Friday, January 8, 2010

Orchids of the Cameron Highlands

On Jan. 4 my dad and I went looking for a guide to take us through the rain forest and teach us about the plants in it. We really lucked out and found this guy Madi who is an orchid expert. He's been living in the Cameron Highlands all 55 years of his life and knows a ton about orchids as well as some of the other plants. The biodiversity is enormous, even compared to Canada. There are just so many species, all growing on top of each other.

We started our tour in a little botanical garden near our hotel. Madi pointed out this flower, which apparently we were really lucky to see.

I always saw orchids as a mysterious and beautiful plant that had an enormous number of varieties. But I never really knew anything about them. They have such a patient majesty about them. No wonder people get so 'obsessed' with them.

Orchids can spread by spores - like mushrooms and ferns. They release a great number of these tiny little seeds which drift in the wind. They also spread by vegetative reproduction - they are like a vine and a piece of the vine can drop off, starting a new plant where it lands. They also sprout "suckers" which can be cut and planted in a log. They seem to have a symbiotic relationship with moss, so when planting an epiphitic orchid you have to plant it with moss on the log.

After the botanical garden we moved into the wild forest. There are orchids everywhere! Mostly they don't have flowers and I wouldn't have noticed them if Madi hadn't showed us.

They have this fascinating habit of making bulbs to store nutrients. Here you can see a bulb just hanging off the main vine part. Sometimes these bulbs sprout leaves and flowers, other times the leaves and flowers come directly from the vine. I found orchids to be oddly flexible that way. One plant can apparently sprout leaves or flowers from more than one place! Most plants have a much more strictly defined growth pattern.

Here are some orchids that Madi has taken from the jungle in order to get them to flower and potentially catalogue them. He has attached them to a piece of wood, together with some moss. At first they are held on with wire, later they attach themselves. These orchids don't even have any leaves at the moment, just bulbs and roots! Orchids thrive in 30% sunlight, so that's what the green stuff is in the background; to provide shade.

Many orchids are epiphytes: they don't grow in soil, but rather on top of old logs. The roots are very exposed to the air which is totally odd. These type of orchids will die if you try to shove them into a pot.

So why are people so obsessed with orchid flowers? There are an estimated 30 000 types of orchids, about 10 000 are currently 'known'. The only way definitively to tell the species of an orchid is by the flower.

Sometimes it takes years for orchids to flower! Here is an orchid for which Madi has been waiting 5 years to see the flower. It flowered the very day we called him for a tour and we were so lucky to be able to come and see it! Madi thinks it is a new species.

We also saw tons of other things in the rainforest. Madi pointed out the largest fern species in the world. Here is my dad, standing next to Madi, holding onto the stem of the fern.

Madi pointed out a cinnamon tree with a branch that someone had previously cut off, so I took some cinnamon home! We walked by tons of wild bananas too.

We also saw this plant called Amorphophallus aff. bufo. Before Madi documented it in the Cameron Highlands this plant had not been seen by botanists for 100 years! It flowers only every 5 years and its flower smells like rotting meat!

More pretty orchid photos:

A "lady slipper" orchid.

At the end of our tour through this little piece of Jungle Madi told us that the are area was going to be destroyed! It is condemned to "development" :-(.

1 comment:

  1. Hi
    I would like to see a photo of the amorphophallus aff. bufo