Whilst living for several months in Xalapa, Mexico, I found this exquisite orchid for sale in a local street market for 70p – about one dollar. I asked where it was from and later found a few others of the same species growing beyond the easy reach of collectors. The wider habitat of Rynchostele rossii used to range through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz in Mexico but it is now considered highly endangered throughout.
I painted this scene during several visits to the site and after researching pollinators found that Xylocopa sp. had been reliably identified. I also became aware that any remaining biodiversity would soon be “cleared“ to provide further grazing in order to supply the human habit of eating cows. As always with the full ecosystem paintings I included whatever threat I found to the orchids’ continued existence in the wild. All life can enchant, especially the breathtaking range of form, colour and personality found in, for example, orchids, but for some reason I found these little plants particularly moving. Previously this species could be found growing on the colder slopes facing the Gulf of Mexico, the evergreen cloud forests of Sierra Madre Oriental and other humid mixed forests which provide epiphytic homes to various orchids, including R. rossii. These forests are diverse and include Alnus, several species of Quercus, and many others. Even as far south as Totontepec Mixes,Oaxaca, the rarer R. rossii has been seen growing near other Rhynchostele in the Pinus patula plantations at 2000 – 2600 metres. No matter what further taxonomic changes may be made by the scientific community, R. rossii was and is known locally as tigrilla, meaning little jaguar or tigress. Later, taxonomists named it after Ross, an Englishman who collected Mexican orchids in the 19th century. The inspiration for the species name derived from the latinized Greek word rhynchos meaning beak and stele meaning pencil or column. It had previously been named Odontoglossum rossii and is sometimes known locally as Mariposa.
This painting shows the dormant volcano Orizaba which forms part of the Transvers Volcanic Belt. Nine glaciers have been identified. Pico de Orizaba overlooks the valley and city which bears the same name. But it was not always named thus. Before Columbus, the Tlaxcaltecas had named it “the ground that reaches the clouds”, or, equally poetically, “the one that colours or illuminates”. When Cortes arrived, though the Spanish knew it as Cerro de San Andrés, it was known by Náhuatl speakers as Citlaltépetl, meaning star mountain. Nahuatl speakers of the Orizaba area now call it Istaktepetl meaning white mountain.© Frances Livingstone 2018