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TALES FROM THE TRADING TABLE by Alan Hope

I usually try to scan the trading table for plants and other items on offer. On this occasion I only noticed the usual range of plants and products, some disas in flower, bags of Sphagnum moss, pots and labels at first. It was then the distinctly tessellated foliage which caught my attention - one of the mottled leaf paphiopedilums from the southeast Asian region - and rather worse for wear at that.

The plant, in a 120 mm pot, carried 7-8 mature leaves, some broken, others with ends missing, fungus scars aplenty and some leaves barely attached, if at all. The few new growths bravely emerging from the central rhizome suggested a last gasp effort by the plant to survive, and from personal experience indicated to me a probable loss of the entire root system. I showed the plant to a few other club members; their response was less than enthusiastic!

The plant had probably been grown in a mixed collection and had become lost among other more favoured genera. A quick scratch around the top of the pot revealed a broken-down mix and an urgent need for repotting if the plant was to survive. The challenge to take in this stray and nurture it was too difficult to resist. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when the name tag indicated the plant to be Paphiopedilum urbanianum, an attractive Philippines species that is not commonly seen on the show bench.

Paphiopedilum urbanianum is a quite recent addition to the list of species paphiopedilums, being described in 1981 by J. A. Fowlie, following its initial discovery in 1976 on Mindoro Island, south of the main island of Luzon. Fowlie named the species after Mrs. Jacinta Urban, proprietor of a Manila orchid nursery, who first brought the plant to his attention.

Like many of the orchid finds reported last century, this new species had unknowingly been included in a consignment of Paphiopedilum argus plants to Mrs. Urban in 1976, its source unknown! It wasn't until a further delivery by that same collector in 1981 that its location on Mindoro Island could be confirmed.

Paphiopedilum urbanianum is found well above sea level, in this case at between 450-700 m elevation, and it is therefore not subject to the intense heat of the lowland areas. It grows in rocky terrain as a semi terrestrial, experiencing constantly high humidity and being subjected to the prevailing monsoons, mainly in the latter half of the year. In common with many other southeast Asian paphiopedilum species, a month or so of lower temperatures and reduced rainfall, vaguely corresponding to our winter, is the trigger for flower initiation in its natural habitat.

I re-potted the plant the following day. All existing roots had rotted but fortunately some new growth was apparent. After cleaning the leaves and removing the dead roots, I sprayed the whole plant with a fungicide and moved it to a 100 mm squat pot with a mixture comprising 5-10 mm treated bark (90%), some washed gravel of similar size (10%), a small amount of shellgrit and a pinch of Hoof and Horn®. This mixture seems to work well for me in a medium sized glasshouse environment.

So far so good. After twelve months my plant of Paphiopedilum urbanianum has survived the hot weather of summer and two new growths are becoming established. Few of the original leaves remain but I am now confident that the plant will survive and even flower in a year or so. I'm now looking forward to the next meeting. Who knows what will be hiding on the trading table?

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