Cyrtopodium flavum- An Invasive Orchid in the USA

Painting #22; Cyrtopodium flavum

"Cyrtopodium flavum"  Watercolor 14 x 18 ©2012 Mindy Lighthipe

I am feeling very fortunate these days about coming to live here in Gainesville, Florida. Gainesville is home to the University of Florida. The land of "Tim Tebow" and the Gators. UF has over 60,000 students here and they offer an enormous range of degrees. I am amazed at the network here. The possibilities are endless.

In past blog posts I wrote about Mark Whitten. He is part of the orchidology department at UF. I never knew that one could be an orchidologist, I thought that the term was simply "botanist". Mark emailed me a few weeks ago that he had a Cyrtopodium flavum in bloom and wanted to know if I was interested in painting it. First of all, I had no idea what a Cyrtopodium flavum was, or even what it looked like. I knew it was an orchid ….. so of course I said, " YES!"

Cyrtopodium flavum is a terrestrial orchid native to Brazil that has made its way into the US and is making its home in Florida. It came in from people who collect orchids and has made its way into the wild and is now considered to be an invasive species. Part of the reason for this is that along with the plant has come its pollinator; Centris nitid. Centris nitid is a small bee. The male collects fragrance from the flower and gathers it into small "baskets" located in his hind legs. This is done to attract female bees. As he collects his "love potion" the orchid deposits pollinaria onto the bee. As he travels from plant to plant, pollination occurs.

So where is the bee in my painting? I am hoping to get a specimen from Center for Tropical Plant Conservation at Fairchild Gardens in Miami. Dr. Hong Lui has been studying Cyrtopodium flavum and Centris nitid in hopes of further understanding the consequences of non-native plants and bees. Invasive plants are becoming more and more of a problem here in Florida, but more about that later.

The orchid was in bloom and it only lasted about a week or so. I had to act quickly before it died. I made the composition and left space to add the bee, when and if I am able to obtain a specimen. I am hoping to place the bee under the enlargement of the flower, also as an enlargement. I hope to also show the bee in flight around the blossoms in proportion to the flower. When and if I add these to the painting I will be sure to rescan it and post it.

In the meantime I have had another exciting thing happen from the Univeristy of Florida. This upcoming week I will be teaching at "Plant Camp". Plant Camp is a program that trains teachers from the State of Florida how to bring conservation and awareness to school children about invasive plants. I will be teaching them how to draw LEAVES! 24 teachers were selected by UF for this special program from over 100 applicants. Not only was I honored with being able to teach in this program, I was also selected to be a participant. So this week I will be traveling around Florida learning about invasive and native plants. I am not sure how much painting I will get done, but I will be armed with my camera, and sketch pad. I may have to double up after the week is over. It is almost July…. mid-point of my 52/52 painting challenge.

Have a great week!


PS: Do you know the plants in your area that are considered invasive?

Invasive Species- What/Why/Where are they?

As a lover of plants and animals it is horrible to hear that an invasive species is taking over an area. I just read a post on Facebook from the Wildlife Society about the siting of a snakehead fish spotted in the Potomac River in Maryland. This is bad news. All too often we humans are careless about what we do. So what is an invasive species?

An invasive species is defined as one that is “1) non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and 2) whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” Invasive species have negative impacts on biological diversity, productivity, environmental integrity, and wildlife and human health, and are especially dangerous near vulnerable or at-risk species.

To read more about the disastrous effects of introducing non-native/invasive species into your area read this compelling book by Kim Todd, Tinkering with Eden- A Natural History of Exotics in America. You will be shocked at the stories of what is happening to the planet, some in your own back yard.


I always hate it when there is bad news so I wanted to end this blog post with some hopeful/helpful tips:



That really cool plant at the nursery that you just have to have……. research it. Start with asking the nurseryman what it is, where it comes from and how big will it get. This is helpful, but a lot of times they don't really know the potential disaster that can occur. Take the name of the plant, go to the internet, google it and find out what others have to say. There are websites devoted to listing invasive species. I fell in love with a tree called the Princess Tree. It has beautiful purple flowers in huge clusters in the spring. After researching it, I found out it is very invasive as it can spread thousands of seeds and choke out native seedlings. It was from China. I found a native tree, the Northern Catalpa that has the same clusters of flowers, only in white, rather than purple. I decided to plant it instead. I found one growing in a stream in a parking lot by a gas station. I dug it up and it is now flourishing in my old home in New Jersey. There are always alternatives to that plant you just have to have. Research it and know what you are planting. You will save yourself lots of hours of weeding to eradicate something that is ruining your garden it you research before you leap!


Wildlife Lovers:

Even if you are not an avid gardener you can put some native plants in your yard to attract birds and other wildlife. The National Wildlife Association has a Backyard Habitat program with simple steps to get certified. This is a fun thing to do with children as it teaches them conservation and ecology.  DO NOT BUY exotic pets like iguanas, snakes, birds etc… These animals may not be "invasive"…….. yet…… but all too often people buy something for their children as a household pet and it gets out of control in the house. The homeowner doesn't know what to do, so they let it loose. Pythons are invading the everglades and iguanas are like squirrels in the backyards of places like Miami. Instead, watch nature films and documentaries about these super cool critters. Go to zoos and rescue sanctuaries where you can see them up close and personal.


What do you do in your own backyard to promote Native plants? I would love to hear from you.