich in rare and undescribed orchids and other plants and animals. We urge readers interested in slipper orchids to donate to the Orchid Conservation Alliance for this project. Please make sure you specify “Dracula Reserve” when you contact them– they support many projects, including other projects of ours. Write to

or send a check to

Peter Tobias, Orchid Conservation Alliance

564 Arden Drive

Encinitas, CA 92024 USA


Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation


Luis Baquero photographing Phragmipedium fischeri in its natural habitat. Photo: Gabriel Iturralde.

List of IUCN Critically Endangered Slipper Orchids:

Two of our new Magnolias are spotlighted in the Ecuadorian national press; and a fourth new species of Magnolia is found in our Dracula Reserve


Magnolia vargasiana with flea beetle pollinator. Click caption to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Over the weekend one of the largest newspapers in Ecuador ran a nice story about the two new species of Magnolia discovered in our Rio Zunac Reserve some years ago. The article quotes David Neill explaining the remarkable story of the recent explosion of Latin American discoveries in this genus: “As of two years ago only five species of magnolia were known from Ecuador; now there are 23.”

The article notes that Fundacion EcoMinga protects the two newly-discovered species, M. llanganatensis and M. vargasiana. Our “Keepers of the Wild” reserve guards played a crucial role in their discoveries and are co-authors of the scientific articles describing these species.


Magnolia llanganatensis. Click caption to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost.

David mentions that many Magnolia species are endangered, but that these two species are safe thanks to our foundation.

The article only mentions two of our species, but as readers of this blog know, our guards had recently found a third undescribed species, in our new Forests in the Sky reserve near Banos, very close to the Rio Zunac Reserve where the other two Magnolias were found. That species had originally been discovered somewhat north of there, and is currently being described.

But that’s still not the end of it! Last month Alvaro Perez of the Universidad Catolica found a new population of an undescribed Magnolia in our Dracula Reserve in northwest Ecuador. That species was originally discovered near Mindo in west-central Ecuador. I suspect we will still discover one or two more new species in our reserves. But even just these four make our reserve system one of the richest in South America for this genus.

Here is the Spanish text of the article:

En Ecuador se descubrieron dos magnolias

” Científicos de la Universidad Estatal Amazónica (UEA) y de la Fundación Ecominga descubrieron dos especies de plantas del género magnolia. Este grupo de árboles es uno de los antepasados más antiguos de las plantas con flor (angiospermas). Son fósiles vivientes que colonizaron la Tierra en la era de los dinosaurios, hace 70 millones de años.
Los árboles miden entre 11 y 27 metros de altura.

Tienen flores grandes que pueden alcanzar los 30 cm de ancho y algunas tienen hasta 50 pétalos, aunque el número varía entre especies e individuos. 
¿Por qué tantos pétalos? Las primeras flores evolucionaron de una especie de piñas características de las plantas de la época del Cretácico. Así lo explicó David Neill, uno de los investigadores del estudio.
 El descubrimiento de especies de magnolia es esencial para estudiar el origen y la evolución de las plantas con flor. En el mundo existen alrededor de 170 especies de este género. 
En la última década, se ha descubierto un gran número de especies neotropicales. Ahora las magnolias que se encuentran en el Nuevo Mundo han aumentado de un tercio a casi la mitad de todos los especímenes a escala mundial.

“Hace dos años se conocían apenas cinco especies de magnolia en Ecuador; ahora son 23”, cuenta Neill. Agrega que esta es una demostración de las pocas investigaciones que se han realizado del género.
 El Ecuador es el país neotropical con más especímenes por área. En especial la región de Zamora Chinchipe, la cual alberga nueve especies por ­cada 10 000 km². 
El descubrimiento de los dos nuevos árboles fue inesperado. Los científicos habían encontrado las flores de los especímenes durante un muestreo en la Cordillera de los Llanganates, en el 2014. Las archi­varon, guardando su secreto en el herbario de la UEA.

Meses más tarde, el botánico mexicano Antonio Vázquez las identificó como dos nuevas especies de plantas únicas en el mundo. A la primera, los científicos la llamaron Magnolia vargasiana, nombrada en honor al rector de la UEA, Julio César Vargas. Las segunda recibió el nombre del lugar donde la encontraron: Magnolia llanganatensis. 
Magnolia vargasiana tiene hojas más puntiagudas que la llanganatensis. Esta última, publicada recientemente como nueva especie, tiene frutos rojos, su flor mide 3 centímetros y posee seis pétalos.

Las dos especies son endémicas de un área limitada de la cordillera central de los Llanganates. Es decir, no se encuentran en ninguna otra parte del mundo. 
Ambas habitan dentro de un área protegida por la Fundación Ecominga, por lo que según Neill no presentan ninguna amenaza, al contrario de otras especies.

Un estudio -realizado por Vázquez y sus colegas- afirma que un 26% de las magnolias del neotrópico se encuentra amenazado de extinción, según la Lista Roja de la Unión Internacional para la Conservación (UICN).
El género magnolia es de origen norteamericano. Este migró a Europa, Asia y Sudamérica. Después de miles de años se extinguió en Europa, dejando solo restos fósiles de su existencia.

Actualmente, debido a la degradación del hábitat, muchas especies de estos fósiles vivientes ya no existen en estado natural . 
En Asia y América, este grupo de árboles tiene una importancia económica y cultural. Su madera es cotizada por ser dura. Muchas especies 
se siembran con fines ornamentales. Otras se utilizan para la industria farmacéutica y la de perfumes.”

Este contenido ha sido publicado originalmente por Diario EL COMERCIO en la siguiente dirección:
Lou Jost
Fundacion EcoMinga

Ladyslippers 1: Biology


Critically endangered Phragmipedium fischeri in northwest Ecuador near our Dracula Reserve. Click this and any other photo to enlarge. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

The ladyslipper orchids are among the most distinctive and beloved plants in the world. They are an ancient group, diverging from the other orchids while dinosaurs still walked among them. But today their beautiful intricate flowers have been their undoing, as plant collectors combine with habitat destruction drive them to extinction around the world. A  recent effort by Kew Gardens to assess their conservation status worldwide has shown that 79% of the world’s slipper orchid species are either vulnerable or endangered. Though slipper orchids make up less than 2% of all orchid species, they include 37% of all critically endangered orchids.

Slipper orchids are especially vulnerable to overcollection and habitat destruction because most species have specific soil and moisture requirements. Extreme soils with very high or very low pH values are favored, and many species require constant moisture. Habitat for most species is therefore scarce and patchy even in undisturbed areas. It doesn’t take much disturbance to make these populations disappear.

The ladyslippers are instantly recognizable by their pouched flowers. Insects enter the wide mouth of the pouch and then find themselves trapped inside. The inner surfaces of the pouch are mostly smooth but there is usually a ladder made of hairs on itsinside back surface. The insect climbs this ladder, passing under the flower’s stigma and then under one of its anthers in order to escape out one of the two openings at the top of the tube. If the insect is the right size, it rubs against both the stigma and the anther as it escapes, pollinating the flower if the insect already had pollen on its back from another ladyslipper flower. The escape path is clear in this cutaway view of Phragmipedium pearcei, the slipper orchid which grows in our Rio Anzu Reserve.


Top view of the “slipper” or lip of the ladyslipper orchid Phragmipedium pearcei. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A cross-section view of the "slipper". Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A cross-section view of the “slipper” of Phrag. pearcei. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


Cutaway view of Phrag. hirtzii. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Slipper orchids have a wide variety of tricks to entice insects into their traps. Some of the most surprising tricks have only been discovered in the last few years. I’ll discuss these below as I survey the different genera of slipper orchids; we’ll see how some of these tricks have arisen independently in slipper orchids on opposite sides of the world.


Cypripedium parviflorum. Photo: Lou Jost.

Many readers will be familiar with the temperate zone ladyslippers, genus Cypripedium, found throughout North America, Europe, and temperate Asia. These include the familiar Pink Ladyslipper and Yellow Ladyslipper of the US and Canada. Genetic analysis shows that this genus is the oldest branch in the ladyslipper family tree. These orchids have thin oval leaves with prominent parallel veins, a trait they share with the next-oldest branch of slipper orchids, the genus Selenipedium, which are today found only in small scattered populations in tropical and subtropical Latin America. The common ancestor of the ladyslippers probably had leaves similar to these.


Cypripedium acaule. Photo Paul Jost.

Cypripedium and Selenipedium, like most slipper orchids, are usually pollinated by bees, wasps, or flies. Some Cypripedium ladyslippers with large slits or openings in their pouches, like the Pink Ladyslipper of the US (C. acaule, above), are pollinated by large queen Bombus bees (see Davis 1986 for observations of Pink Ladyslipper pollination). Cypripedium tibeticum in China (see photo below) is pollinated by queen bees that are not carrying provisions for their young, indicating that they had not yet established a nest. Scientists suspect that the pouch in this species imitates a mouse hole, where queen bees usually build their nests (Pemberton 2014). Several other Cypripedium species have similar morphologies so this might be a more common strategy than people have realized. Even the Pink Ladyslipper may fall into this category, though most previous workers have interpreted them as food-deceit flowers.


Flowers of Cypripedium tibeticum attract queen bees looking for nesting sites. Photo: Wikipedia.

Many Cypripedium species, especially the Chinese species, have very unusual flower morphologies that hint at strange new pollination syndromes. Perhaps the most surprising pollination strategy was recently discovered in the endangered Chinese Cypripedium fargesii. The leaves of this species are spotted blackish green, and each spot has a darker black center. They look exactly like the spots on plant leaves infected by certain fungi. The C. fargesii flower and freckled foliage fool a fly that feeds on the spores of this fungus. It falls into the trap and fertilizes the flower. Full details in “Flowers of Cypripedium fargesii (Orchidaceae) fool flat-footed flies (Platypezidae) by faking fungus-infected foliage”


Cypripedium fargesii has black-spotted leaves which attract fungus-feeding flies. Photo: Wikipedia.

Besides these genera of slipper orchids with thin leaves showing prominent parallel ridges and valleys (“plicate-leaved” genera), there are three genera of slipper orchids with thick smooth leathery leaves whose veins (except for a sharp midvein where the leaf is folded) are not visible (“conduplicate-leaved” genera). These are the Asian genus Paphiopedilum and the closely-related Latin American genera Phragmipedium and Mexipedium. These three genera share a common ancestor that diverged from the plicate-leaved Cypripedium and Selenipedium about 60 million years ago; the New and Old World conduplicate-leaved slipper orchids diverged from each other around 23 million years ago. Some of the species in these genera have evolved pollination strategies similar to those of Cypripedium, but many of them have evolved novel strategies that have no parallel in the temperate zone.

I’ve written once before about the pollination strategy of Phragmipedium pearcei in our Rio Anzu Reserve. The pouch has white flaps at the top, and these are dotted with little fake green aphids and some light brown blobs that might be fake aphid wings. Female hoverflies hunt aphid colonies and lay their eggs on them; their larvae will devour the aphids. These hoverflies try to lay their eggs on the fake aphids and bounce off the white flaps into the open pouch (Pemberton 2014), where they are manipulated by the orchid, effecting pollination (see photos of this species at the beginning of this post).


Phragmipedium pearcei has green fake aphids on the white flaps at the top of its pouch. Syrphid flies have larvae that eat aphids, so the females land on the lip to lay eggs in the fake aphid colony. When they land they slipo and fall into the pouch. Photo: Nigel Simpson.


The staminode above the “slipper” or lip of Phrag. pearcei. At this magnification the green spots on the lip begin to show their true complexity. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Many other tropical American Phragmipedium species have these same green dots and are certainly pollinated in the same way. Our Ecuadorian Phrag. boisserianum, Phrag. caudatum, Phrag. longifolium (which grows in our Dracula Reserve), and Phrag. wallisii, among others, belong to this group. Perhaps the endangered Phrag. hirtzii (which might also grow in our Dracula Reserve) has a similar strategy.


Phrag. boisserianum (var. czerwiakowianum?) Photo: Lou Jost.


Phrag. hirtzii. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Curiously the Old World genus Paphiopedilum also has many species with a broadly similar floral structure. Some of them, like Paph. venustum below, have some raised shiny yellow dots on the upper flaps of the pouch, and these may imitate scale insects. The green-spotted staminode (the top flap that covers the anther and stigma) may also be imitating aphids.


Paph. venustum. Photo: Lou Jost.


Paph. venustum. Photo: Lou Jost.



Paph. venustum pouch detail. Photo: Lou Jost.

Likewise there are both New World Phragmipedium species and Old World Paphiopedilum species that have evolved another flower form, round-petalled white and pink flowers with yellow staminodes whose function is not yet understood. Phragmipedium schlimii and the critically endangered Phrag. fischeri are two Ecuadorian examples of this syndrome. The critically endangered Asian Paphiopedilum delenatii has evolved a strikingly similar flower. The North American Cypripedium reginae flower is also broadly similar. Maybe they all share a common strategy, perhaps luring bees looking for food, but we don’t really know.


Phragmipedium schlimii. Photo: Lou Jost.


Phrag. fischeri. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.


Critically endangered Asian Paphiopedilum delanatii has the same general pattern as American Phragmipedium fischeri and Phrag, schlimmii. Photo: Lou Jost.

Cypripedium reginae of North America shares the same pattern as Asian Paphiopedilum delenatii and South American Phragmipedium schlimii and Phrag. fischeri. Photo: WIkipedia.


Ecuadorian and Peruvian Phragmipedium bessae is the most brilliantly-colored slipper orchid. Photo: Lou Jost.

The brightly-colored Phragmipedium bessae from southern Ecuador and northern Peru breaks all the rules for this genus. Early speculations about its pollinator (butterflies and hummingbirds were suggested) were poorly concieved and completely wrong. Sometimes our imagination is just too limited. Also, it is difficult for us to take into account the huge differences between insect color vision and our own. It now appears that this bright Phragmipedium attracts a wasp that parasitizes larvae of large beetles (Pemberton 2014). No one has any idea why they are attracted to this flower, though. We also do not know what pollinates the newly discovered Phragmipedium kovachii, the largest and most spectacular member of the genus, which has already been ruthlessly stripped from almost all accessible sites in its limited range in northern Peru.


This is a cultivated hybrid of Phrag. schlimmii and Phrag. kovachii. Photo: Lou Jost.

There is one oddball Phragmipedium, quite common on rocky outcrops near our Banos-area reserves, which is self-pollinated. This species is derived from something like Phrag. wallisii or Phrag. caudatum, which are similar to our Phrag. pearcei but with much longer petals that hang down to the ground. In Phrag. lindenii a mutation has affected the symmetry of the flower. The pouch was converted to an ordinary petal like the other two (the pouch is also a petal, but a highly modified one). In a normal Phragmipedium there is an anther at the base of each of the two normal petals. The mutation in Phrag. lindenii not only adds a third normal petal, it also adds an anther at its base, as in the other two petals. But this third anther grows directly into the stigma, thus fertilizing the flower automatically. Every flower always sets seed. This is a very successful short-term strategy compared to the normal strategy of waiting to attract and fool a pollinator. Most normal slipper orchid flowers rarely set seed.


Phragmipedium lindenii in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Photo: Lou Jost.


View of Phrag. lindenii with left petal removed., The left anther and the mutant third anther are visible.; the latter grows directly into the stigma, fertilizing the flower. Photo: Lou Jost.


Phragmipedium lindenii. Painting by Lou Jost.

The ancestor of Phragmipedium lindenii was similar to this Phragmipedium caudatum. Photo: Wikipedia.

The ancestor of Phragmipedium lindenii was similar to this Phragmipedium caudatum. Photo: Wikipedia.

So why aren’t all slipper orchids self-pollinating? Cross-pollination can quickly spread beneficial mutations throughout a population, and can bring together different favorable mutations that arose in different individuals, so a cross-pollinating species will be able to adapt to changing conditions more rapidly than a strictly self-pollinating species. So perhaps these self-pollinating species briefly burst onto the scene and then disappear, while cross-pollinating species have long runs.

The Asian Paphiopedilum slipper orchids are very diverse, and many of them have flowers whose pollinators are complete mysteries. Here are some:


Paphiopedilum argus. Photo: Wikipedia.


Critically endangered Paphiopedilum rothschildianum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Critically endangered Paphiopedilum micranthum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paph. hookerii. Photo: Wikipedia.


Critically endangered Paph. dayanum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paphiopedilum charlesworthii. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paphiopedilum bullenianum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paphiopedilum armeniacum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paphiopedilum acmodontum. Photo: Wikipedia.

It is easy to see why people fall in love with these amazing plants and become passionate about them. I still remember being entranced when, as a teenager, I found my first wild ladyslippers in Wisconsin. That passion people to try to protect wild populations. Some of the strongest support for our foundation’s efforts to conserve wild orchids comes from people who genuinely love these plants and who grow them responsibly.The Orchid Conservation Alliance is a great example of this. The Slipper Orchid Alliance, the Quito Orchid Society, and the Quito Botanical Garden are other groups with members who are passionate about conserving orchids in the wild and who have helped us do our conservation work.

Remember, horticulturalists who really love these plants make sure they only buy laboratory-grown individuals!

In Part 2 of this series we will announce our plan to protect some of Ecuador’s most endangered slipper orchids.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation