The controversial and super dark cattleya mossiae ‘willowbrook’ FCC/AOS

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All this history reminds me that about 15 years ago I bought a Cattleya luddemaniana from a professional and paid as a botanical Cattleya. When it bloomed for the first time I realized that it was not what I thought it was.The real cattleya luddemaniana has small wings at the top of the column (winged column). Cattleya gravesiana does not have this particularity. See The large flowered Cattleya Species A.A.Chadwick page 80.
Thanks Brabanita, this clone doesn’t have a winged column.
I‘ve tried to catch the glistening texture of the petals that Leslie mentioned, in this photo.
It isn’t easy but you can’t see some of it on the top edge of the extreme left petal.
Thanks for your confidence in my unifoliate knowledge lol.

I don't know (or remember) the source of this original pod, but I will do a little investigating to see if I can find out. It might be a US nursery in the late 70's or early 80's.
Leslie, I'm not sure if you ended up figuring out where the initial seed pod came from or not, but I picked up Hausermann's last Willowbrook clone over the weekend and they had a sign on it saying they received the FCC/AOS for it. They might be a good lead to start figuring out the provenance of the plant.
There are a couple of considerations on what to call this. While we like to think of any given orchid species as this or that species, there are plenty of instances where there is a messy gray zone between taxa. Cattleya aurea and warscewiczii with x hardyana, mossiae and luedemanniana with x gravesiana, gutatta and tigrina which doesn't even have a natural hybrid name and innumerable others. There is potentially some level gene flow between many species and it is likely that some of the most interesting wild clones have some introgression of genes that causes them to be different from the majority of the tipo clones of a species.

Once we humans get our hands on the plants and start breeding them, there is lots of opportunity for information to be lost about what the true parents are. Labels get lost, records can be imperfect and sometimes we come to believe a certain plant is probably a given species without fully knowing its exact origin. There are a number of awarded famous Cattleya plants from Japan that the best explanation for their appearance is that the "hand of god" has moved genes around between species and backcrossed them. Whether this was purposefully or accidental or originated in the wild or in captivity are the more interesting questions.

I'm with Leslie that 'Willobrook' is probably like walkeriana 'Pendentive'. It isn't a good representative of the mossiae taxon. It is most likely a plant of unknown hybrid origin that has significant mossiae in its heritage. As far as I know, no wild plants that are this dark have ever been found for mossiae. The exact story of how it came to be is the open question.

What ever you want to call it, it is beautiful and well grown - congrats. For any breeders out there, probably wouldn't self it or do a "sib" cross and call it mossiae. Probably best divided or mericloned.
Interesting discussion here. Something I’ve been thinking a lot about is how our expectations of the mean influence our perception of what constitutes a “true” species. Most outcomes in biology can be thought about in terms of a distribution of outcomes. I’m thinking of the standard “bell curve”. In the case of an orchid cross, the vast majority of plants will be average, and those are the plants we encounter the most, and are most familiar with. However, there will be a small number of plants at either extreme - we’ve all waited years to bloom out a cross with spectacular parents, only to bloom a truly hideous flower. At the other end of the spectrum, there will be outliers of remarkable and unexpected quality. I guess the point of line-breeding is to take those remarkable plants and cross them for future generations. The orchid zone was able to do this extremely well, and in only a few short generations markedly improve some notable species (rothschildianum, henryanum, fairrieanum, besseae, etc…) to the point there was sometimes controversy around the origin of those plants. Throw in the fact that plants are weird, for example there can be ploidy issues that manifest in unpredictable ways, and I wonder if sometimes there’s a rush to judge plants that just don’t fit our expectations for an average plant as something that must have been “improved” by other means. This isn’t meant as a criticism of anyone, just something I’ve been musing about, and I would be interested to hear input from others with more hands-on knowledge of plant breeding/hybridizing/genetics.
Hi David,

I've never thought to ask about the growth habit of this clone. Does it grow like mossiae in that it starts growing a new lead and roots after blooming in May/June and then rest for nearly 6-8 months? Mossiae usually blooms from a brown sheath and should only make a single growth per season.
Thanks David.

Was reading Carl Withner's Cattleya book last night and in it he notes that mossiae only expresses a single anthocyanin pigment hence the generally lighter color of the flowers. As far as I know, nobody has sequenced the genes involved with producing the various anthocyanin pigments in orchids. There are two sets of genes involved, the genes coding the enzymes that make the various pigments and the genes coding the transcription factors that drive the expression of the genes. This is why there are two different mutations that can create alba flowers. When parent plants each with the different type of alba mutations are crossed, they will produce colored type flowers. Suppose it could be possible that the genes for making additional anthocyanins are there in the mossiae genome but the machinery for expression is broken rather than the key genes for particular enzymes have been deleted from the genome. Possible that an introgression or mutation occurred at some point that enabled their expression, but the fact that these dark colored flowers showed up in captivity at the same time, with several clones with very similar flower shape and other floral characteristics suggests genes from somewhere outside of the mossiae genome and these dark plants were all the result of a single cross. How the genes got there and how long ago is the mystery. Would be super interesting to track down the cross history. My best guess is that it represents a partially introgressed x gravesiana selfing or a cross back onto mossiae. In the wild in 1-2 generations this trait would likely disappear as there would likely not be a selective pressure for the dark color and the type plants would be the dominant source of partner genes. In captivity if we keep selecting for the dark color over multiple generations, we could fix that trait such that plants have almost totally the mossiae genome with the new pigment genes or the ability to express ones already existing in the genome. This would be not unlike humans with all of us having some amount of neanderthal genes floating around in our genome.

This somewhat messy genetic history is actually super common in orchids. For example, the gene flow between warscewiczii, x hardyana and aurea is certainly what drives the variability in some of the more interesting "warscewiczii" clones in existence, many of which have come from the wild. Biology is always a bit more complex than we would like to fit our neat definitions. I'm always working on refining my understanding of what exactly constitutes a species and plants like this challenge ones thinking.

Very cool and beautiful plant. Thanks for sharing.
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