Species Orchidacearum

Monographic works, be it of species groups delimited by relatedness or restricted to a certain geographical distribution, have traditionally been the basis for the study and understanding of local orchid floras. Nevertheless, in large countries, especially if they are also highly diverse and relatively poorly explored, it may be quite challenging to assess how many and which species should be included in such a systematically structured study a priori. In a similar fashion, country level floras are normally not published unless they represent either a complete set of related species of a particular group or a [relatively] complete set of all the species present. The limitation that arises from this completeness factor results in a lot of good and valuable data not being published because of its partiality.

A viable alternative to this was the creation of the Icones Plantarum Tropicarum (IPT) and Icones Orchidacearum (IO) series in which orchids have been monographed by depicting and discussing individual species rather than complete monographs of species’ sets. These series opened the door to the publication of detailed knowledge on particular species, which would be far too partial to include in a monographic work, as was well pointed out by Eric Hágsater when proposing the IO. These series set the basis for the study of orchids in many regions, where it was previously impossible, by depicting an individual to which each name has been applied to in different countries. About the IPT, Calaway H. Dodson stressed that many floras of Tropical countries had much more text than illustrations, that much confusion in botanical taxonomy resulted from inaccurate impressions due to confusing terminology, and that a picture is worth a thousand words. Species Orchidacearum (SO) proposed here, builds on those principles and includes a few additional dimensions:

1. Infra-specific variation. When showing an illustration of a species we are actually showing a single individual of that species, in a particular timeframe and under particular ecological conditions. It is difficult to assess if what we have illustrated is an average individual that is representative for the species. There is always a risk of depicting an unusual or aberrant form of it. This is addressed in Species Orchidacearum by allowing for the publication of an unlimited number of plates and descriptions of the same species. In this manner it will be possible to assess morphological variation of species more easily, and diverse forms of a single species may be documented.

2. What you see is what you get. Students are frequently challenged with the question of what is included in the published descriptions of individual species. When preparing a protologue it is commonplace to use one or a few specimens known, making it fairly easy to address what material was in the author’s mind when preparing the description. But when preparing monographs lots of material is normally cited, usually from diverse origins, dates and herbaria. Did the author include the features of all the cited specimens or only of those at hand? Is the description based on the original protologue or an amendment that includes additional material? Is the author’s concept of this particular species very inclusive or very exclusive, is it similar to my own? In Species Orchidacearum descriptions are restricted to the morphological variation found in the specimen that ha s been illustrated, nothing more and nothing less. This may mean that less variation is described in each plate, it may also mean that it does not overlap well with the original protologue. However, whatever is described is exactly what was found in that particular individual and students are free to combine the descriptions of all individuals of the same species included in the series for their own concept of the species.

3. Lankester Composite Dissection Plates. The LCDP’s, as they will be referred to from here on, are another key features of the Species Orchidacearum. A combination of more accurate, detailed and less expensive photography, with the lower costs of color printing, and the generalization of digital publication, allows for the possibility of substituting the traditional black and white ink illustrations used in botanical literature for the composite dissection plates in full color published digitally. The LCDP illustration has a few advantages over the drawings. In the first place shapes, sizes, borders and ornaments are more accurately shown; it includes a very rich color palette, conveying more information; it makes the understanding of depth easier; and finally, it is much more objective and far less hand-dependent.

4. Systematic order. A major challenge in non-monographic treatments is the loss of systematic order. In such large and diverse groups as Orchidaceae, not knowing where to look for a particular species’ closest relatives can make determination hazardous. Publishing groups of unrelated species belonging to any genus in each volume creates the issue of requiring the user to flip through all the indexes to find all of the species belonging to a particular genus, and then having to go to each of those publications separately, rather than to be able to find all species of a single genus together. This is addressed in Species Orchidacearum by allowing users to access published material either by volume and issue, or alphabetically by genus or individual species.

5. Accessibility. One of the biggest limiting factors for students of Tropical countries to study their own flora is the availability of relevant literature. Type specimens, original descriptions and important monographic works on Tropical plants are mostly deposited or published in North American or European institutes. Inexplicably, and probably unethically, the countries of origin and their students are still restricted access to many of these resources. SO is initially intended to be published electronically, lowering the costs of production dramatically. Therefore, and considering that it is to be used by the students of the orchid-rich countries to be able to study their floras, Species Orchidacearum will be completely available online, widely accessible, and free of charge.

For the name of this series I am indebted to Franco Pupulin. With him, and Diego Bogarín, we spent many a long night talking about conceiving a series that would contain a so called last word on each species of orchid in the world. It would have “everything”, including a fine taxonomical discussion, showing the extant type elements, broad specimen citation, a detailed description, be richly illustrated to show variation along its distribution, include existing DNA data, have a complete set of references, and a modern discussion of the recognition and status of the species. Overtime, realizing the difficulties behind such a task, we desisted, but many of those elements have gone into the creation of Epidendra (

What is proposed here under that name is conceptually quite different. The main goal being to make available the illustrations of as many individuals of diverse species as possible to students of the Tropical orchid floras. Species Orchidacearum follows Icones Orchidacearum in that each icon has its own authors and can be cited individually so that the individual efforts are recognized. However, it falls closer to the idea of Icones Plantarum Tropicarum in that it sticks to a two page format for each icon, giving more relevance to the illustrations, with less emphasis made in a very detailed description and citation of vouchers of multiple specimens of the same species. Contrary to controversy that may arise about the adequate name of a specimen, of any faithful illustration, of a field collected individual, you may always say…

crece ahí, se ve así, y algo es

Adam Philip Karremans