Año 20. Nº 1


P. Novoa, Jardin Botánico Nacional. Viña del Mar. Chile.

William Jackson Hooker (1830) published Neottia grandiflora based on an orchid which was sent to the Glasgow Botanic Garden by the Reverend Lansdown Guilding from the island St. Vincent & Grenadines and that bloomed in the garden in the spring of 1829. L. Guilding was an anglican clergyman, natural historian and artist from Kingstown, Saint Vincent who was appointed colonial chaplain of Saint Vincent. His scientific interests were mainly zoological and he is perhaps best known for his discovery and description of the first onicofor (Peripatus) in 1826. But he also collected new local plants and published on the botany of the Caribbean. He wrote an account of the botanic garden in St Vincent, claimed to be the oldest botanic garden in the western hemisphere (founded 1765) and containing a breadfruit tree grown from the original stock brought to the island by Captain Bligh (1793). Guilding died at the age of 34 few years after his book was published while on vacation in Bermuda. The genus Guildingia Hook.(Melastomataceae) and many species including Asplenium guildingii Jenm., Calliandra guildingii Benth. and Crematomia guildingiana Miers were named in his honor (Plants.jstor.org., 2017).

Hooker locates, with doubts, this remarkable orchid in the genus Neottia, however in the same publication and at the foot of the description of Oncidium altissimun (drawing 2990) indicates, in a sort of errata, the name given to the species of the drawing 2956 Neottia grandiflora is actually a new genre and called Ulantha (aged flowers).

Lindley (1840) maintains the Ulantha in the tribe Neottiae asserting (page 498): "in this remarkable genus we find the same tendency to break up the surface of the sepals into papillae, or glandular hairs, has in Chloraea among the Arethuseous. It has no obvious affinity to any other genus of this tribe", in Lindley's review of 1840, the genus Chloraea was still in the tribe Arethusae.

Fifty-three years later Rolfe (1893) creates the new combination Chloraea ulantha for Ulantha grandiflora Hooker; indicating that: It is strange that nothing more should be known about this remarkable plant than is contained in the original description. Grisebach says it is probably not indigenous in St. Vincent, and Bentham and Hooker (Gen. Pl. iii., p.618) cite Lindley as the authority for its being a Chloraea, and for its not being a native of the West Indies. Notwithstanding the above, Rolfe does not report on what place should be, nor if its austroamerican origin.

The basement on Lindley, who would have had Bentham and Hooker (cited by Rolfe) cannot be understood except by revision of Lindley of the genus Chloraea of 1840, where it changes name of its Chloraea bletioides review of 1827 to Chloraea ulanthoides, indicating (p. 404) "the name bletioides is so inappropriate that I cannot now account for my having given it to the plant, and I therefore change it. The flowers are more like those of Hooker Ulantha, when dried". Although Lindley in the same revision of 1840, p. 498 says that Ulantha grandiflora belongs to the tribe Neottiae, whose genders are mostly from Java, Ceylon, Nepal, East Indies and only a few of Brazil, Jamaica, Peru (Baskervilla, Physurus).

Later Kraenzlin (1904) in his review of the orchidaceae family for Chile doubt that its origin is the island of St. Vincent, but it locates Chloraea ulantha in section I Lamellatae of the genus Chloraea of Chile. The drawing of Chloraea ulantha, from the review of Kraenzlin, taken from Hooker (1830), is the most conspicuous of all the Chilean orchids, which shows his work, see figure 1.

Reiche (1910) also located at Chloraea ulantha in Lamellatae, but with doubt, “the plant entirely problematic for Chile. Kraenzl. L. C. Pj. 14 indicates that the plant flourished in the botanical garden of St. Vincent and even in England; Pj. 57 but doubts that the island of St. Vincent is admitted as a homeland and indicates that it cannot refer to the British island of this name, located in western India, since in tropical America no species of Chloraea is known, nor any traveler found her there. Finding the center of the geographic area of this genus in Chile, with some reason of that country must be believed native this species. A locality called San Vicente is near Talcahuano (Chile), but from there it was never brought this orchid. Is it an abrupt variation (Sprungvarietat) of C. ulanthoides? Or a hybrid form of C. ulanthoides × Bipinnula mystacina ?.

Correa (1969) considers Chloraea ulantha Rolfe to be synonymous with Chloraea bletioides without giving antecedents that justify this synonymy, perhaps took into account its belonging to the lamellatae section of Kraenzlin and Reiche where they were located sister of C. bletioides, or by its lip remembers remotely the lip of C. bletioides. At present, Zuloaga et al., (1999) at the Catalog of Vascular Plants of the Conosur Flora follows the proposal of Correa and considers Chloraea ulantha synonymous with Chloraea bletioides.

But trying to do an exegesis of the origin of all this mess, there is no antecedent that is linked to the young reverend Lansdown Guilding, with South America, except with the South Pacific through the second voyage of Admiral Bligh in Tahiti for the breadfruit tree, whose remarkable story we cannot ignore. The Vice-Admiral William Bligh was an officer of the British Royal Navy and colonial administrator. During his command of the HMS Bounty in 1789, took place a famous mutiny and Bligh and his loyal men had performed an extraordinary voyage to Timor, after being left adrift in a boat, by the mutineers. Two years earlier, in 1787 Bligh took command of HMS Bounty, to win a prize offered by the Royal Society of Arts, sailed first to Tahiti in April 1789 to obtain the tree of bread, then set course to the island of St. Vincent, whose Botanical Garden wanted to experiment with the fruit of the bread to see if it would be an effective food harvest to feed the slaves. The HMS Bounty never came back to the Caribbean, since exploded aboard a mutiny soon after setting sail from Tahiti. Discipline among men had deteriorated after five months of rest spent in Tahiti, period in which many sailors lived on land and engaged in relations with native women. The relationship between Bligh his crew was getting worse as this imposed increasingly tougher punishment and increased their criticism and abuse, with Christian being a frequent target who ended up successfully organizing a mutiny against the captain about three weeks once the vessel had left Tahiti. Mutineers provided Bligh and 18 loyal crew a boat of 23 feet (7 m) (so loaded that the board was only a few centimeters above the water), with four cutlasses, food and water for a few days, a sextant and a chronometer, but no map or compass. Timor was the nearest European post. Bligh and his crew put heading to the island of Tofua first, to obtain supplies. There they were attacked by hostile natives and one of the crew members died. After fleeing Tofua, Bligh did not dare to stop at the following Islands (Fiji), since they had no weapons to defend themselves and expect even more hostile receptions. Bligh managed to reach Timor after a journey of 47 days and 6700 km of navigation with unique low man killed on Tofua. The rioters went to the Pitcairn Island, an island lost in the middle of the ocean between Easter Island and Tahiti, while Bligh could reach Timor, beginning a process that the rioters appeared to justice. Bligh was able to return to Great Britain in April 1790, and the British Admiralty sent to the HMS Pandora to capture the mutineers. Fourteen mutineers were arrested in Tahiti and taken to cells in the vessel, which then proceeded to search (without success) to Christian and the rest of the men who had been hiding in the Pitcairn Island. The Pandora ran aground in the Great Barrier Reef on the way back, losing 31 crew members and four prisoners of the Bounty. The ten remaining came to Britain in June 1792 and were judged in a Council of war; four were acquitted, pardoned three and three hanged.

The Christian group remained without being discovered until 1808, date in which only one of the mutineers, John Adams, still alive. Almost all other men, including Christian, had killed each other or had died at the hands of the Polynesian hostages. Not taken any action against Adams. The descendants of the mutineers with their Tahitian consorts live until today in the Pitcairn Islands. The perception that ended up catching on in the popular imagination was that of Bligh as a tyrant and Christian as a tragic victim of circumstances, perception recorded in five films and a book by Jules Verne about the events. Years later Vice Admiral Bligh, commanding the HMS Assistance, again undertook the transport of the breadfruit tree from Tahiti to the island of St. Vincent. The operation was a success, and even today the fruit of bread is a food that is popular in the West Indies. During this voyage Bligh were also collected samples of a fruit of Jamaica, the aki, presenting it at the Royal Society in Britain upon his return (Extracted from: Es.wikipedia.org, 2017).

Christian's struggle against Bligh has come to represent rebellion against authoritarianism, a metaphor of life in freedom against the restricted life of present-day society.

Returning to the subject, the abundant harvest breadfruit tree made by Bligh on his second voyage was handed over to Rev. Guilding, director of the Botanical Garden of St. Vincent for acclimation. In the trip notes, written by the Rev. Guilding (An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent. 1825 47 p.) indicate that the captain Bligh, collected another type of edible plants and botanical rarities, consequently this orchid may in fact any brought from Polynesia by Bligh and Timor (to the East of Java) where Bligh was refugee following the mutiny of the first voyage.

Taking into account the relationship of all this background Ulantha grandiflora and its nomenclatural synonym Chloraea ulantha should be considered a species of uncertain origin belonging to the tribe Neottieae likely origin in the South Pacific or the Malay Archipelago (Southeast Asian island) and that their inclusion in the genus Chloraea hails from the Southern South America and more even its synonymy with Chilean orchid Chloraea bletioides (Correa, 1969) has no morphological or historical support in the sense of the traceability of their propagules from Chile, or of any country of the Southern South America to the botanical garden of St. Vincent where was cultivated and flourished. By the way, if the evidence does not strongly support the proposed hypothesis, then it will accept the null hypothesis that the species is indeed a Chloraea and explaining their presence in the botanical garden St. Vincent by the numerous trips of European botanists who led Chile plants to Europe in the 18th century and whose passage through the old botanical garden of St. Vincent might have been a common trick by the strategic position of the island in the return journey to Europe.

Perhaps a romantic challenge for modern times is to repeat Viceadmiral Bligh's voyage to sail in search of a breadfruit tree, but this time to find this bizarre and enigmatic orchid whose origin obsessed the naturalistic botanists of the eighteenth century and who never found again in nature. A value is required.



Thanks to Sergio Elórtegui for the historiographical review of the writing.


Literature cited

Correa, M. 1969. Chloraea género sudamericano de Orchidaceae. Darwiniana, tomo 15, N° 3-4 págs. 374-500.

Es.wikipedia.org. (2017). William Bligh. [online] Available at: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Bligh [Accessed 14 Jul. 2017].

Es.wikipedia.org. (2017). HMS Bounty. [online] Available at: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Bounty [Accessed 14 Jul. 2017].

Hooker, W. J. 1830. Botanical Magazine v.57, 2:v.4. 2956.

Plants.jstor.org. (2017). Guilding, Lansdown (1797-1831) on JSTOR. [online] Available at: http://plants.jstor.org/stable/10.5555/al.ap.person.bm000003258 [Accessed 14 Jul. 2017].

Kraenzlin, F. 1904. Orchidacearum. Genera et Species. Exposuit. Berlin. Mayer & Müller.140 pp.

Lindley, J. 1827. Remarks upon the orchideous plants of Chile. Quart. J. Sci. Lit. Arts 22: 43-53. 1827.

Lindley, J. 1840. The Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants 404.

Reiche, K. 1910. Orchidaceae Chilenses: ensayo de una monografía de las orquídeas de Chile (No. 18). Imprenta, Litografia i Encuadernacion Barcelona. 85 p.

Rolfe, R. A. 1893. Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information, Royal Gardens, Kew 278. 1893

Zuloaga, F. O. & O. Morrone. 1999. Catálogo de las Plantas Vasculares de la República Argentina. II. Fabaceae-Zygophyllaceae (Dicotyledoneae). Monogr. Syst. Bot. Missouri Bot. Gard. 74.

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