Cattleya trianaei is so desirable an orchid in its own right and as a parent to cross with other equally beautiful Cattleyas to produce yet more hybrids, that its popularity combined with the destruction of its preferred forests has ensured that it is now endangered in the wild. It is endemic to Colombia and has seemed most at home in cloud forest above 1500 metres. Fortunately, its survival in cultivation, at least, seems assured. In the Colombian mountains, for example, it is still planted in cow manure to decorate village church roofs, as its flowering can be timed to celebrate Christmas. In a more abundant past, it could be found in the Magdalen River area of Colombia. It is probably pollinated by Xylocopa bees.
In the 1950’s C. trianei became a Colombian national flower and appeared on Colombian stamps. The first recorded discovery of this spectacular orchid by a Colombian was made in 1783 by the mathmetician, botanist and philosopher, Juan Eloy Valenzuela y Mantilla during the extensive botanical expedition named Real Expedicion Botanica del Nuevo Reno de Granada. This huge undertaking was led by José Celestino Mutis. Although Valenzuela immediately carefully described and named his find Epidendrum grandiflorum, it went almost unnoticed until it was moved by Lindley five years later into the genus Cattleya – named for William Cattley. In 1860, Reichenbach had also described the orchid in Botanische Zeitung. It was subsequently named C. trianaei for the Bogotan botanist, Dr Triana. There seems to often be confusion over whether the second part of the name C. trianaei should end in the letter i or not. C. trianaei is the correct spelling as without the final i, the doctor’s gender could be mistaken for feminine. Heaven forbid !
Dr.Triana was a wealthy Colombian botanist who met the Belgian father and son orchidologists, Lucien and Jean Jules Linden, in 1851. The Lindens collected, grew, sold and made famous many orchid species through their massive 1000 page tome entirely devoted to orchids – titled Lindenia, Iconographic des orchideés. Their meeting with Dr. Triana led to orchid hunts and occasional disasters as when a transiting collection was attacked and destroyed. Nowadays, orchid collectors are possibly ? more likely to be stopped by wildlife crime border guards.
I painted this specimen from the orchid collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, having fallen helplessly in love with its rich, deep lavender-purple beauty. I was entranced by not only the flowers and leaves but also the pseudobulbs, sheathed in papery silver and lilac. Without seeing a plant growing naturally, it can be difficult to assess how many of its looks are due to careful cultivation, though, in my view, nothing can ever be as heart-stoppingly beautiful as the sight of an ecosystem in full, messy, abundant life. © Frances Livingstone 2018