WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT ENCYCLIA?
By Stewart Chipka
Back in the old days all the Encyclias were called Epidendrum. But so were Cattleyas and Laelias and a host of other orchids that grew in the trees as epiphytes. This got very confusing and in 1828 Hooker decided to do something about it. He spent a lot of time studying how all the plants were shaped, how their flowers looked and what they had in common. After a little study he separated the Cattleyas from the Epidendrums and Encyclias were in that first cut. After a little more study he separated the Encyclias from the Cattleyas.
The first Encyclia to be called by the Encyclia name was Encylia viridiflora. Collected by William Harrison in Rio de Janeiro in 1828 and sent to Hooker for classification, it remains a controversial plant even today. This type species is preserved in the Lindley Herbarium at Kew Gardens and has not been collected again in the wild (officially) since that time. Is it extinct in the wild? It is a question still being asked today, even by prominent orchid experts ( see Whithner, The Cattleya and Their Relatives, Vol. IV, pgs. 35, 36; Vol. V, pg. 86 and Vol. VI, pgs. 140-143).
The primary difference between the two genera has to do with the flower. The Epidendrum have their lip fused to the whole column. Encyclias are attached at the base of the lip and column but the lip floats free from the column itself. This is the first defining point for Encyclia. Some of the Encyclias have a short attachment to the column, which creates subspecies within the Encyclia family.
Additionally, Epidendrums generally have a reedy stem rather then the definite bulb structure found in all Encyclia. There are a few of the Epis which have a bulbous appearance, but, for the most part, they are all reed stem type plants with leaves that usually have a normal leaf appearance. The Encyclia have a more lance type leaf found in the Cattleyas, both of which are in the Laelia subtribe.
A further distinction is the split rostellum of the Epidendrum, which is not found in the Encyclia family. Those three items are the primary points of distinction between the Epidendrum and Encyclia.
Common to all Encyclia are some basic structural features that they share with the Cattleya family. Hooker separated the Encyclia and Cattleya based on the smaller flowers of the Encyclia. Common to both genera is the four pollinia and the flowers are borne on the inflorescence in either a raceme or panicled fashion. Encyclia flower stalks are terminal and are presented without a sheath.
Dressler, in 1961, ( see Dressler and Pollard, The Genus Encyclia in Mexico, 1974) expanded the description of Encyclia to include some other plants that were not quite in the Cattleya or Encyclia family. Many of the cockleshell type orchids were included as Encyclia at this time. Prior to Dresslers expansion of definition, all of what we call the cockleshells had remained in the Epidendrum category. This was to create even more confusion later when they were removed from Encyclia recently, and categorized into their own genus, which we now call the Prosthechea.
Photos used with the permission of Greg Allikas http://www.orchidworks.com
The final group of Encyclia, consisting of only two species, are the Euchile. This genus is composed of Euchile mariae and citrina, both very distinctive in shape of flower, presentation and limited geographic range.
As we look at all the different Encyclias, it is easy to spot their common characteristics. One must study each species closely to tell the differences between some of the Encyclia and often plants are confused when not in bloom. Once in bloom however, the subtle differences are more apparent and make identification of the specific plant much easier to establish. Hopefully this web site will provide you with all the information you will need to truly enjoy the Encyclia species.
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