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.
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.
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
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
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
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)
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.
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
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.
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 showing
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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.
Another plant of this species was Grand Champion of the 22nd WOC for Ecuagenera
Dendrobium parvulum Close up of flowers
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
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
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