Oil on Canvas, 20" x 20", 2020
Orchid: Dracula simia
Native Range: Southeastern Ecuador cloud forests
Pollinator: Fungus gnats
Conservation Status: Not threatened
“Over a decade ago, Harvard University biologists identified the ancient, fossilized remains of an extinct pollen-bearing bee preserved in amber as the first hint of orchids in the fossil record.
Their analysis published in the journal Nature, indicated that orchids are some 76 to 100 million years old, suggesting that their existence overlapped the dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period. Scientists now wonder if small dinosaurs pollinated ancient orchids, as do their direct descendants, today’s modern-day birds.
One of the defining traits of orchid flowers which set them apart from other regular flower is their zygomorphic shape. This means, in face view, orchid flowers can only be divided in half along one plane only, the same as our human faces. Some have postulated that the human fascination of orchids is due to this commonality.
There are other distinguishing flower features that make orchids a recognizable member of the orchid plant family, Orchidaceae. One is a structure called the column produce by the fusion of the male (stamen) and female (stigma) parts of the flower.
The column is a commander of sorts, uniquely navigating the orchid’s pollinators into exactly the correct position to receive the pollinium, a dense ball of thousands of pollen grains. These tidy packets of pollen are another special feature of orchids along with a highly modified petal called the lip, which serves as both a flag to attract pollinators and a kind of landing platform.
The common name for the Ecuadorian orchid depicted in this painting is the Monkey-Face Orchid, derived from the Latin word simia for “monkey”. Ecuador has more species of orchids than any other country in the world. More than 4,000 have been described to date, most occurring in the higher elevations of the Andes.
Many of the 110 varieties of orchids in the Dracula genus have the appearance of faces.
This flower may remind us of a monkey’s face, but to its pollinator its charm is something completely different. The fungus eating gnat is attracted by the flower’s fungus-like fragrance and the orchid’s lip which looks like gills on the underside of a mushroom. This is yet another example of the orchid’s amazing evolution of deceptive pollination strategies.”