16 February, 2010

For the love of orchids

I am always fascinated by orchids. When in Kuching a perfect place to start admiring orchids is the flower market at Satok that runs from Saturday till Sunday. At the flower market one can be easily overwhelmed by the many varieties of orchids sold by the commercial nursery owners when they gather weekly to display their latest collections. Below are a sampling of the hundreds of varieties available.
Orchids at Satok Sunday Market

Sarawak is still largely covered by tropical rainforests and by some account have about 300 species of wild orchids. They come from many habitats like limestone forest, kerangas forest, mangrove forest, sub-montane/mossy forest, roadside open spaces, lowland forest, secondary forest or gardens and peat swamp forests. The orchids that are of special interest in Sarawak are many. The Phalaenopsis violacea is an epiphytic orchid that can only be found on Borneo island after having been discovered in 1859. It combines beauty with fragrance. Yet another highly regarded rarity is the slipper orchid called Paphiopedium sanderianum which can only be found in the limestone hills of Gunung Mulu National Park, a world heritage site. Its flowers have two wavy drooping petals that reach more than three feet in length. One of my favourite native species is the Pigeon Orchid that can be found on many old trees along Sarawak town roads especially on rain trees ( Samanea saman) or the tall and shady Angsana trees ( Pterocarpus indicus) ( see inset above)
A common terrestrial orchid native to Sarawak - Spathoglottis plicata, thrives in open sun.
Being a lover of orchids but not in any way a grower, I find that those who excel in cultivating orchids are naturally gifted in the art and science of tendering these very demanding plants. As for me the many trips that I've done on the Pan Borneo Highway has always been an orchid journey of sort. This is because all along the highway, on both sides of the road one can see endless rows of bamboo orchids ( Arundina graminifolia) growing in clusters with slender stems and forever producing a succession of rosy mauve flowers opening one or two at a time. They are so prevalent that they appear as natural landscaping for miles on end.
The Bamboo Orchid ( Arundina graminifolia) growing wild along Pan Borneo Highway
Can one be hooked on orchids? Said one commercial orchid grower, Joe Kunisch; "You can get off alcohol, drugs, women, food, and cars, but once you're hooked on orchids, you're finished. You never get off orchids....never".
A thing of beauty is a joy forever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health and quiet breathing.
(John Keats)

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