|How lucky am I? To be invited to be part of the group of speakers from all corners of the globe who are gathered here today. This is a great group of international speakers who I am sure will leave an indelible mark as having educated and entertained conference attendees like none before them Down under.
Since being struck down by a stroke some 20 months ago my opportunities and ability to address orchid groups have diminished substantially and that makes my opportunity to be here on this stage today even more special Having now been part of the orchid fraternity for about 25 years I have really missed work, meetings, socialising related to orchids and have generally felt like life has passed me by.. To the organisers I SAY A HEARTFELT THANK YOU. I trust that when my contribution is evaluated that it will be deemed as adequate as I do not want to let anyone down, especially those who have had enough faith in me to invite me to this auspicious occasion.
Even greater, I have the opportunity to talk to you about an orchid very near and dear to my heart, the wonderful Ansellia africana, an orchid not appreciated enough outside it’s native Africa and probably because it is very common there. Heaven knows why it is listed on CITES appendix ii as its presence is by no means threatened. In fact Ansellias can be widely found at Mooti markets in southern Africa to be sold for use in any one of the seemingly unusual ways that only native African people have been able to devise throughout the centuries leading to now Do you have diarrhoea, need a diuretic or a sex aid?. Ansellias could just be the answer according to many African folk! There is just the one species of Ansellia and that is of course, Africana. It occurs widely throughout sub Saharan Africa from the heat of the Rift Valley in Kenya to the cool of the high mountains in Zululand and Swaziland ............which are both landlocked countries within the borders of the Republic of South Africa. This area where ansellias are found growing naturally is greater than the whole of Australia and we have no single species that occurs right around our country. Commonly referred to as the leopard orchid for obvious reasons, Ansellia Africana is “the Dendrobium speciosum of Africa and it has numerous advantages over our speciosums. The flowers are pleasantly citrus scented rather than carrying the pungent odour of a speciosum. And they hold so much longer that cutting flowers is a real option unlike our local favourite, the speciosum that has very limited lasting qualities. The largest flowers often occur on the pale lemon forms that grow high in the cool of Zululand or Swaziland but because of the cool environment grow slowly where as the darkest flowers that are highly sought after by collectors often open to a cupped shape but not to a classical flat profile. Line breeding has been going on for decades in cultivation. As this orchid is both very common and very well loved in Africa The last visit I made to my good friends Nicolas and Wilferd yes the spelling of both Nicolas and Wilferd is correct in Africa] Duckitt, who run the huge and world renowned Oudepost Nursery near Darling in the Cape district of South Africa happened when their inventory of some 32000 Ansellias was in flower at it’s peak and was a sight to behold and so over powering it is difficult to describe in a way that properly gets the message through. Please stop for a second and seriously think about the room that 32000 flowering ansellias would require. I can assure you there is nowhere in Australia that you could expect to see such a volume of any orchids. Duckitts nursery is so big it employs some 45 out of season and 5 times that in season and was once the largest orchid nursery in the world.
Ansellias are related to cymbidiums and in cultivation react favourably to regular fertiliser and water throughout the growing season and drying out as autumn comes in readiness for winter. Australia has more potential to develop Ansellia appreciation through landscaping than South Africa does as our climatic range, our lifestyle and our habit to live in the worlds biggest homes leads to us being a nation of gardeners. Since the GFC orchids are the main growth plant in the world of retail nurseries but the vast majority of that growth has been in throwaway Phalaenopsis rather than landscaping so the gap and the potential is obvious I urge you, if you do not already grow these wonderful orchids to buy some at the conference where they are on sale in flower or to do so in days or weeks, not months or years. You can join the many who have benefited from owning and growing Ansellias in recent years but if you follow my lead please give some thought to its new home before you leave the conference. Ansellias are perhaps strange beasts in the world of orchids in that given time they will grow to be perhaps 1 cubic metre or more per plant. I am sure you can imagine that plants of that size carry thousands and not hundreds of flowers and have a presence that is so strong it is hard to describe in words. We all know that there are some orchids that grow even larger , but certainly it is correct that most are smaller plants and often disqualify themselves from being use for landscaping in the garden by their size alone, without even getting to consider their likes and dislikes of growing position
Ansellias are also different in that often when they are blown from their host position, usually, but not always, high in a tall tree to the ground below in an extreme weather event, they are able to readjust and subsequently thrive in totally different light from their new home on the ground. All epiphytic orchids get blown around in storms but often they are then eaten by the local wildlife and die soon after I do not know but presume that Ansellias have a horrid taste to local wildlife or why would they not also be eaten?.I have never tried to eat an Ansellia and much rather spend time thinking about their known attributes than take what I expect is a no win chance by chomping on them . There are no shortages of native animals or birds throughout their growing area and we have grown to respect the ability of wildlife to be able to judge the suitability of potential food without human intervention
The ability of ansellias to adjust and subsequently thrive in their new environment on the ground is unusual and a great benefit. They are plants that love to be placed in minimal shade in garden situations and can often be seen growing in southern African gardens in the absolute pink of condition without of course the added protection that even a shadecloth enclosed home provides. This option is unusual for an orchid but please believe me, it is real. I am aware that much is spoken about landscaping with orchids and when the rhetoric is stripped back it can be seen that there is not much action. In fact my experience from some 35 visits to Africa leads me to think they may prefer a garden situation to the lesser air movement in a shadehouse. Like so many orchids they can attract scale in the right conditions, which in their case is usually if shadehouse grown, however a quick spray with a suitable chemical such as a synthetic pyrethrum will usually arrest this little problem. The sight of a specimen plant of Ansellia in a garden is special by any standard and genuinely easily achievable away from areas that frost be they temperate or tropical. Of course if you live in the south the growth will be slower but the result eventually quite similar. For those who fancy their capabilities as a breeder ,ansellias will cross with cymbidiums to make ansidiums and although TAD slow to flower at times the result can be very worthwhile and is not dependant upon cymbidium like conditions prevailing where temperature drops occur at spike initiation time. I urge any of you that do not already enjoy this great orchid in your collection to not leave without one from any of the vendors with plants in flower or about to today.. Africa is host to a great range of wonderful species orchids and Ansellias lead the way for all of the reasons I have offered today. Thank you for inviting me here and of course for your attention and good evening.. Enjoy the conference. The organisers have worked hard to provide you with a special experience