Gone with the Ash


At the end of July 2001, a volcanic eruption devastated much of the small Caribbean Island of Montserrat.  Ash poured down on San Juan, Puerto Rico, about 300 miles to the northwest.  Other islands must have been affected, but we lack reports.  The San Juan airport was closed for several days, and thousands of people were evacuated from Montserrat to other islands.  With half of the 40-square-mile island devastated, the cost in human and environmental terms was extreme.  For purposes of this report, I will concentrate on the effect of the cataclysm on the orchids of the region.

Montserrat has at least 25 known species of orchids.  Several other orchids, common in the West Indies, are known from nearby islands.  This number, large for such a small island, reflects good rainfall, a 3000-foot peak, and proximity to other islands with many species.  One orchid, Epidendrum montserratense, isknown only from Montserrat.  A "conopseum-like" Epi, about 2 feet tall, it has a branched spray and tall thin pseudobulbs (not just reed-stems).  The 2-cm flowers are yellow.  Maybe a few of these Montserrat natives will survive on the less damaged north coast of the island.  Sure, maybe, or maybe it has been overlooked on nearby islands.  No maybe about it, though, if we didn't have CITES,* Epi. montserratense would be cultivated and propagated by now; instead, the species may be extinct.

Another species, Epidendrum pallidiflorum (E. mutelianum var. mirabilis) occurs on Montserrat and several nearby islands.  It is much like a small Epi. pseudepidendrum, but the white flower has lavender, purple, or blue markings on the lip.  It is another species that ought to be propagated.


Other Montserrat orchids include several nice ornamentals, which fortunately are widespread.  Here is a list, based on Orchidaceae Antillanae by M.A. Nir, published in 2000.


Orchid Species  

Overall Range

Brachionidium sheringii  

 Cuba and Jamaica to Lesser Antilles

Brassavola cucullata   

Virgin Islands and Lesser Antilles to Mexico, South America

Cranichis muscosa  

Florida and Bahamas to Central and South America

Cyclopogon bicolor

 Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico

Cyclopogon elatus 

Florida to Central and: South America

Epidendrum difforme 

 St. Kitts, Martinique, Dominica, St.Lucia

Epidendrum montserratense 

Endemic to Montserrat

Epidendrum pallidiflorum

Nevis to Grenada

Epidendrum strobiliferum 

Florida and Mexico to South America

Epidendrum umbellatum

Florida to South America

(E. panegyricum?, E. floridense?)


Erythrodes hirtella 

Cuba to Trinidad

Erythrodes plantaginea

Cuba to Trinidad

Eulophia alta

Florida to Mexico, South America, Africa

Ionopsis utricularioide 

Florida to Mexico, South America, Galapago

Isochilus linearis 

Cuba to Mexico and South America

Jacquiniella globosa

Cuba to Mexico and South Americ

Malaxis massonii 

Hispaniola and Puerto Rico to South America

Octomeria graminifolia

Lesser Antilles, Central and South America

Oncidium altissimum 

Puerto Rico and Lesser Antilles

Polystachya concreta 

Florida to South America, Mexico, Old World Tropics

Polystachya foliosa

Cuba to Lesser Antilles, Mexico, South America

Prescottia stachyodes 

 Cuba to Mexico and South America

Spathoglottis plicata

Asia to Pacific Islands, escaped in Caribbean Region

Tetramicra elegans 

Puerto Rico and Lesser Antilles

Tolumnia urophylla 

Lesser Antilles

Just prior to the July 2001 disaster, Bridget Beattie, in Orchid Review 109: 86–88 (Mar.-Apr. 2001), gave an interesting account of the Montserrat orchids. In her text, she mentions a Bletia species; Epidendrum ciliare (West Indies and Mexico to South America); a Spiranthes species that could be S. torta (Florida to Nicaragua) or an ally; and a Goodyera species that must be one of the following: misidentified, an Erythrode species, aspiranthoid, or a most unusual find.


CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, took effect in July 1975 and now has 160 Parties to it.