Dendrophylax is a genus of leafless neotropical orchids (family Orchidaceae) endemic to the Caribbean region comprising about 17 species native to three Greater Antillean islands - Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamaica, and one, Dendrophylax lindenii in Florida. The name is from Greek δένδρον ("tree") and φύλαξ ("guard; keeper"). One species, Dendrophylax lindenii, featured heavily in the book The Orchid Thief.
The plants of his genus are unusual in that they consist of masses of photosynthetic roots anchored in trees with a highly reduced stem and ephemeral leaves which have been reduced to scales. The bulk of these plants consists only of flat, cord-like, green roots with distinctive "track marks". These white track marks are called pneumatodes and function in much the same manner as stomata allowing the photosynthetic roots to perform gas exchange to support photosynthesis.
Members of this genus are distant relatives of the African and Indian Ocean genus Angraecum; it seems that orchid seed, blowing like dust, crossed the Atlantic at least once and successfully colonized new habitat. Current evidence derived from molecular studies indicates that the original arrival from Africa which spawned this genus and the related genus Harriselia was a member of the family Angraecineae with small leaves and flowers and a monopodial growth habit, and the leafless habit developed in parallel in both Africa and the Caribbean, since the genes are present in all members of the family Angraecineae and the leafless habit is common in several families within the Vandeae (Chilochista, Aerangidinae, Angraecineae, Sarcanthinae, Telipogoninae, Dendrophylax, and Harriselia).
Several species such as Dendrophylax funalis, Dendrophylax fawcetti, and Dendrophylax lindenii produce large, showy, white flowers which are highly fragrant and described as smelling fruity and reminiscent of an apple. Most members of this genus are pollinated by various species of moths with very long proboscises and the flowers of most species within this genus possess very long nectar spurs ranging from 4 to 8 inches in length on average. The giant sphinx moth is known to pollinate several species within this genus.
Dendrophylax funalis is more commonly and easily cultivated that other members of the genus and the plants tend to get very large and robust in both habitat and cultivation. Other members of this genus are very difficult subjects in cultivation such as Dendrophylax lindenii, and some members of this genus defy cultivation or are of little interest to orchid enthusiasts because they produce very small flowers.
- Illustrated Encyclopedia of Orchids ISBN 0-88192-267-6
Nir, M. Orchidaceae Antillanae, 82-87, 2000.
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