Bhutanthera albovirens Renz.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 5 to 7 cm in height. Tuber solitary, ovate, 1 to 1.2 cm long and less than 1 cm in cross section, with 2 to 3 fleshy stout around 2 to 3 cm long roots and a few fibrous roots attached to it. Stem cylindrical, fleshy and more than half the length of the whole plant, its base with two long clasping oblong sheaths with the upper one with wide mouth, both 1 to 1.4 cm long. Leaf two arising from the apex of the stem, sub-opposite, lanceolate to ovate – closer to the latter, sessile, narrowing towards its base to a clasping base, 2.7 to 4.5 cm long and 1.4 to 1.7 cm wide. Flower solitary arising from the apex of a narrow cylindrical and ribbed scape shorter than the stem.

The Flower

Flower around 2.5 cm across. Sepals un-equal, ovate, margins towards the apex slightly curved up to form a minutely keeled apex. Dorsal larger than the lateral sepals, erect, 1.2 to 1.5 cm long and less than 0.7 to 0.8 cm wide. Lateral sepals shorter and narrow than the dorsal, spreading. Petals erect, slightly shorter than the lateral sepals, obdeltoid in outline with straight and narrowing to the base margins, base broad. Lip deeply three lobed, diverging towards its apex, lobes with straight and narrowing to the apex margins, 0.3 to 0.4 cm wide at its base and 0.2 to 0.3 cm wide at its apex, the middle one wider and longer than the side lobes. Spur small, cylindrical to globose, minutely curved towards its apex, 0.3 cm long. Floral bract very small, 0.4 to 0.5 cm long, erect, clasping and arising from the upper base of the erect and arching ovary.

Sepals shinning green with silvery white reticulations throughout, margins white. Petals pale cream to pale yellowish with a broad pale green patch running from its base to the middle. Lobes of the lip white to pale cream, mouth of the spur pale green. Floral bract green.

Note: The discovery of Bhutanthera albovirens Renz., from the region of Sikkim-Himalayas was the first of its kind. Until its discovery in 2012 in Sikkim-Himalayas, this species was believed to be endemic to Bhutan.

Bhutanthera albovirens Renz.
Bhutanthera albovirens Renz.

The Pursuit

Till its discovery, this species was considered endemic to Bhutan and reported only a couple of times. Interestingly, I was totally unaware about such a species. Later on during my research on the species I found out that a Japanese botanist photographed the species from the high hills of Bhutan and that is the only photographic evidence of the species till the time I found it.

It was my first Alpine flower hunt season and I was really happy to have succeeded in locating more than 55 alpine orchid species. Many of those species were rediscoveries after they found mention in the monumental work of Sir. George King and Robert Pantling 120 years back. In the last month of the flowering season, I was concentrating on altitudes above 14000 ft. The blooming pattern of flowers in the Himalayas is very interesting; it starts from the lower altitudes by the early summer and moves higher and higher. By the last of the season it reaches the highest meadows, which shares border with the permanent snow line.

As most of the species I was looking for were discovered I was in a relaxed mood in those days. Still kept my routine field study intact looking for more species. In the Himalayas every other day brings surprises with many new finds, hence I was hopeful of something new.

I was on a high mountain on that day; I searched that location many times during several of my previous visits. Around half the height of the mountain there were large rocks, which were full of moss cover and with many small plants growing on it. Every time when I visited that area I always spent considerable time observing those small plants on those rocks with eagerness. On that day too, I spent considerable time studying many plants from there. As I was about to move out to the higher side, my attention was drawn towards a small plant with a solitary flower. On close observation I found that there were four plants growing close to each other with two of them in flower. As the plants where on the lower side of the rock with many thorny bushes around, it was very difficult to reach it. Slowly I removed those thorny bushes and bend down to have a closer look. With its three lobed lips I instantly identified it as a species from the genus Bhutanthera. I was really overjoyed with its find, as I know there are no reports of any other Bhutanthera species other than the one reported earlier. However, to be frank, I was not able to identify the species at that moment. As it was only a couple of plants in bloom I took absolute care to document the plants and its flower without even disturbing its habitat. At those altitudes with high winds and thorny bushes around, it was very difficult to produce the desired documentary results I was in need. With my experience of working on those altitudes coming handy, I managed to produce some amazing documentary results of the species, but with great difficulty.

I still remember that evening like yesterday, the excitement it created after seeing those documentary evidence on my laptop. Then it took a couple of days of research to confirm its identity properly with help from abroad. The confirmation of the species identity was one more feather to my cap, as this is the first time the species was reported outside Bhutan.

Reference:

Bhutanthera albovirens Renz., is a new report to the region. This species was not reported from the region till date and was believed to be endemic to Bhutan only.

Neottia alternifolia (King & Pantl.) Szlach.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 8 to 17 cm in height, with 4 to 5 long naked roots from its base. Stem more than half the height of the plant, naked, ribbed, fleshy, with a long tubular bract at its base. Leaf two arising around the apex of the stem, alternate, oval, sessile, base narrowed to a short tubular sheath, 1.5 to 2.5 cm long and less than 2 cm in width, three nerved and leathery. Flower two, in a long puberulous peduncle; its raceme very short, flowers arranged close together at its apex.

The Flower

Flower small, 1. 5 cm in cross-section. Sepals unequal, oblong to linear; dorsal shorter than the lateral, diagonally arching; lateral spreading, with its apex curving ahead. Petals as long as the sepals, oblong, spreading. Sepals and petals single nerved. Lip longer than the sepals and petals, obcordate with broad base, with a very minute canaliculate running down to its middle from its base. Floral bract ovate, erect, much smaller than the pedicel of the erect ovary and arising from the lower base of it.

Sepals, petals and lip pale green with its nerve and canaliculated of a darker shade. Floral bract green.

Neottia alternifolia (King & Pantl.) Szlach.
Neottia alternifolia (King & Pantl.) Szlach.

The Pursuit

Discovered and described by King and Pantling in their monumental work, “The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas” more than 120 years ago. However, till date no researchers or botanists managed to locate the plant from its natural habitats and produce documentary evidence. For more than a century the only reference of the species is a drawing from the work of King and Pantling. Even though the authors mentioned its altitude as well as the location, none of the modern age researchers were able to locate it.

During my alpine orchid pursuit days, I was in the area from where King and Pantling located it. The location is a narrow valley with towering mountains on both sides and a river running in between. Both of the sides were heavily forested and with thick undergrowth. The monsoon showers made the forest floor thickly covered with various shrubs and plants. It was apparently impossible to locate anything of the size of this species. As I was aware of its presence from the referral book, I took special attention to conduct more surveys in those areas with a hope that I would be able to locate the species.

Everyday the monsoon was causing too much havoc and the survey was limited to the time when there were no rains. Moreover, I never studied this genus hence my knowledge about its habitat was limited. As it was my first alpine assignment, I had already decided to survey each and every corner of the region and was working according to plan.

Several areas of the dense forests were surveyed. Even though I found many other species this species was not traceable. It is a common phenomenon that many of the small plants described more than a century ago were never spotted again and many are believed to be extinct. I also thought the same about this species.

On one of those days in the second month of my alpine work, heavy rains stopped my survey and I was returning to my camp along the main road. As I was walking through a narrow turn with high hills on both sides, my instinct made me concentrate on the left side of the road. The side was as high as 40 ft and with many creepers and climbers tangled up together. My attention went to an open area, where the rock was white in texture. Suddenly I spotted a slender plant with alternate leaves. The alternate leaf arrangements were easily recognizable to me even from the road. But, as the plants were so small that I was not able to identify it from that distance. On that day I was missing my binoculars for a closer look. Then next to it I spotted another plant of the same composition but small in height. My curiosity gone much higher and I decided to climb the sidewall that was almost perpendicular. But with many strong climbers hanging down, climbing that wall was not a difficult matter. After leaving my backpack on the road I slowly climbed up the wall with the help of those tangled climbers. The plants were growing about 18 ft high. As I was moving up, I found two more plants of this species. Those two were the ones I was able to observe from close quarters and I immediately recognized the species. Tangling on the climbers about 15 ft high on a rock wall and confirming the find of such a rare plant on Earth will make any explorer so exited. Those moments cannot be described in words; it should be experienced. I climbed down swiftly to cross check the findings with the referral drawing and to make sure my find it correct.

It took another 15 to 20 minutes to control my breath and the anxiety. Then I started thinking about documenting the plant. Climbing up again with cameras and accessories was not so easy. If the twigs break there is a possibility of my expensive equipment getting damaged made me think about some other methods. Finally I decided to make a ladder to climb up to those plants. With the help of some fallen tree trunks I made a make shift ladder and reached the plants. While near to those first two finds, I found one more plant thus making the total finds to five, that too all in flowers. But the only difference was that all the plants were with only two flowers, a major contradiction to the 7 to 9 flowers on each plant as described by the authors. Sitting on the top step of the ladder and tied to many twigs of those climbers I made all requisite notes and drawings and also made the first ever photograph of this species. It was history in making as there I stood on top of that ladder. The first ever photograph of the species, which will enable the scientific fraternity across the globe to study and work on the species, was thus created. Also, the evidence will make us thing about the presence of many unseen plants from the region. I feel the theory of extinction should be changed to a way that “no species went extinct, they are just not recorded as no one ventured to their habitats”.

Reference:

King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Listera alternifolia King and Pantling. Pg. no. 257.

Androcorys gracilis (King &Pantl.) Schltr.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Tuber small, globular to ovoid, with a stout long naked root and many hairy roots arising from it. Whole plant 12 to 20 cm in height. Stem less than half the whole length of the plant, stout, cylindrical, with a long tubular sheath at its base. Leaf solitary, elliptic to oblong, sub-acute, veined, narrowing at its base to a short tubular sheath. Flower many, laxly arranged in a spike.

The Flower

Flower small, about 1.2 to 1.5 cm in length, with the shape of slender capsule. Sepals unequal; dorsal less than half the size the lateral, ovate, arching diagonally over the petals, veined; dorsal deflexed, elliptic, arranged behind the lip and longer than it, veined. Petals longer than the dorsal sepals, oblong, curved forward and forming a hood over the column. Lip very narrow, lanceolate with broad base. Floral bract small, about one third of the ovary, lanceolate, erect, arising from the lower base of the slightly twisted and erect ovary.

Sepals, petals are shades of green. Lip yellowish green. Floral bract pale green.

Androcorys gracilis (King & Pantl.) Schltr.
Androcorys gracilis (King & Pantl.) Schltr.

 The Pursuit

The only reference of this species is in the form of a drawing of Pantling published in his monumental work. The species is believed to be native of Sikkim in the Eastern Himalayas and South Central China in the Upper Himalayas. It is a pity to note that researchers crisscross the Himalayas to locate the mythical yetis, but very few concentrate on its already recorded other living creatures including its flora. After the British era, many Indian scientists and premium institution’s never produced any results even after spending huge public funds in the field of research. Very poor documentation of many reported species is an eye-opener to the miss use of public funds in the name of research.

During my days in the alpine hills, I was working overtime to locate this species. I was enthusiastic about this species and was eager to produce a photograph, which will be of reference for next generation scientists. I was concentrating on open areas and slope around 11,000 ft, which King and Pantling mentioned as its habitat. However, there was no trace of this species. As the summer days progressed, I moved to higher pastures looking for other species.

In the mid of summer, I was working in an area much higher than the previous search location. The area was open and windy. Either the winds will obstruct walking or will push you down. The entire region was that of Rhododendron population, mostly that of Rhododendron nivale Hook.f. That is a small shrub and will not stand as an obstacle to the speedy winds across the valley. Many a times I stumbled with my heavy and expensive equipment. Hence, I used to crawl down on the ground doing survey. In that way it was not possible to cover much area, also my elbows and knees were bruised and painful. Come what may; I was determined to cover that whole valley on my knees. Even though I covered only small areas each day, I was sure I covered it perfectly by surveying each and every corner. As I was surveying the forest floor under a few Rhododendron plants, I found three slender plants with solitary leaves. The single stemmed plant was so narrow; it was very difficult even to recognize it as a plant. It resembled a fallen twig. My curiosity made me conduct a close observation. Even after a close study I was not able to recognize it, not to mention about its identity. The Rhododendron plants are with strong branches closely arranged and entangled with each other to form a strong network of bushes. Hence, reaching those small three slender stemmed plants was not so easy. The only option was to clear a few branches of those Rhododendrons and go closer near to the slender plants. The plants were so slender, I was forced to pull out my magnifying glasses for a closer look. Oh My God! It was this species, a species never seen or documented for over a century. As it was growing inside those strongly entangled twigs it was very difficult to study and document it. I searched the whole area to find one more in an open area, so that I will be comfortable in documenting it. But, not a single specimen was located from that region or from anywhere till now. As this species was very rare, I decided not to disturb its habitat and spend extra time and care to study and document it there and then.

On that evening there was no pain on my elbows or knees due to this exciting rediscovery. I still remember that I never even asked for the comforting hot water bag, which I used to put on my knees everyday after those extreme pursuits.

Reference:

King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Herminium gracile King and Pantling. Pg. no. 334.

Herminium monorchis (L.) R.Br.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Tuber small, globular to ovoid, with few stout long naked roots arising from the base of the stem. Whole plant 8 to 12 cm in height. Stem angled or ribbed, almost two third of the plant height, with a long tubular sheath at its base a long narrow lanceolate bract at its apex. Leaf two, closely arranged juts above the base of the stem, elliptic to lanceolate, narrowed at its base to a long tubular sheath, veined, diagonally erect, 3 to 5 cm long and 1.5 cm in width. Flower many, densely arranged in a short spike.

The Flower

Flower small, less than 1 cm across, pendulous. Sepals unequal, dorsal ovate with broad base, smaller than the lateral pair, diagonally erect; lateral lanceolate, acute, pointing forward.Petalslanceolate, longer than the sepals, acute. Lip as long as the petals or slightly longer than it, lanceolate, acute, fleshy and pointing downwards. Floral bract small, narrow, erect, lanceolate, almost half the size and arising from the lower base of the erect, twisted and beaked ovary.

Sepals and floral bract pale green. Petals and lip yellowish green.

Herminium monorchis (L.) R.Br.
Herminium monorchis (L.) R.Br.

The Pursuit

There was no mention about this species in the monumental work of King and Pantling. Hence, I was not aware about its presence in the region. The species has been mentioned in another work on orchids of the region, but without any documentary evidence. Many publications with reports of various species without proper fieldwork or documentary evidence have compounded to the confusion prevailing in the study of orchids. Hence, I was very careful in finding each species from its natural habitats.

My alpine flower hunt was for continuous six months spread across a vast region from an altitude of 9000 ft to 18000 ft, thus covering most of the alpine areas. The plan of living there for six continuous months helped in bringing out many evidences of several plants, which were never been document earlier. Moreover, I was able to physically inspect and study several areas where no humans had ever ventured.

In the third month of the alpine hunt, I was working relatively at higher altitudes, above 13,000 ft. At those heights the rains clear off for bright sunny days. The floors of the forests and slopes will be totally covered with several hundred species of plants. Most of the alpine plants are small herbs except the Rhododendrons, which can grow up to 3 to 4 ft in height. Looking for small herbs, less than 15 cm in height, from a vast open area fully covered with thousands of species is like searching for a needle from a haystack. I generally concentrate on open patches and streamside to study the pattern of vegetation. After understanding the habitat I look for specific species. This method of pursuit was comparatively easier than searching the whole area for a particular species. By the mid of that month, I found 12 small orchid plants next to a small stream. The plants were very small with a pair of leaves and a small spike. Even though I was not able to identify the species, it was understood that the flowers would bloom in another 15 to 20 days. In the next two weeks, I visited the location many times to make sure all the plants were intact. Finally it bloomed and I was able to identify the plants as this species.

After the identification I surveyed other areas for this species, especially those regions similar in habitat. From several locations I found more than 200 specimens of this species in that month itself. It is something to wonder why King and Pantling were not able to locate a plant, which is in abundance? They were able to describe with illustration of many species which were even considered rare to very rare during their times.

Reference:

There is no reference of this species in the The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas by Sir. George King and Robert Pantling (1898).

Androcorys josephi Rchb.f.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 10 to 16 cm in height. Tuber globular, small, two or three long roots arising from the base of the stem. Stem cylindrical, more than half the height of the plant, with a loose tubular sheath at its base and a narrow long, linear, erect bract around its apex. Leaf two or three, unequal, closely arranged and arising a little above the base sheath, elliptic, veined, narrowed at the base to a long tubular sheath, 3 to 5 cm long and around 1.5 cm in width. Flower many, arranged closely in a ribbed spike shorter than its stem.

 The Flower

Flower 1.5 cm across. Sepals unequal; dorsal ovate with broad base, diagonally erect; lateral pair longer than the dorsal, linear to oblong, spreading, with margins curved up, both one veined. Petals longer than the sepals, lanceolate, diagonally erect and it apex bend backwards. Lip as long as the lateral sepal, pointing downward, broadly ovate, with small-clawed side lobes. Floral bract erect and less than one third the size of the erect ovary, lanceolate, and arising from the lower base of the ovary.

Sepals pale green with a dark broad vein along its middle. Petals and lip greenish yellow. Floral bract pale green.

Androcorys josephi Rchb.f
Androcorys josephi Rchb.f.

The Pursuit

I found many documented evidences of this species from various publications. Hence, I was of the opinion that I will be able to find out this species without much difficulty. But my calculations’ went totally wrong, as I was not able to locate the species in the first year of my alpine work.

In the second year, I concentrated on areas where I had seldom visited the previous year. I worked very well and was able to locate many new species as well as new habitats of species I found earlier. Then too this species remained elusive. The mention of its blooming months in the referral work was June/July. Hence, I made my survey plans for this species by the mid of May on various locations, mainly on open slopes.

Every day it rained heavily on those altitudes and travel and survey was very hard. However, I kept a practice to continue with my survey uninterrupted every day irrespective of rains or sunshine. Most of the days we received heavy showers and I moved around in raincoats. The raincoat got a hood, which covers the whole head. Even though it helps in keeping my body dry, the survey was not comfortable as the hood disturbs proper visibility especially to the sides. Hence, my view was concentrated on to the center only. The narrow view coupled with heavy rains might have taken many species out of my sight. Finally, on a heavy raining day, as it was destined for me, I found this species from a bushy area. There were a total of seven plants, with most of the flowers in bloom as well as withered.

The find was also interesting. As I was searching an open area, there was a small animal, almost the size of a rat, which swiftly moved across the plains. As the visibility was poor I was not able to identify the animal and ran behind it to have a closer look. It ran inside those bushes and hid inside. I knew after some time it will surely come out and I would be able to identify it. As I was waiting there silently, I spotted a few ground orchids. As the animal took its own time, my attention moved to those orchids. On a closer look I was surprised to identify those small plants I found was that of this species. This species find made me abandon the wait for the small creature and rushed to those plants. It was such a joyous moment to see the plants considered common but which eluded me.

It was raining heavily and the flowers were also not so fresh. With much difficulty in those windy and raining conditions I made drawings and documented the plants. But, for reasons I cannot explain, I was not satisfied with those documentary results. However, even after two more seasons of work in the alpine region, this “common” plant remained elusive for me. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the same location again in my later years. If had visited its habitat again I would have got the flowers fresh and also would able to document them on a sunny day!!!

Reference:

King, G. &Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Herminium josephi Reichb. Pg. no. 335 – 336.

Herminium macrophyllum (D.Don) Dandy.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 12 to 17 cm in height. Tuber two, small ovoid to globular with many fine hairs arising from it, also with two or three long stout cylindrical roots arising from the base of the stem. Stem more than half in length of that of the whole plant, its base with one or two short tubular sheaths. Leaf two, arising close together, unequal, oblong to elliptic, narrowing to a short tubular sheath, 3 to 7 cm long and 1 to 2 cm in width. The portion between the stem and the spike is with a single linear, erect bract of less than 1 cm long. Flower many, laxly arranged on a minutely ribbed cylindrical spike.

The Flower

Flower around 2 cm across, diagonally drooping. Sepals unequal; dorsal broadly ovate, erect, shorter but wider than the laterals sepals; laterals sepals oblanceolate, with its apex margins curved up, spreading, three veined; margins of sepals minutely irregular. Petals longer than the sepals, erect, oblanceolate, with its inner margins curving to its apex to form a semi-sickle shape. Lip pointing downwards, longer than the sepals and petals, triangularly lanceolate, its apex margins minutely irregular and with a very Floral bract ovate, less than one third and arising from the lower base of the beaked ovary.

Sepal green. Petal and lip yellowish green. The canaliculate and its margins of the lip dark green. Floral green.

Herminium macrophyllum (D.Don) Dandy.
Herminium macrophyllum (D.Don) Dandy.

The Pursuit

Another rare orchid species of the high alpines, which went without any documentary evidences till date. It is surprising to note that even after many governmental agencies and other organisations working in the region spent huge amounts on research but without any positive results.

This species was also at the top of my “to be found” list when I first set out to North Sikkim’s alpine slopes. Even after several weeks of survey this species remained untraced. Even though King and Pantling described this species as “common” in their text, the species was not found. I came to the conclusion that the toll of climatic changes and natural calamities in the last 125 years made the axe fall on this species. One day I found that a new hanging bridge is being made across a small but deep stream. The reasons for making this bridge by spending lakhs of rupees remained a mystery as the area across the river was devoid of any hamlets or any open pastures used for grazing cattle. The area was of high mountains and thick forests. Around five workers were involved in the work and they were living there by constructing a small make shift camp house. I befriended them, with the sole intention to take one of them along with me when I venture deep into that region. A young man was kind enough to assist me whenever I visited that side. To make a rapport with them, every time I visited them I used to carry some fresh vegetables from the mainland, so that they can cook some tasty food. The young man who accompanied me every time had college education and was keen on flora and fauna. During our first three visits I taught him how an orchid plant looks like and how its flowers are. As he was keen to learn he started locating orchids and taking me to various location. Once in a week I a made trip with him to that location, however nothing new was found. All the species we located were all documented earlier from other habitats.

On a Wednesday evening, I was informed by a truck driver who came from the high hills that the boy who accompanies me had asked me to come to their location the very next day. Even though my schedule for the next day was for a different route, I decided to attend his call. I reached there by 8:30 AM, thanks to a lift by the Army convoy. He was waiting for me, from his facial expression itself I understood he found something very interesting for me. We made the arduous climb across the bridge and climbed up the dense forest. He took me to a very deep forest and shown me this species, a total of 13 of them. Most of the flowers were in full bloom and ready to be studied. The next 4 hours went with at most silence, we both were working in tandem, making drawings, arranging flashes and doing documentation. I was so happy the way people are helping me in finding each species. He was also so proud that he also part of rewriting history.

As I was saying goodbye to him on the road, instead of accepting my token of appreciation he requested that he would be happy to be gifted with an autographed copy of my publication.

Reference:

King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Herminium congestum Lindl., Pg. no. 335.

Platanthera stenantha (Hook.f.) Soó.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 15 to 30 cm in height. With many long, stout and cylindrical roots arising from the base of the stem, no tubers. Stem stout with a small tubular sheath at its base. Leaf four, unequal with the lower most one the largest and diminishing in size upwards, elliptic, narrowed to a long sheathing base, 2 to 8 cm long and 0.7 to 3.5 cm in width. The portion above the uppermost leaf and the spike is with two small unequal lanceolate bracts. Spike shorter than the length of the stem. Flower many, laxly arranged.

The Flower

Flower large, about 3 cm across facing diagonally downwards. Sepals unequal; dorsal concave, shorter than the lateral sepals, diagonally erect; lateral lanceolate, with its apex margins on the lower side much curved to a form a sickle shape, spreading and bend backwards. Petals linear to lanceolate, diagonally erect, longer and arranged parallel to the sides of the dorsal sepal, one nerved. Lip lanceolate longer than the sepals and petals, pointing downwards. Spur straight, longer than the ovary, cylindrical with its broader apex and slightly curved. Floral bracts lanceolate, longer than the ovary, decurved to spreading, diminishing in length to towards the apex of the spike, arising from the lower base of the twisted and curved ovary.

Sepals pale green, petals and lip pale yellow, spur pale green and translucent. The outer margins to the entrance of the spur are bright orange. Floral bract green.

Platanthera stenantha (Hook.f.) Soó.
Platanthera stenantha (Hook.f.) Soó.

The Pursuit

This is one of the undocumented species from the region. As usual many publications came out with its descriptions and drawings, a virtual “cut and paste” theory. The drawings of this species by Pantling got my attention particularly its long lip. In the alpine region I trekked extra miles in pursuit for this particular species than any other species. However, for many weeks it remained elusive.

On a sunny day, we were on a trek to the hilltop through a motorable road. As that road was made for vehicular transport it got long curves and walking all the way up was time consuming. Hence, on the way uphill we were by passing many turnings by taking shortcuts through the adjoining forests. On the third short cut one of the villager who was accompanying me found a single plant of this species accidentally. From the pattern of its leaves I identified the plant. However, the buds were just emerging and on close observation it was understood that they would open after a couple of weeks only. I marked the location and set a date after 12 days to visit the location again. My curiosity about its flowers made me visit the location on the 11th day. By then, some wild animals also took that short cut root and destroyed the plant. I was really saddened to see the crushed and dried state of the plant. In the wild, these types of incidents will happen; after all we were in their territory!!!

We searched the whole area in the next few days in vain. After a week I was left with no company for the trek as everyone was on vacation. I was concentrating on an area, which was immensely dense forest. I over came the fear of being alone and worked every day. On one afternoon, I felt the presence of some wildlife inside the forest and decided to move down hill immediately. As I was swiftly descending down hill I found two plants of this species underneath a thick Rhododendron tree. The thick trunk of the tree was wide enough to hide it from me. But, my sharp eyes found those plants. As I was very familiar with the Pantling’s drawings about the species, I immediately identified it. Then I was left with a dilemma, whether to study and document it then and there or come again the next day. The previous experience with the same species made me open my backpack and pull out my notebook and camera. I was concentrating for the next 15 to 30 minutes totally on the plants and I was oblivious about the wildlife movement around. As I was documenting the flowers again I noticed some movement some 10 m away from me. It was two grown bears, a mother and a calf. I understood the danger and swiftly moved to hide behind a tree. As the wind was towards me they were not able to find my location. After 15 minutes of tense moments both the bears walked back to the deep regions of the woods. I continued with my work, giving more attention on the bears than the plant. After documenting it and taking notes as fast as I could I too ran down to safety. After reaching down hill on the road, I opened my backpack to arrange the equipment and found out that I left one of my flashes at the location. As rains were common in those heights everyday, I know the evening rains will damage the flash, if I left it there. Hence, I made another tedious and tense climb again to collect the flash unit. By God’s grace there was no trace of those bears then.

Reference:

King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Habenaria stenantha Hook., Page no: 314.

Platanthera sikkimensis (Hook.f.) Kraenzl.

The Plant

Grows on moss covered dead tree trunks. Whole plant 15 to 25 cm in height. Tubers cylindrical, about 2 to 3 cm long, with one or two stout roots arising from the base of the stem. Stem less than half in length of the whole plant, stout with one or two tubular sheaths at its base. Leaf two, unequal, the lower one the largest, elliptic, acute, veined, base narrowed to a short tubular sheath, diagonally erect. Flower many, arranged laxly on a long spike.

The Flower

Flower large, 3 to 4 cm across. Sepals unequal; dorsal triangular to ovate, with broad base and acute apex, smaller than the lateral sepals, three veined, erect; lateral linear to oblong, twice as long as the dorsal, spreading initially, then twisting and curving. Petals longer than the dorsal sepal but smaller than the lateral; lanceolate with broad base and narrowing to its apex, acute, curving back. Lip longer than all other flower parts except its spur, lanceolate, rigid, pointing downwards. Spur cylindrical, longer than the ovary, curved forward at its apex. Floral bract longer than the short beaked and twisted ovary, diminishing in length to the apex of the spike, arising from the lower portion of the ovary.

Whole flower pale yellowish green with its spur of a much paler shade. Floral bract green.

Platanthera sikkimensis (Hook.f.) Kraenzl.
Platanthera sikkimensis (Hook.f.) Kraenzl.

The Pursuit

In the monumental work of King and Pantling, there was no mention of any Habenaria (at that time this species was with genus Habenaria) growing on moss covered fallen tree trunks. As I followed their text, I never expected anything like that from the region. By accident I spotted few small plants growing on a moss covered fallen tree trunk deep inside a forested area. The plants were so small to identify, but they got all the features of an orchid species. I decided to mark the area and visit it after around 10 days. As I was returning from those deep-forested area, I slipped over a rock, injuring my left shoulder and knee and also damaging my flash, which I was carrying in my backpack. After doing first aid there, I returned to the camp limping.

On the 12th day, accompanied by the forest official I again visited the location to study those plants. The plants attained and were with few small buds. That growth was enough to identify the species. I was really happy to understand its various characteristics. I understood after a close study of the plant that it would take another 10 to 12 days for the buds to be in bloom. While we were returning, I had another fall from the same rock of the previous trip. This time even though my camera accessories were safe I got few cuts on my left arm, chest and knees. My friend was kind enough to help me and to clean the wounds. While he was doing first aid I explained to him the incident happened at the same location on my previous visit. He then came up with several fictitious stories and theories, to explain what I had experienced. He shared a short story of a person thrown into a gorge recently very much near by. Even though I did not totally agree with him I accepted the fact that places in the Himalayas are known for strange experience. Once again me I returned home with a limping leg.

On the proposed day of our next visit, I was left with no option other than to trek all alone as my friend was not available. However, some or other reasons made me abandon the trip. My friend returned only after 6 days and we proceeded to the location the very next day. To my agony, I found most of the flowers withered. I was forced to study and document those withered flowers. The lost opportunity made both of us speechless all the way back. As we approached the rock where I slipped twice, we both were cautious. The anxiety made both of us glance at each other several times. He was the first to climb up the rock and to our shock, he was thrown to the other side as if there was somebody sitting on top of the rock and pushing him down. Even though totally helpless and strength less by the incident, I was forced to jump across and help him to get back to the trek route. Even though he hasn’t got any cuts, he was quite frightened. We gathered all our strength to walk out of that area at the quickest possible way we could. Till the end of that season we never ventured to visit that location again.

Like the mystery of the three falls we experienced together, the mystery of this species remains. I never encountered this species till date.

Reference:

King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Habenaria sikkimensis Hook. Page no: 317.

Platanthera nematocaulon (Hook.f.) Kraenzl.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 12 to 20 cm in height. Tuber small, oblong with few stout short roots arising from the base of the stem (in some cases the bud for the subsequent year arising from the tuber). Stem very slender, long, almost two third of the plant height; with a single tubular, short sheath at its base. Leaf solitary, 2 to 4 cm above the base of the stem, elliptic, and narrowing into a short sheath at its base, 1.5 to 3 cm in length and about 1.5 cm in width. The stem above the leaf is with 3 to 4 lanceolate bracts arranged laxly and diminishing in size to the spike. Flower many in a spike.

The Flower

Flowers small, around 1.2 cm across. Sepals unequal; dorsal ovate, smaller than the lateral, erect; lateral oblong, arranged forward and parallel to the base margins of the lip. Petals lanceolate with broad base and acute apex, longer than the sepals, spreading. Lip lanceolate, longer than the sepals and petals, decurved and with its apex pointing down. Spur very small, compressed. Floral bracts erect, lanceolate, diminishing in length towards the apex of the spike and arising from the lower base of the twisted, beaked and erect ovary.

Sepals, petals and lip are pure white. Spur pale creamy white, translucent. Floral bract green.

Platanthera nematocaulon (Hook.f.) Kraenzl.
Platanthera nematocaulon (Hook.f.) Kraenzl.

The Pursuit

This is one of the rarest of all alpine ground orchids. As it was not studied properly after the monumental publication (King, G. & Pantling, R. 1898), the scientific name of this species was confused. Many “experts” by sitting at their office desks merged this into another species thus making it “extinct” from the scientific world.

As part of my alpine survey I was in the high mountains. The work at those altitudes crosses all extremities. Everyday I was faced a new challenge from power shortage to wildlife. With help and cooperation of the people around and with the blessings of the Almighty, I crossed most of the challenges without much trouble. Moreover, I was regularly guided by a forest official who was very sincere as well as cooperative. With his help I was able to work everyday without much hassle.

On one of such flower hunt days, we decided to cut short our journey due of rains. Normally our practice was to wait for the skies to clear and continue with the work. On that day, my experienced assistant cum weather analyst was of the opinion that there will be heavy rains in the afternoon; hence we were on our way back much earlier than schedule. It was raining quite heavily and visibility was also very poor. The area was home to many bears and it was their breeding season. Hence, we always talk loudly when we pass through that region. The loud talks will always scare those bears and they move inside the forests leaving the trek routes safe for us. As we were descending a small curved path, the forest official lost his grip and slipped down the slope. My other assistant reacted quickly and jumped over him and stopped him from slipping further down. A huge tree trunk blocked their slip further down. By that time I too reacted swiftly by reaching to them and getting hold of one of them. It was more of fun than scary. All of us laughed and made jokes on each other. Usually I loose grip and always tumble even on level trek routes. When I tumble, they joke about it as the disadvantage of people from the plains. On that day the tables turned! As we were about to start our descend the forest officials spotted some unusually small flowers on a few very slender plants. He asked me to have a closer look and to I surprise it was this species – a species never caught on camera. That also seven plants with all of them in bloom. It was such a great moment of my entire orchid hunt, the rediscovery of the species, which will help further detail studies on it. As it was raining heavily we decided to come to the location the very next day for the documentary work. As I had seen wildlife or natural disasters damaging many plants and even their habitats overnight, I was on tenterhooks till the moment we were back to the location the next morning. As the species needed well-detailed documentation and study, we spent the whole day there producing many drawings and photographs. Thank God…it was a very sunny day.

Later on, exactly after 21 days, I spotted a single plant of this species again with flowers. That find was also an accidental one.

Reference:

King, G. &Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas.Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Habenaria nematocaulon Hook., Page no 316 – 317.

Bulbophyllum leopardinum (Wall.) Lindl.

The Plant

Epiphyte as well as lithophytes. Pendulous plant; leaves pointing downward. Rhizome thick, 0.5 to 0.8 cm in diameter. Pseudo-bulbs arranged parallel to the rhizome, cylindrical, narrowing towards it’s curved up apex, each one attached to the rhizome at the point of curving up of the adjacent bulb, 1.5 to 2 cm long and around 0.7 to 0.9 cm in diameter at its base, smooth, younger ones covered with sheaths which dry and disappear with time. Roots stout and long; two or three arising from the base of each bulb. Leaf solitary, attached almost at a right angle to the bulb, oblong, apex obtuse, base narrowing to a short petiole (around 1 cm or less), 4 to 6 cm long and 1.2 cm wide. Flower solitary on a long straight pedicel arising from the base of a new pseudo-bulb.

The Flower

Flower around 1.5 cm across. Sepals unequal, ovate. Dorsal diagonally erect, many nerved, apex pointed and minutely keeled Lateral slightly longer and wider than the dorsal, spreading and arching downwards, apex obtuse, rarely keeled, many nerved. Petals ovate, smaller in length and breadth than the petals, with irregular or minutely toothed margins from its base to half its whole length, many nerved. Lip shorter than the sepals and petals; decurved from its middle, its upper surface with many irregular granular dots. Floral bract two, cupular, attached along the base of the long pedicel with a little distance apart.

Sepals and petals pale green base with many scattered irregular dots of pinkish red. The upper surface of the lip pale red with its granules of a darker shade; its lower surface pale green base with irregular streaks and dots of pale pinkish red. Floral bract and pedicel pale green suffixed with dots and streaks of pale pink.

Bulbophyllum leopardinum (Wall.) Lindl.
Bulbophyllum leopardinum (Wall.) Lindl.

The Pursuit

In the monumental work of King and Pantling, the authors described this species as, “A handsome species not previously collected in Sikkim”.

The words “handsome” and “not previously collected” made me determined to find the species from the region. However, I was not able to locate the species from the regions I already surveyed. As time passed by, my eagerness for the species too faded away. While I was working in the alpine region I made my base camp was at an altitude of 9000 ft, the last village with “proper” electricity and mobile network. The local guide who worked with me in the initial days has introduced me to a dense forested area from where I was able to locate many species. Even though he was not available in the later part of my days there, I frequented that area at least once every week. The area was of dense forest and with many wild Himalayan bears. The bears roam around the forest especially before the winter visiting each and every fruit trees and also the termite dens. The bears are very aggressive and don’t spare any intruders into their territory. I was aware about this phenomenon, but my eagerness in finding more and more species from the region made me take the dangerous trips every week.

On one such day as I was descending down the hills, a beautiful sunbird drew my attention. Even though I never attended to other subjects, as it was hovering in front of a cluster of flowers I pulled out my telephoto lens for a few shots. The view from my position was bringing the white clouds as background; I moved a couple backwards on the trek route for a better shot. As the bird was still hovering over, I decided to take a few steps up a tree so that I can have an eye level shot of the hovering bird. I was up a few feet and created some beautiful shots of the bird. I was continuously clicking photos till the bird flew away. Tired by holding a 4.2 kg lens attached to the camera for more than 40 minutes I sat there on that branch itself all exhausted. After a while as I was slowly climbing down the tree, I spotted this plant on the other side of the huge trunk. Many of them clustered together. On close observation I identified the species and also spotted few emerging buds. It was indeed a very joyous moment to locate this species from that area.

It took another 16 days to see it in bloom. I will never forget that day. It was raining heavily; still I undertook that tedious climb up hill to see it in bloom. When I reached the location 3 buds were open and for the first time I got an opportunity to see this “handsome” species in bloom. My eagerness to see them enlarged on my laptop screen made me document all those three flowers on that same day itself. It was one of most tedious documentations I had ever made.

The next day was also washed out due to heavier rains. On the fourth day I made another trek to the location and documented another set of flowers in a very pleasant atmosphere.

Reference:

King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Bulbophyllum leopardinum Lindl., Page no 67/68.