An oasis of biodiversity, Belize, is home to rich tropical rainforests, beautiful coral reefs, and a vast array of exotic wildlife.
Amid this diverse ecological wonderland blooms a flower of such peculiar beauty that it has been named the national emblem of this fascinating country. Meet the Black Orchid (Encyclia Cochleatum), a symbol of Belize’s unique charm and resilient spirit.
Description of The Black Orchid
The Black Orchid, despite its name, is not truly black but rather a dark, sultry maroon that gives it an air of mystique. This unique flower belongs to the family Orchidaceae, the largest family of flowering plants with over 28,000 species worldwide. Belize’s national flower falls into the genus Encyclia and bears the scientific name Encyclia Cochleatum.
The Black Orchid boasts a peculiar structure that sets it apart from other flowers. The petal arrangement forms a distinctive shape that is reminiscent of an octopus due to its long, slender, and spiraling petals. The middle of the flower exhibits a vibrant, contrasting yellow, drawing a beautiful contrast with the darker, almost blackish outer petals.
This orchid typically blooms between the months of April and May. It produces a raceme with four to eight flowers that emit a delicate fragrance. The Black Orchid’s size varies depending upon its environment, but it generally reaches up to one and a half feet in height.
Where Does The Black Orchid Grow?
The Black Orchid is a resident of the humid rainforests of Belize, although it can be found in various parts of Central and South America. It’s an epiphytic plant, meaning it grows harmlessly upon other trees and absorbs moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it. They do not rely on the trees for nutrition, but rather for support, reaching towards the sun’s rays that penetrate the forest canopy.
The climate where the Black Orchid thrives is typically humid, with high rainfall and average temperatures ranging between 60-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The orchid has a preference for well-draining soil, usually found in the form of leaf litter and other organic materials in its native rainforest habitat.
The Black Orchid in The Ecosystem
As part of the orchid family, the Black Orchid contributes to the rich biodiversity of the ecosystems it inhabits. The flowers play a significant role in attracting pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies with their vibrant colors and alluring fragrances.
Specifically, the Black Orchid and other orchid species are known for their complex relationships with their pollinators. Some orchids have evolved to mimic the appearance and scent of female insects to lure male insects and ensure the pollen’s transfer.
Furthermore, by growing on trees, the Black Orchid helps contribute to the complex vertical structure of the rainforest, which supports a vast array of wildlife.
As epiphytes, they also play a role in nutrient recycling within the ecosystem, as they break down organic material that gathers around them. The Black Orchid’s roots provide homes for various invertebrates and create micro-habitats, further contributing to the biodiversity of the areas they inhabit.
Symbolism and Meaning: Why and When Did The Black Orchid Become the National Flower of Belize?
The Black Orchid was designated as the national flower of Belize on September 21, 1981, when the country gained independence from the United Kingdom.
The Black Orchid is symbolic of the beauty and hardiness of the Belizean spirit, reflecting the strength and resilience of the country’s people. It represents the uniqueness and variety that defines Belize, being a country with diverse cultural, linguistic, and ethnic backgrounds.
The Black Orchid, blooming all year round and in adverse conditions, stands for the persistent spirit and beauty of Belize and its people.
Names of The Black Orchid
The scientific name of the Black Orchid is Encyclia Cochleatum. It is commonly referred to as the “Black Orchid,” though the flower is not truly black but rather a deep, dark maroon color.
In different regions, it may be known by other common names including the “Cockleshell Orchid” or “Clamshell Orchid,” referencing the peculiar shape of the flower’s lip that resembles a seashell.
In terms of scientific synonyms, this plant has been previously classified under several different names, including Epidendrum cochleatum and Epidendrum cochleatum var. normal. Despite these changes, the currently accepted scientific name is Encyclia cochleatum.
Interesting Facts About The Black Orchid
- Despite its common name, the Black Orchid isn’t really black but a very dark burgundy that looks black under certain light conditions.
- The flower has a unique lip that resembles a clamshell or a seashell, which gives it another common name, “Cockleshell Orchid”.
- The Black Orchid is an epiphytic orchid, meaning it grows upon another plant (like a tree) and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain.
- While native to Belize, it can also be found in other Central American countries and even in Florida, USA.
- The Black Orchid has a relatively long blooming period, usually from April to October, making it a beautiful year-round spectacle.
- It’s a popular subject in photography due to its unique form and color.
How to Grow The Black Orchid
Growing the Black Orchid (Encyclia cochleatum) can be a rewarding endeavor for the dedicated gardener. Here are some essential tips:
- Light: The Black Orchid needs bright light but not direct sunlight. An east-facing windowsill is an excellent location.
- Temperature: As a tropical orchid, it prefers warm temperatures. Daytime temperatures between 26°C-29°C and nighttime temperatures around 16°C-18°C are ideal.
- Watering: This orchid likes a dry-out period between waterings, so you should let the potting media dry out completely before watering again. Overwatering can cause root rot.
- Humidity: A relative humidity of 50% to 70% is best. Using a humidity tray or a room humidifier can help achieve these conditions.
- Soil: As an epiphyte, the Black Orchid prefers a very loose, well-draining potting mix, such as sphagnum moss or fine bark.
- Fertilizing: Feed the plant with a balanced orchid fertilizer once a month during the growing season.
With care and patience, you can grow a Black Orchid plant that will reward you with its unique and beautiful blooms.
Other Beautiful Flowers Found in Belize
Belize is a land rich in biodiversity and houses a multitude of flora that will leave any nature enthusiast in awe. Here’s a short overview of other significant and beautiful flowers found in the country:
- Hibiscus: This flamboyant flower is a common sight in Belize. Its large, vibrant blossoms are a treat to the eyes, and they are known for their medicinal properties.
- Bougainvillea: Known locally as the “paper flower,” this plant produces beautiful clusters of white, orange, pink, or purple flowers, providing a splash of color to any landscape.
- Flamingo Tongue: This plant, native to Belize, gets its name from the bright, tubular, red-orange flowers that stand upright on tall spikes.
- Mayflower: An evergreen flowering shrub, it bears small, bright red flowers year-round, and is often used in traditional medicine.
- Wild Orchids: Apart from the Black Orchid, Belize is home to over 300 other species of orchids, each with their unique shapes and colors.