Author: CHEN Sing-Chi, LUO Yi-Bo
J Integr Plant Biol 2003, 45 (Suppl.): -.
China is rich in orchid resources and has a long history of orchid appreciation and cultivation. In Chinese ancient literary and artistic works, one can find orchid names as early as about 10th-6th century B. C., orchid paintings in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1 127) and orchid monographs in the 13th century. Some recent investigations revealed that the cultivation of cymbidiums in China began in the late Tang Dynasty between 860 and 890 A. D. rather than in Confucious times.
The first scientific name assigned to Chinese orchids was by Linnaeus in Species Plantarum (1753). Since then many European botanists paid attention to Chinese orchids. Among them R. A. Rolfe, R. Schlechter and recently G. Seidenfaden and P. Cribb are particularly praiseworthy. Their works are considered to be indispensable references until today.
In China, H. H. Hu was the first botanist to make a special study on Chinese orchids in 1925, closely followed by S. S. Chien, C. L. Tso, T. Tang and F. T. Wang in the 1930s. After that T. Tang and F. T. Wang continued to study the orchids of China and neighboring areas for decades of years and published many valuable works. They laid a solid foundation for an understanding of the orchid flora of China.
At the beginning, the research work was concentrated on the collection, identification and classification of orchids, and then the compilation of the Orchid Flora of China (Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae: Orchidaceae). As a result, a large number of orchid specimens were collected, and nearly ten thousands of colored photographs were taken, and on this ground many books and articles have been published, including three volumes of the Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae (vol. 17-19).
Floristic and phytogeographical studies on orchids were made in some areas or mountain chains, such as Sichuan, Xizang (Tibet), Taiwan, Xishuangbanna of southern Yunnan and the Hengduan Mountains. The main achievements include: marking the northern and western limits of lithophytic orchids in China, which almost correspond to those of subtropics; proposing a line, called Kaiyong-Line, separating the Sino-Himalaya and Sino-Japanese Subkingdoms in Sichuan Province; putting forward a suggestion to treat Taiwan as a subdivision of the Malay Subregion of Paleotropical Region floristically; and making a proposal that the proportion of the epiphytic orchid genera amounting to 50% of the total orchid genera might be considered as a symbol of tropical flora.
Working on micromorphology of orchids began in the eighties of the last century in China. Nearly 150 species belonging to 40 genera of orchids have been studied cytologically, palynologically, anatomically, embryologically and physiologically. Most of them are natives of China, such as the species of Dendrobium, Cymbidium, Bletilla, Vanda, Pleione, Cypripedium. Hemipilia, Neottianthe, Gastrodia, Anoectochilus, Phaius and Paphiopedilum. Only a few are introduced taxa or hybrids, mostly in Vanilla, Phalaenopsis, Epidendrum, Cattleya and Oncidium.
Orchids relate to a thriving industy. Great attention has long been paid to their micropropagation in China. The experiments in tissue culture, seed germination and seedling culture have succeeded in many genera, such as Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Anoectochilus, Spathoglottis, Doritis, Vanilla, Phalaenopsis, Cattleya and Epidendrum. Artificial hybrids have been bred in Paphiopedilum, Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis, Phaius and Calanthe. However, a lot of work was done more scientifically than commercially. Only few hybrids have been found in markets.
Cymbidiums are among the best of the favorable ornamental orchids in China. In recent years, several hundreds of Cymbidium plantations, as well as much more private yards, have been set up in China mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Decades of popular books on their cultivars have been published, and the orchid exhibitions are held frequently. Although it is beneficial to millions of orchid amateurs, many species of Cymbidium have become seriously endangered or quite rare.
As a kind of folk drugs, Gastrodia elata Bl. was used in China some 2 000 years ago, and still occupies an important place in traditional Chinense medicine today. A comprehensive study has been made on this species. Its micropropagation, cultivation and production have succeeded by adding Mycena osmundicola Lange to its seeds, and then Armillariella mellea (Vahl. ex Franch.) Karst. to its protocorms.
In China, orchid microrrhizae have been studied of 44 species belonging to 20 genera, such as Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Bulbophyllum, Liparis, Vanda, Vandopsis, Eria, etc. Altogether 13 genera of fungi have been isolated and identified: Ceratorhiza, Epulorhiza, Moniliopsis, Fusarium, Mycena, Cylindrocarpon, Myceliophthoreae, Cephalosporium, Ceratorhiza, Chromosporium, Rhizoctomia, Gloiocladium and Pestalotina. The symbiotic germination and growth between Gastrodia elata and fungi, especially Mycena and Armillariella, have been closely investigated.
Chinese botanists began to work on pollination biology of orchids in the 1990s. Some species of Satysium, Hemipilia, Changnienia, Holcoglossum, Cypripedium
and Paphiopedilum have been observed, but only two articles have been publis
hed on Hemipilia and Changnienia until recently. Hemipilia flabellate Bur. et Franch. was reported relying on deception to attract visitors. Its flowers are similar to those of Ajuga forrestii Diels (Labiatae). The latter appears to be the main or exclusive subsidiary nectar source for the pollinators.
Recently great attention has been paid to orchid conservation in China. General policies have been carried out and some efforts have been made to improve the situation. This is in fact a complicated problem, not only depending on education and economic development, but also to a large extent on the biological characters of the orchids themselves. It needs a comprehensive study of ecology, population biology, pollination biology, breeding biology and other biological branches. In recent years, studies have been made on some species of Changnienia, Tangtsinia, Paphiopedilum and Cypripedium. However, we still face having little or limited knowledge of the plants themselves, particularly the biological factors that cause orchids to be endangered.
China has made good progress in orchidology since the twenties of the last century. Looking forward to the future, the main target is to make scientifically further and comprehensive studies on those taxa endemic or subendemic to China or distributed mainly in China, and commercially applied studies on those of ornamental or medicinal significance. Among the most important genera, for example, are Paphiopedilum, Dendrobium, Cypripedium, Cymbidium, Pleione, Holcoglossum, Anoectochilus and some taxa in subtribe Orchidinae and those introduced from abroad. Of course, more international collaboration will be needed in the future.