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Revista mexicana de ciencias agrícolas

versión impresa ISSN 2007-0934

Rev. Mex. Cienc. Agríc vol.9 no.5 Texcoco jun./ago. 2018 


Concentration of macronutrients in organs of three wild Rhynchostele species in their natural habitat

Nadia Jiménez-Peña1 

Libia I. Trejo-Téllez2 

Porfirio Juárez-López1  § 

1Autonomous University of the State of Morelos-Faculty of agricultural sciences. University Av. 1001. Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. CP. 62210.

2Postgraduate College-Campus Montecillo. Mexico-Texcoco Highway km 36.5, Montecillo, Texcoco, State of Mexico, Mexico. CP. 56230.


In Mexico, there is little research on the nutritional concentration of orchid species developed in their natural habitat. The objective was to determine the macronutrient concentration of the wild orchids Rinchostele maculata, R. rossii and R. aptera in their natural habitat. The collections were made from R. maculata in the central zone of Veracruz, R. rossii was obtained from the Chichinautzin Biological Corridor in the northwest of Morelos and from the cloud forest of the Cofre of Perote, in Veracruz, the R. aptera species was collected in Huitzilac and Tetela of Volcan, Morelos. The nutritional concentration of N, P, K, Ca and Mg was quantified in young leaves and flower buds, new leaves, mature leaves and old leaves (in senescence), new pseudobulbs, mature pseudobulbs, old pseudobulbs; In addition, the same nutrients were quantified in the roots. It was found in R. rosii, R. maculata and R. aptera that the nutrient concentrations, in decreasing order, were N> K> Ca> P> Mg in young leaves, new leaves and mature leaves; with the exception of R. rosii, which showed the trend N> Ca> K> Mg> P, only in mature leaves. The nutrient concentration intervals in mature leaves, in percentage, were: N (1.44 - 1.86), P (0.15 - 0.29), K (0.51 - 0.9), Ca (0.32 - 0.65) and Mg (0.11 - 0.25), which could serve as preliminary reference values for nutrimental diagnostic purposes in the three species reported; likewise, these results could be useful in conservation programs and for the agronomic management of these species.

Keywords: Rhynchostele aptera; Rhynchostele maculata; Rhynchostele rossii; mineral nutrition


En México, son escasas las investigaciones acerca de la concentración nutrimental en especies de orquídeas desarrolladas en su hábitat natural. El objetivo fue determinar la concentración de macronutrientes de las orquídeas silvestres Rinchostele maculata, R. rossii y R. aptera en su hábitat natural. Las colectas se realizaron de R. maculata en la zona central de Veracruz, R. rossii se obtuvo del Corredor Biológico Chichinautzin en el noroeste de Morelos y del bosque de niebla del Cofre de Perote, en Veracruz, la especie R. aptera se colectó en Huitzilac y Tetela del Volcán, Morelos. Se cuantificó la concentración nutrimental de N, P, K, Ca y Mg en hojas jóvenes y brotes florales, hojas nuevas, hojas maduras y hojas viejas (en senescencia), pseudobulbos nuevos, pseudobulbos maduros, pseudobulbos viejos; además, se cuantificaron los mismos nutrimentos en las raíces. Se encontró en R. rosii, R. maculata y R. aptera que las concentraciones nutrimentales, en orden decreciente, fueron N> K> Ca> P> Mg en hojas jóvenes, hojas nuevas y hojas maduras; con excepción de R. rosii, que presentó la tendencia N> Ca> K> Mg> P, únicamente en hojas maduras. Los intervalos de concentración nutrimental en hojas maduras, en porcentaje, fueron: N (1.44 - 1.86), P (0.15 - 0.29), K (0.51 - 0.90), Ca (0.32 - 0.65) y Mg (0.11 - 0.25), los cuales podrían servir como valores preliminares de referencia con fines de diagnóstico nutrimental en las tres especies reportadas; asimismo, estos resultados podrían ser útiles en programas de conservación y para el manejo agronómico de estas especies.

Palabras clave: Rhynchostele aptera; Rhynchostele maculata; Rhynchostele rossii; nutrición mineral


Since ancient times orchids have been the most preferred flowers as ornamental plants, this is attributed to its rarity, colorful colors, aromas and shapes. The genus Rhynchostele possesses species with ornamental potential; however, in recent years their natural populations have been diminished, due in part to the excessive looting of collectors for sale purposes and collectors of orchids, which has caused that some are subject to special protection according to the Official Mexican Standard NOM-059 (SEMARNAT, 2010).

It has been reported that there are morphological differences within the genera of orchids depending on the collection sites, finding variation in number of leaves, leaf length and width, color tone and number of flowers, among others (Hernández-Muñoz et al., 2013), these variations may be due to different factors such as climate, incidence of pests and diseases, lack or excess of nutrients. In relation to the last point, there is scarce information about its nutritional composition in different stages of development and in its natural habitat.

In this context, some authors have suggested more research related to nutrient concentration in orchids (Wang and Konow, 2002), since these studies allow to know the nutritional status, as well as to identify in which organs of the plant and in what magnitude they accumulate within the same (Poole and Sheehan, 1973; Jiménez-Peña et al., 2013).

Most studies of mineral nutrition in orchids have focused on commercial hybrids of the Phalaenopsis genera (Hinnen et al., 1989; Wang, 1996; Hwang et al., 2009), Cymbidium (Naik et al., 2013; Barman and Naik, 2017), Odontoglossum (Yoneda et al., 1999) and Dendrobium (Tse-Leow and Khye-Tan, 2007). In general, these investigations have been carried out in controlled conditions, in soilless cultivation and with the use of nutritive solutions. On the other hand, some studies of mineral concentration in species of wild orchids, Laelia anceps, L. autumnalis and Paphiopedilum insgine, have been carried out in greenhouse, in soilless culture and with nutritive solutions (unpublished data); however, there are few studies that report the nutrimental concentration in wild orchids and in their natural habitat.

This information would be useful to know the nutritional status of species with ornamental potential that serve as a basis to propose conservation strategies and agronomic management (Tejeda-Sartorius et al., 2017). In this context, the genus Rhynchosthele possesses species with ornamental potential, among which are: R. maculata (L. O. Williams), R. rossii (Lindl.) and R. aptera (Lex.) (Espejo-Serna et al., 2002; Hagsater and Soto, 2008; CONABIO, 2015). Therefore, the objective was to determine the concentration of macronutrients of wild orchids R. maculata, R. rossii and R. aptera in their habitat.

Materials and methods

Sixteen R. maculata plants were collected in forest areas of the Cofre of Perote or Nauhcampatepetl, in the center of Veracruz, this region belongs to the cloud forest and is located between 1 200 and 2 100 m of altitude; between latitudes 19° 30’ and 19° 45’ north latitude and longitudes 96° 47’ and 97° 01’ west. In the case of R. rossii, nine plants were collected in the Chichinautzin Biological Corridor, which is a flora and fauna protection area located in the northwest area of the state of Morelos, located between 18° 50’ 30” and 19° 05’ 40” north latitude; 98° 51’ 50” and 99° 20’ 00” west longitude and the cloud forest of the Cofre of Perote or Nauhcampatepetl. Finally, eight plants of the species R. aptera were collected in the municipalities of Huitzilac and Tetela of Volcan, Morelos, located within the aforementioned coordinates. In Figure 1, the morphological characteristics of the three species studied are shown.

Figure 1 Species of orchids collected: a) Rhynchostele aptera (Lex.); b) Rhynchostele rossii (Lindley); and c) Rhynchostele maculata (La Llave & Lex.). 

For the plant chemical analysis, the plants were transported in paper bags. The samples were washed with distilled water and placed in perforated paper bags, dried in an oven with circulating air at a temperature of 70 °C. The material was ground in a stainless steel mill. The elements were quantified in leaves, pseudo-elms and roots, in different stages of development, being as follows: young leaves and floral bud, the most recent (in the process of development); new leaves, in development; mature, fully developed leaves and old leaves, that is, in senescence; new pseudobulbs, the most recent ones; mature, fully developed pseudobulbs and old pseudobulbs, in senescence; root, it was considered a sample composed of young, developed and senescent roots.

The total N was determined by the Kjeldahl method by wet digestion with a mixture of sulfuric acid and perchloric acid. Phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) by atomic emission spectroscopy of plasma induction (ICP-AES) (Alcantar and Sandoval, 1999).

Statistical analysis

The data obtained were analyzed by means of an analysis of variance and a comparison test of Tukey means (p≤ 0.05) was performed. The statistical program SAS (Statistical Analysis System) version 9.1 (SAS, 2003) was used to analyze the data.

Results and discussion


There were differences p≥ 0.5 between species (Table 1). The percentage of nitrogen varied between the species and the organs of the three Rhynchostele orchids. When the species were in a state of development of young leaves and flower buds, the percentage varied from 1.54 to 2.20%. In Table 1, it is observed that the element is required more in the state of young leaves and flower buds than the rest of the stages of development. The N is an essential mobile element in cell division and expansion, as well as in the growth of vegetative structures, such as stems and leaves (Sonneveld and Voogt, 2009).

Table 1 Concentration of macronutrients (%) in three species of Rynchostele

Species Young leaves and floral buds Leaves Pseudobulbs Roots
New Matures Old New Matures Old
Total nitrogen
R. maculata 2.29 a 1.35 ab 1.73 a 1.89 ab 1.06 a 0.85 a 0.52 b 1.08 a
R. rossii 2.03 ab 2.07 a 1.86 a 1.91 a 0.51 b 0.55 b 0.58 ab 0.76 b
R. aptera 1.54 b 1.4 b 1.44 a 1.09 b 0.87 ab 0.86 a 0.77 a 1.15 a
CV 10.6 21.3 14.6 29.5 29.6 24 26.1 13.9
R. maculata 0.35 a 0.23 a 0.29 a 0.07 b 0.14 a 0.1 ab 0.1 a 0.08 a
R. rossii 0.26 a 0.21 a 0.15 b 0.13 a 0.08 b 0.07 b 0.06 b 0.07 b
R. aptera 0.27 a 0.28 b 0.22 ab 0.12 a 0.13 a 0.14 a 0.09 a 0.08 a
CV 17.1 10.1 27 14.9 25.6 31.5 24.2 8.4
R. maculata 1.1 a 0.79 b 0.9 a 0.51 ab 0.86 a 0.74 a 0.44 b 0.25 a
R. rossii 0.94 ab 0.9 a 0.51 b 0.56 a 0.51 b 0.47 a 0.61 ab 0.21 ab
R. aptera 0.85 b 0.82 ab 0.69 ab 0.45 b 0.68 ab 0.68 a 0.8 a 0.18 b
CV 8.6 6.3 19.9 7.6 26.3 53.4 28.4 21.5
R. maculata 0.47 ab 0.47 ab 0.42 a 0.63 a 0.84 a 0.73 a 0.58 a 0.37 a
R. rossii 0.51 a 0.6 a 0.65 b 0.75 a 0.5 b 0.45 b 0.37 b 0.27 b
R. aptera 0.35 b 0.34 b 0.32 a 0.41 b 0.35 b 0.42 b 0.33 b 0.25 b
CV 14.1 16.8 14.9 14.9 22.5 24.9 31.4 13.2
R. maculata 0.08 b 0.07 b 0.07 b 0.07 b 0.11 b 0.12 b 0.09 b 0.09 b
R. rossii 0.19 a 0.19 a 0.18 a 0.17 a 0.22 a 0.22 a 0.2 a 0.09 b
R. aptera 0.15 a 0.16 a 0.13 ab 0.12 b 0.25 a 0.27 a 0.26 a 0.13 a
CV 15.3 25.3 15.2 26.7 21.2 27.2 33.9 16.6

CV= coefficient of variation. Values with the same letter within the column are statistically equal, Tukey (p≤ 0.05).

In leaves, the percentage varied in a range of 1.09 to 2.07%, in the different ages of the leaves (new, mature and old), independently of the species (Table 1). In addition, it was observed that the percentage of N decreased as the leaves senescen. It has been reported that the percentage of N sufficiency in Cattleya orchid leaves ranges from 1.50 to 2.5% (Jones et al., 1991). In the case of the Rhynchostele aptera species, the levels found in leaves were low. However, in the absence of other reports of species similar to the Rhynchostele, these values may be sufficient for this species, since no visual symptoms of deficiencies were detected.

In pseudobulbs regardless of the species, the percentages found were from 0.51 to 1.06% (Table 1). In the epiphytic orchids, the storage organs are the pseudobulbs, which have the capacity to store water, minerals and carbohydrates (Ng and Hew, 2000). However, the percentage found is lower compared to the leaves. Poole and Sheehan (1973) mention that in leafs of Cattleya the concentration of N foliar decreases with the age of the leaves, since this tends to translocate towards the pseudobulbs of greater age. However, the latter was not observed in Rhynchostele species, since the percentage in pseudobulbs was lower, which means that orchids differ in their nutrient distribution in the plant.

The concentration in root varied in a range of 0.76 to 1.15%, indistinctly of the species. The function of the roots of the orchids is to absorb water and nutrients, as well as fix the plant to the substrate. The roots only grow during a vegetative period and suspend their growth with the development of vegetative shoots (Hagsater et al., 2005). This is consistent since the N is a mobile element and was found in the organs with higher demand such as buds (new leaves and flower buds) and low levels in roots.


The concentrations in young leaves and floral buds were higher than in the rest of the organs of the plants. This can be attributed to the fact that the P is a mobile element, and is found in a greater proportion in young or recently matured leaves (demand organs) (Fernández, 2007). The concentration interval was 0.26 to 0.35% regardless of the species evaluated (Table 1).

The results in leaves varied from 0.12 to 0.29%, independently of the species and the age of the leaf (young, mature and old). Jones et al. (1991), for Cattleya spp. indicates that the P sufficiency values range from 0.13 to 0.75% in the foliage. Only the case of R. aptera in old leaves, is below the sufficiency values, which is attributable to the mobility of the element towards the demand zones (Fernández, 2007).

In general, it was observed that the concentration of P is low in the pseudobulbs of the Rhynchostele species, compared with the leaves. Ranges of 0.06 to 0.14% were obtained regardless of the species and the stage of development of the pseudobulb. As mentioned above, the pseudobulbs function as storage organs for water and reserve substances; however, low levels of P were found, which could have been used to support the production of flowers, fruits or the development of new shoots. Bachiega-Zambrosi et al. (2012) suggest that remobilization of P reserves is important to meet the demands of new vegetative and reproductive growth. In the roots (0.07 to 0.08% of P) the concentration of P was even lower than leaves and pseudobulbs, which was associated with demand zones such as young growing leaves.


In relation to K, the highest concentration was in young leaves and floral buds, as in the previous elements. The concentration of K in young leaves and flower buds was 0.85 to 1.10% (Table 1), which are considered low, compared to the level of foliage sufficiency that ranges from 2.00 to 3.5% in orchids of the Cattleya genus (Jones et al., 1991). Similarly, concentrations were low in the leaves regardless of the species and morphological development, where the concentration varied from 0.45 to 0.9% (Table 1). However, it is inferred that the concentrations found could be of sufficiency and that the genus Rhynchostele could require concentrations lower than 2% of K, since they did not present visual symptoms of deficiency, water stress, cold damage, or diseases (Figure 1).

In this regard, Kumar and Kumar-Sharma (2013) indicates that plants that have an adequate supply of K make more efficient use of water during stress, having a direct relationship with resistance to frost and disease. In addition, K promotes stem stiffness and is involved in cell growth, as well as in the stabilization of the membrane and the cell wall (Armstrong, 2002). The concentration of K in pseudobulbs was from 0.44 to 0.86%, levels slightly below the foliage (Table 1). Likewise, root levels were low from 0.18 to 0.25%, this effect could be due to the mobility of K inside the plant (Marschner, 2012), being translocated towards the aerial part.


Ca concentrations of 0.35 to 0.51% were found in young leaves and flower buds (Table 1). In the foliage, values of 0.34 to 0.75% were found regardless of the species and the age of the leaves. However, there is a marked difference between the study species R. aptera and R. macula had low levels in almost all their leaves, in comparison to the optimal reports of Ca in foliage by Poole and Sheehan (1973) and Jones et al. (1991) ranging from 0.5 to 2%. Ca is characterized by low transport ability within the plant because once it is deposited in plant tissues it will be very difficult to remove it. That is why young tissues are the first to be affected when there are deficiencies of this nutrient (Marschner, 2012).

Regarding the pseudobulbs, the concentrations ranged from 0.33 to 0.84% (Table 1). In the root the concentrations were from 0.25 to 0.37%. In this regard, Poole and Sheehan (1973) consider as an optimum level the concentration of 0.1 to 0.4% of Ca in Cattleya roots.


It was found that the concentrations of Mg in young leaves and floral buds varied in a range of 0.08 to 0.19% and in young, mature and old leaves from 0.07 to 0.19% regardless of the species. Levels of foliage sufficiency have been reported at concentrations of 0.30-0.70% for Cattleya (Jones et al., 1991), so the values found were lower than those reported in the literature. However, the plants did not show visual symptoms of Mg deficiencies, so it is inferred that the Mg level required by Rhynchostele may be lower. Additionally, it was observed that the highest accumulation of Mg occurred in the pseudobulbs, where the concentrations were from 0.11 to 0.26%. This may be because the pseudobulbs function as nutrient storage organs Uma et al. (2015). In the case of the roots, the values were from 0.09 to 0.13%, similar to the foliage.

In general, the decreasing sequence of nutrient concentration was N> K> Ca> P> Mg. This tendency of nutritional absorption was mainly in the foliage of R. macula and R. aptera. In R. rossii the concentration changed in mature and old leaves in the following way N> Ca> K> Mg> P. In pseudobulbs the tendency of accumulation also changed and was N> K> Ca> Mg> P. The root was the only organ that presented the same tendency in the three species, where its decreasing sequence of accumulation was N> Ca> K> Mg> P. The N and K or Ca were the most required elements in the three species of Rhynchostele, the absorption order changed with the stage of development and genotypes. As pointed out by Jiménez-Peña et al. (2013), orchids have different nutritional requirements, these same authors point out the importance of providing the nutrients according to the stage of development and of the species, for a better development.

It was observed that the mobile elements were translocated towards the area mainly in leaves and flower buds. This coincides with that reported by Hew and Ng (1996) in a study of Oncidium goldiana, where the mineral reserves, mainly in pseudobulbs, are remobilized to support the development of a new outbreak and inflorescence. It has also been reported in Catasetum viridiflavum that the minerals in pseudobulb reserves are important in determining the number of flowers produced (Zimmerman, 1990). Therefore, it is recommended that special attention be given to Rhynchostele species in the fertilization regime, especially during the development period of new shoots, since in their natural habitat they required smaller amounts than what is reported in orchids such as Cattleya and Phalaenopsis (Jones et al., 1991). It is important to consider the nutritional requirements, since the distribution of these during their development is fundamental to satisfy the specific needs in the periods of highest demand, especially of nutrients such as nitrogen (N) phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

It should be noted that, in general, low values of nutritional concentration were found in the three species studied compared to those reported in the literature, due in part to the fact that the genotypes that were evaluated grew and developed in their natural habitat. It is inferred that if grown under conditions with optimal fertilization doses and with adequate agronomic management, the nutrient concentration values would be higher as has been found in the Laelia anceps orchid (Jiménez-Peña et al., 2013); however, despite the fact that the species grew under natural conditions, no visual symptoms of deficiency were detected, probably this response was due to the fact that the Orchidaceae family members form associations with mycorrhizal fungi that give them greater radical exploration and eventually greater capacity of nutrimental absorption, especially in the initial stages of growth and development, as reported in Eulophia epidendraea and Malaxis acuminata (Uma et al., 2015).

Finally, the importance of the results of this research lies in the fact that they constitute the first report on the concentration and distribution of nutrients in the organs of the orchids R. maculata, R. rossii and R. aptera developed under natural conditions, so that the information generated could be useful in conservation programs and for the agronomic management of these species.


Rinchostele rosii, R. maculata and R. aptera had nutrient concentrations in decreasing order were: N> K> Ca> P> Mg in young leaves, new leaves and mature leaves; with the exception of R. rosii, which had nutrient concentrations of N> Ca> K> Mg> P in mature leaves. In new and mature pseudobulbs the order that predominated was N> K> Ca> Mg> P and in the old ones it was K> N> Ca> Mg> P. In the roots the order that prevailed in the three species was N> Ca> K> Mg> P.

The concentrations of nutrients in mature leaves, in percentage: N (1.44 - 1.86), P (0.15 - 0.29), K (0.51 - 0.9), Ca (0.32 - 0.65) and Mg (0.11 - 0.25); in pseudobulbs N (0.55 - 0.85), P (0.07 - 0.14), K (0.47 - 0.74), Ca (0.42 - 0.73) and Mg (0.12 - 0.22); and in root N (0.76 - 1.15), P (0.07 - 0.08), K (0.18 - 0.25), Ca (0.25 - 0.37) and Mg (0.09 - 0.13). Finally, the nutrient concentrations found in mature leaves could serve as reference values for nutritional diagnosis purposes of the three species reported; likewise, these results could be useful in conservation programs and for the agronomic management of R. rosii, R. maculata and R. aptera.

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Received: May 2018; Accepted: June 2018

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