Anacheilium (Encyclia) fragrans
Anacheilium fragrans is the most abundant orchid species in Central Amazon, where its plants sometimes cover
completely the branches of the Macucu tree (Aldina
heterophylla Benth.). In the Amazon,
the occurrence of the species is basically limited to what are called "Campinas" in the Central Amazon.
This type of vegetation develops over patches of white sand soil that cover a very small percentage of the Amazon
area. While most of the soil in the Amazon basin is clay, there are patches of sand considered as relics remaining
from the original soil coverage of the region (more on this below). While over the clay soil (with its poor drainage)
the lush tropical forest developed, what happens over sandy soil is completely different. Sand has good drainage
and thus do not allow water to accumulate. With this, the kind of forest we find in these areas is open and with
spaced spaced trees that have low and horizontal branches. Light can go through and so epiphytes occur at all heights
of the trees and even can continue to grow on the ground when branches fall. The good drainage also allows for
periods, albeit short, of low humidity. These alternate wet/dry conditions are also good for epiphyte development.
The bigger trees (mostly Macucus) end up covered with epiphytes and look like suspended gardens. Those Campinas,
although covering a very small percentage of the Amazon area, have more variety of orchids than the rest of the
Amazon lowlands. Elaborating a bit more on the distribution, the map show us something very interesting. The species
is also found on the coast, at least on the States of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, in these cases
growing on coastal forest by the sea. In all these cases, the forest grows on sandy soil and it looks basically
like their counterparts in Central Amazon. The species is probably found elsewhere on the coast, but I decided
to put on the map only what I could see in person growing on the habitats. This pattern of distribution in not
unique for Anacheilium fragrans, there are several more orchid species and other groups
of plants as well that are found with a similar occurrence pattern. With this, there is the thought that these
areas were connected in the past and those remaining areas with white sand soil are survivors from the huge downpour
of clay from the Andes since the last glaciation period.
Anacheilium fragrans is the only species of the complex in Brazil, several other were separated from it, mostly
in Central America. Flowers are produced usually 3-5 on inflorescences that are shorter than the leaves. Individual
flowers are about 1 1/2" across, and have almost no color variation but in the amount of stripes on the lip
(and even this doesn't vary much). Flowers are also about exactly the same throughout the distribution range. As
the name implies, the flowers are extremely fragrant, and plants can be located by smell a long distance before
they can be actually seen.
Distribution Map for Anacheilium fragrans.
The species actually have a much wider distribution in Brazil, especially in the Amazon Region, but the interesting
thing for us to see is that the species also can be found on the coast at least in Bahia and São Paulo States.
The main text explains more about this.
||On 1, we see the
typical way the species grows in the Amazon. Anacheilium
fragrans is the prominent grower in
the Central Amazon "Campinas" which are more open forest patches growing over sandy soil. The good drainage
of the white sand produces a vegetation quite similar physionomically to what develops at the coastal areas near
beaches. These open forest patches allow enough light so epiphytes grow at different heights of the trees down
to the forest floor. The result is that orchid quantity and variety attain their maximum in this kind of habitat.
Anacheilium fragrans can sometimes cover the whole trunks and branches of the trees, as shown here.
On 2 a view of a typical short inflorescence of the species.