Species Orchid Society of

Western Australia (Inc)

Orchids in Their Natural Habitat and in Cultivation - Ecuagenera's five-day pre-WOC tour

In November 2017, four of us from WA participated in a five day, four night tour in Southern Ecuador arranged by Ecuagenera Tours, a subsidiary of Ecuagenera Cie Ltda. Our tour commenced in Guayaquil in the morning of Thursday 2nd November when we were picked up from our hotel. We progressively picked up another 8 orchid enthusiasts before leaving Guayaquil to travel to Gualaceo to the southeast.
Our tour group of 12 included Karen and Paul from Napa, California; Jenna and Patrick from Gold Coast; John and Mary Ann from Guatemala; Raymond and Louise from Quebec and Tony and Mavis and Chris and me from Perth. Edison who was to be our guide for the next five days was the manager of Ecuagenera's extensive laboratory facility that we would visit later during the tour. While he only spoke a little English, it was serendipitous that both John and Mary Ann spoke Spanish. Mary Ann became our interpreter for the next five days.


On departing Guayaquil to travel to Gualaceo (our first night stop) we passed through lowland farming areas growing a variety of crops including plantains/bananas and a number of small towns before starting the climb through the Andes mountains. There were many fruit stalls along the road with pineapples, bananas, mangoes, watermelons and citrus for sale.

 


Fruit stalls along the road


Unfortunately, this Thursday was a festival day, Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased) and the traffic was very heavy, particularly in an area of roadworks leading into Peurto Inca where two lanes became one. As there were a least three lanes up to that point (one unofficial) and sometimes as many as four lanes, progress was slow.


Traffic Jam


After stopping for lunch along the way, we passed through Cajas National Park where the altitude was 4,167m above sea level. The continental divide is the site of the Tres Cruces pass and the habitat of rocky high tundra with sparse vegetation. While there may have been a few terrestrial orchids, the effect of high altitude meant that most of us were reluctant to venture too far away from the carpark.


Three crosses


The mountains provided a number of opportunities to stop and look at orchids along the roadside. November is not the season where the majority of orchids are in flower, so we only saw a small number on day one. However, this photo shows the steep terrain and other features of the high altitude habitat


Looking for orchids day 1


Epidendrum spp showing growth habit and terrain.


At higher altitude, we passed through cloud forest which became a feature of the next 5 days.

 

Clouds on day 1

We saw a few Cyrtochilum species with their typical long flower racemes hanging downwards in addition to Epidendrum, Oncidium, Pleurothallis, and other unidentified species not in flower.


Cyrtochilum macranthum

Cyrtochilum macranthum showing the typical pendant flower raceme, often up to 2 m in length


At the end of a fairly long day on the road, and following dinner at Ecuagenera's main production facility in Gualaceo (near Cuenca), we dined with orchid enthusiasts taking part in some of the other Ecuagenera tours taking place at the same time. We then checked into our comfortable hotel for the evening.


Next morning, after breakfast, we departed for El Pangui further to the southeast towards the Amazon region of northern Peru, and at much lower altitude.


 

However, the mountainous landscape on day two was generally challenging, including the steeply sloping roads in small towns that we passed through on our journey.

The greatest challenge was for our driver who had to cope with many kilometres of mountain road under construction. We were told that the reconstruction has already taken more than 12 months , and will take perhaps another year until completion.

 


We made several stops along this narrow, uneven and often one lane only road that wove its way through the mountains, sharing it with large trucks carrying road making material, intercity buses, cars and road making machinery. As the photos shows, there was a fair amount of cloud around. Unfortunately, our orchid viewing was less than might have been as the reconstruction often included substantial clearing of the road verges (often steeply sloped both up and down).


The slow progress through the mountains meant that it was another long day. However we did manage to sight several species in flower, including Pleurothallidinae growing lithophytically in moss beds along the steep roadsides as well as Cyrtochilum, Epidendrum and Oncidium.

 

Typical Cloud Forest habitat (day 2)

Lepanthes mucronata


Epidendrum spp

 

The orchid genera were observed to be growing epiphytically, lithophytically and terrestrially, demonstrating a high degree of adaptability amongst these high altitude species. Along the road we saw many moss covered trees, often festooned with orchids.

 

Stopping to take a closer look often revealed many different orchids, mosses, bromeliads, and ferns. If we were lucky, some of the orchids were in flower.


Epidendrum mancum

Mid-afternoon, we stopped in a small village for lunch. Unfortunately, our planned lunch place was closed as we were somewhat later than planned, having made several stops along the way to look at orchid habitat and being slowed considerably by the road reconstruction. Edison, our ever resourceful tour guide found us another lunch place and the 14 of us descended on a small local restaurant. They were able to cater for our group and lunch was duly ordered. However, two of us ordered pork chops.

The barbeque outside on which they cooked the chicken and pork was fuelled by charcoal, and coals appeared to have died down after their normal lunch period. Being resourceful, they used a hair dryer as a blower to get the charcoal up to temperature to cook our pork chops.

 

The result!

As we made our way to El Pangui, we again saw several species of orchids in flower along the way including Cyrtochilum, Epidendrum, Sobralia and Phragmipedium besseae.


Cyrtochilum pastazae

Cyrtochilum pastazae showing pendulous raceme


Sobralia rosea

Epidendrum spp


Edison (and later Pepe) advised that the verge clearing for the road works has been particularly damaging to the orchid population, especially to Phragmipedium species that tended to grow on wet rock faces and moss beds alongside the road. We did not get to see Phragmipedium boissierianum in flower as the location at which they had previously been sighted had been cleared for roadworks, however did see Phragmipedium besseae growing in a rocky area about 30m away from the road edge.


Phragmipedium besseae in situ


The habitat photo shows that this species (as do most of the Phragmipedium genus) grows where it is constantly wet, and cool. However, it is worth noting that this mass of plants was in full sun, with water flowing nearby. The rock on which the plants were growing was covered in a thin layer of humus and moss.
Later in the afternoon, we reached Ecuagenera's production nursery in El Pangui (altitude 860m). A large growing house full of interesting species (many in flower) awaited our visit. At this facility, they are able to grow species that need more warmth than the main nursery at Gualaceo at 2,450m
Also, on this large tract of land, they have an arboretum with many orchids on trees. After spending considerable time in the shadehouse taking photos, we were treated to a walk through the arboretum where Edison pointed out the flowering species.


In total, Ecuagenera cultivates in excess of 4,000 species. While it is not possible to accurately estimate the number of species grown at this location, I suspect that it would be more than 500.


Phragmipedium hirtzii growing terrestrially outside the shadehouse.

The following is a small selection of stunning flowering species.

Lepanthes neisseniae

Lepanthes tsubotae

Benzingia thienii

 

Orchids in Their Natural Habitat and in Cultivation -
Ecuagenera's five-day pre-WOC tour
Continued from January 2018


Following are more photos of species orchid flowers from Ecuagenera's El Pangui nursery

Acianthera discophylla


Platystele baqueroi


Epidendrum parviflorum


Maxillaria pseudoreichenheimiana

Maxillaria shepherdii


Acronia culpamae

Ornithocephalus bicornus


Lepanthes telipogoniflora


After spending a few hours (somewhat more than initially scheduled as many of us spent more time than anticipated looking at the enormous variety of orchids in flower) at Ecuagenera El Pangui, walking through the arboretum looking at more orchids in flower we departed for our overnight accommodation in town.

 

Masdevallia spp in flower in arboretum


Gongora spp in flower in arboretum

 

After a comfortable night and breakfast, we departed for Gualceo. The planned route which would have taken us through San Juan Bosco had to be changed as the roadworks were impassable, so we went back the same way we came to El Pangui, that said, through the road constriction that we passed through the previous day. After a few stops along the way, we arrived at Gualaceo and enjoyed dinner at Ecuagenera with members of some of the other tours running at the same time.


This was slow trip as once again, we shared the road with trucks, heavy machinery, cars and buses. The diversions around bridgework were a challenge for our driver as we made our way around temporary river crossings .
A few stops along the way provided more opportunities to look at the unique habitat and the orchids


Epidendrum spp


Sobralia rosea in situ


Phragmipedium warszewiczianum var wallisii in situ

The following day was set aside to see Ecuagenera's facilities including their production laboratory and to visit as many of their growing houses as possible. After breakfast, we left to travel to Ecuagenera's Gualaceo headquarters a short distance away. This proved to be a full days' endeavour, with many of us having to be reminded that we still had several more growing houses to visit as the day wore on.


We were treated to a conducted tour of the laboratory where we were able to see literally thousands of flasks of Ecuadorian and nearby country species at various stage of growth. Our guide and Laboratory Manager, Edison explained that Ecuagenera is committed to the propagation of Ecuadorian species orchids (and nearby South American orchid species), and they line-breed to improve the flower form, colour and size. They also flask species of interest from other countries including for example, mist forest species from New Guinea.
Sterile work stations for flasking seed.

Single plant flasks produced for sale at WOC
As noted previously, none of us from Australia had any concept of just how extensive Ecuagenera's operations were. Having visited their Gualaceo headquarters on the first evening on the way to El Pangui after nightfall, we were not able to see the extensive nature of the business. The massive investment in producing Ecuadorian orchids with perhaps as many as 15 separate large growing houses, some up to 150m in length is testament to their commitment to large scale production as the view from the top of the hill shows.

Phragmipedium production area

The number of plants that we were able to see in flower was a species orchid enthusiast's dream. I saw many more species in flower at their two nursery properties than I could have imagined.


The Tour Group in the Miltoniopsis growing area.

As we were to observe later at the World Orchid Conference, Ecuagenera won the Champion and Reserve Champion awards as well as the Best Display plus many lesser awards. Having visited their facilities, and become aware of the scale and complexity of the enterprise, we were not surprised.


During one of our visits, we watched them loading a large truck with orchids for the WOC display and sales facility.

Judging by the number of high quality flowering plants in their display and their sales booth, they made many trips from their facilities at El Pangui, Gualaceo and Guayaquil to the WOC venue.
For the remainder of this article, I will include just a selection of the hundreds of photos we have of flowering species orchids from Ecuagenera, our visit to Cuenca and travel back to Guayaquil.


Dendrobium parvulum

Another plant of this species was Grand Champion of the 22nd WOC for Ecuagenera


Dendrobium parvulum
Close up of flowers


Dendrobium cuthbertsonii

Cyrtochilum geniculatum

Epidendrum hugomedinae


Cuitlauzina pendula


Epidendrum marmoratum

Epidendrum wallisii

Masdevallia ignea

Masdevallia cuthbertsonii


Masdevallia wagnerii


Our last night was spent in a comfortable hotel after another meal with other tour groups at Ecuagenera before departing to our accommodation. After a more leisurely start, our itinerary was to spend some time in the major centre, Cuenca.


Our day 4 hotel accommodation

Our tour group ready for departure day 5.


Day 5 provided several shopping opportunities including a visit to a Panama Hat factory, and time spent at a local park area. Free time to wander, admire the architecture and purchase local handicrafts was followed by lunch and the return trip over the Andes back to Guayaquil. We were delivered back to our Guayaquil hotel at about 5.00pm and settled in for the next part of our adventure
Cuenca architecture including the impressive Catholic Cathedral


Cuenca streets

Cowboy?

Day 5 lunch in Cuenca

While the inclusion of orchid photos in this article was random, it does demonstrate the benefit of the inclusion of visits to Ecuagenera's production nurseries.
However appealing it might be to see orchids growing naturally in their wild habitat, unlike our carefully cultivated orchids, they do not always flower when expected, and often when they do flower, the flowers are damaged by insects, inaccessible, or obscured from view. Therefore, a balance between orchids in situ and cultivation is not only desirable, but essential to get the most out of the investment n such a trip. Certainly, those on the 10-day tour had more opportunity to explore habitat and consequently saw more orchids in situ that we did in our 5 days, for Tony and Mavis and Chris and me, the balance was about right.

Photos by Chris and Tony, text by Ken