I found this tiny Angraecum growing at sea level next to the Oeonia in what was almost a hedgerow in the Marouensetra region of Madagascar. I had been reliably informed that I could paint almost any of Madagascar’s approximately one thousand orchid species as most, if not all, are endangered. The charm of the Malagash people, generous help offered by staff at the Tsimbazaza Botanic Garden and the kindness of field naturalists made it an easy decision to stay in Madagascar for long enough to make two paintings. I borrowed a tent and pitched it near these beauties.
Angraecum calceolus grows either epiphytically or lithophytically in Madagascar, Mozambique,Comoros and Reunion Island. Its night fragrance must attract moth pollinators though I couldn’t find much reliable information about which species. It is believed that the huge number of white, long-spurred orchids to be found in the geographically isolated island of Madagascar has a long evolutionary connection with the diverse and numerous long-tongued moth species to be found there. Research identified one moth pollinator of Oeonia volucris as Panogena lingens which was added to the painting later from the entomological collection of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris. O.volucris is named after the Greek word oionos meaning both bird of prey and omen, and after the Latin word volucris, meaning winged creature.
Although both the orchids painted here share the same preference for damp evergreen forests, Angraecum calceolus is more widely distributed than Oeonia volucris – its tiny pale jade-green flowers can occasionally be seen gracing mossy, deciduous tree trunks near the sea, where its long flowering period lasts from October to May in not only the Mascarene Islands and Madagascar but also Mozambique and the Seychelles.There are, at present, five species of the genus Oeonia endemic to the Mascarene Islands and Madagascar. O.volucris flowers from March – July. It was first discovered and described for Europeans by a memorably named French traveller, explorer, botanist, taxonomist, author and cartographer – to list but a few of his skills. Louis-Marie Aubert Thouars de Petit -Thouars was born in 1758. His plans for botanical exploration were delayed by imprisonment in France and he was only able to set sail, in exile but presumably overjoyed to be en route at last to adventure in the Mascarenes, three years after the 1789 French revolution. Wasting no further time, he re-mapped Mauritius and Reunion Island and discovered approx 80 species of orchids whilst simultaneously developing an alternative method to Linnaeus’ for their formal description and naming.
Oeonia volucris used to be found along Madagascar’s eastern coast but is under terminal threat mainly from a form of originally nomadic agriculture known as tav or tavy. This is an imported Asian tradition of slashing and burning which, combined with the imported African tradition of cattle grazing, has led to widespread habitat devastation. These methods are completely unsustainable as there are now too many people to feed in this way. However, in Madagascar the view of many remains that traditional methods are still best. © Frances Livingstone 2018