Holly Forbes & Jessica Parker
You don’t have to be an Orchidaholic to appreciate the spectacular Peruvian native orchid, Phragmipedium kovachii, in flower for this week only at the UC Botanical Garden, in the Orchid, Fern and Carnivorous Plant House.
First discovered in Peru in 2002, this new species took the orchid world by storm for the potential for making new hybrids. Since that time, it has been heavily poached from its tropical cloud forest habitat and is now listed as critically endangered by the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. As a Plant Rescue Center for the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Garden received this orchid in 2015 after it was illegally imported into the United States. Glen Decker, expert orchid propagator and advocate, wrote in the November 2007 issue of American Orchid Society, “Phragmipedium kovachii has probably been the most important and exciting find in orchids in the past 100 years, and it could well be that for the next 100 years.”
The discovery and naming of this plant are also described in the 2012 book The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World’s Most Beautiful Orchid by award-winning journalist Craig Pittman. In his enthralling account, Pittman shines a spotlight on flaws in the international treaties governing trade in endangered wildlife that often protect individual plants and animals in shipping, but do little to halt the destruction of whole colonies in the wild.
Horticulturist of the Orchid, Fern and Carnivorous Plant House, Corina Rieder holding Phragmipedium kovachii for scale.