Liparis perpusilla Hook.f.

The Plant

Epiphyte. Pseudo stems small, compressed, fleshy, 1.5 to 3 cm long and 0.6 cm in width, arising close together. Stem with many thick long roots arising from its base. Leaf 3 to 5 arising from the apex of the stem circling it, oblong, erect, 2 to 6 cm long and less than 1 cm in width, apex pointed, base sessile, with many of them slightly curved towards their apex. Flower small, many in an erect inflorescence arising from the apex of the stem surrounded by the leaves. Inflorescence almost twice longer than the longest leaf of each plant, cylindrical, ribbed, fleshy.

The Flower

Flower less than 1 cm across. Sepals un-equal, oblong and with blunt apex. Dorsal erect, longer than the lateral. Lateral sepals wider than the dorsal, diagonally spreading. Petals linear to oblong, longer and much narrow than the sepals, arranged pointing downwards across the pedicel. Lip deflexed at the middle, deeply grooved from base to apex, margins wavy. Floral bract erect, shorter than the long pedicelled ovary, diminishing in length towards the apex of the inflorescence, arising from the lower base of the pedicel.

Flower brownish yellow to pale yellow. Floral bract green.

Liparis perpusilla Hook.f.
Liparis perpusilla Hook.f.

The Pursuit

I had found this species for three continuous years that too from three different locations. Of the three finds, the first one was the most thrilling; hence that pursuit story is described here.

With the alpine flower hunt I moved to high mountains by the mid of June. The trip got delayed by 15 days due to inclement weather and roadblocks caused by heavy rains. As that was my first alpine pursuit, it took a few days for me to get adjusted with the climatic conditions of the high mountains. However, I was blessed to find a very good person to assist me in the field. Even though he never ventured deep inside the forests of the region, he was aware about few trek routes that crisscross the forests.

In the first week itself, he took me to a very dense forested hill, which was higher in altitude than the place of my stay. Even though the uphill climb was very tedious, the dense forest was home to many species. Hence every other day we made a visit to those forests. After a week of sunny days the weather changed to heavy to very heavy rains. It rained continuously for 6 days. I was really upset about the weather conditions. The loss of a week during those peak flowering season was going to bring a big impact in my whole strategy. Finally, on the seventh day rain clouds cleared to make way for the Sun.

We took the uphill climb again looking for more species. As we were surveying the area, rain clouds appeared from nowhere and it started raining heavily. Even though we were prepared with raincoats and rain covers for the camera bag, we both were awe struck because of the sudden and intense rain. My friend guided me through that heavy rains and we took shelter under the trunk of a fallen tree. The tree was huge and very old with its main trunk more than 2 m in diameter under which we were well protected from the heavy showers. The only discomfort was that we both had to sit on our knees.

As time went by I started scanning the tree trunk and its broken branches for any possible species. To my surprise I found a small bunch of this species right next to where I was sitting, a small bunch of around 12 to 15 plants. This species is so small; even 12 to 15 plants occupy hardly few centimeters. Its peculiar stem shape and leaf arrangements made me instantly identify the species. My friend also spotted the species but advised me to wait for the rains to stop. He was more eager than me to safe guard my camera equipments from rainwaters and also to protect both of us from getting wet. We waited for another 4 hours for the rains to stop. However, there was no sign of it stopping. As it started to get dark we descended the hills with the help of walking sticks made from the branches of that fallen tree. It took more than 3 hours to reach downhill, a distance we normally cover in 40 minutes. The next week plans also got washed away in heavy rains.

On the 9th day we were able to start surveying again and we went straight to the dense forested hill and to the fallen tree. I spotted the same bunch that we encountered on the previous rainy day. The plants were as the same, no buds or flowers. But, my inner mind said that there was a possibility to find more of the species. We both surveyed the whole fallen tree for the next 45 minutes to find seven bunches of the species, three of them in full bloom. But, the heavy showers of the previous days made the flowers water soaked and rotten. With great difficulty I selected a couple of flowers and documented them for the sake of presentation. Even though in the next weeks and months of my Alpine days I searched for this plant in various locations in vain.

In the following year I found the plant again from another location, this time with fresh and beautiful flowers and I was able to produce some great photographs of it.

Reference:

King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Liparis perpusilla Hook., Page no 33.

Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó. – the Alba variety.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 12 to 16 cm in height. Tuber solitary, attached to the dried previous year’s tuber, rotund to oval, 1.2 cm long and 0.8 cm in cross section, with many fleshy long roots arising from the fresh tuber as well as dried roots of the previous year’s tuber. Stem almost half the height of the whole plant, arising from the apex of the fresh tuber, fleshy, with three lanceolate clasping sheaths surrounding its base, sheaths 0.75 to 3 cm long. Leaf one or two, arising from the top of the sheath or high above it, lanceolate to elliptic, 2.5 to 4 cm long and 1.2 to 2 cm in width at its widest part, diagonally erect, narrowed to a long clasping petiole. Flowers two, arranged at the topmost portion of a long cylindrical and faintly ribbed terminal spike, secund.

The Flower

Flowers large, 2 to 2.5 cm across. Sepals un-equal, the dorsal half the size of the lateral, ovate, arching forward over the petals. Lateral sepals spreading, ovate, upper margin sickle shaped and with upward pointing apex, one to three nerved. Petals as long as or slightly longer than the dorsal sepal, ovate, arranged forward with curving and overlapping apex. Lip less widely than the lateral sepals, obcordate in outline, with its apex cut to form mid and side lobes; mid lobe apiculate or rounded, side lobes oblong, both with irregular apex margins. Spur as long as the ovary and the lip, cylindrical, slightly curved upwards and compressed. Floral bract lanceolate, erect, longer than the ovary but diminishing to less than half in length in the apex flower and arising from the upper base of it.

Sepals and petals white with the latter being translucent. Petals with minutely yellow or thickened white veins. Lip pure white. Spur creamy white and translucent. Floral bract pale green.

Note: The Alba variety of Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó., is a new report to the region as well to the family of orchidaceae.

Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó. – the Alba variety.
Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó. – the Alba variety.

The Pursuit

Another new find to the world of orchids. I never came across any literature on the Alba of Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó., during my initial home work on orchids of the region. Hence, never thought about looking for it.

In the third month of the Alpine flowering season I was camping around 16,000 ft in a valley far away from any human settlement. The valley, which is to be mentioned as virgin and devoid of any scientific explorations, was home to thousands of plants. Every other minute I was able to spot some or other plants, which are rare or new to my knowledge.

As there were no human settlements, the only stream of the valley hasn’t got many bridges across it but for one. The bridge – half broken, was constructed to facilitate security patrols to the International border. Even though the river is not deep, the water is so cold and the flow very rapid, thus preventing crossing over on foot. Thus surveying the region turned out to be of great difficulty, as I have to reach the point of the bridge to cross the river, which was very far away from my location of stay. However, I was determined to explore more and more areas every day by walking the extra mile.

During those the region received heavy showers, which made my pursuit tougher. Even though I was equipped with all weather tents, the strong winds along with heavy showers made the stay there very uncomfortable. The heavy winds made rainwater drip inside my tent through its air openings. Also, keeping the camera and other accessories dry and safe turned out to be very difficult. Three days passed by like that with similar climatic conditions. As we were unable to cook anything because of heavy rains and winds, my assistant and I were forced to live on dry fruits and fruit juices. Even drinking water went scarce; as we were not able to boil water, which we normally collect from the river or rain.

On the third night, winds settled down and clouds disappeared, making way to twinkling stars in the sky. At those high altitudes with clear sky, stars appear to be brighter and the sky beautiful. I was so delighted to see the clear skies and started planning for the next day’s trip.

We set out on our journey early morning – after a very good breakfast. I will always remember that morning food as we were deprived of any cooked food for previous three previous days. As we were walking to the bridge to cross the river, my assistant suggested that we should cross the river by walking across the waters. Even though we both will get wet up to chest high, he suggested that we could save more than 2 hours and do more survey in that time. The waters were freezing and were flowing at very high speed. After a brief thought and prayers I agreed with my trusted lieutenant. We both tied rope to each other around 5 feet apart, carried the waterproof camera bag and lunch pack on our heads and crossed the river with at most care. It took almost 3 minutes to cross the river of hardly 8 meters wide. The chill was unbearable, but we took each step with at most care so that none of us stumbled. I was taller than my assistant and was chest deep in water, not to mention about his apathy.

Across the river, we sat on the ground for drying our clothes. At those altitudes Sun is so bright and heavy winds make the clothes dry very fast. As we were there, my handkerchief put for drying flew away in a strong wind. My assistant chased it and got hold of it around 35 meters away. As he picked up the handkerchief, he spotted a batch of plants with pure white flowers. He, working with me for the previous six months became a very good orchid hunter and called up on me to come there and have a look.

I put few stones on the rest of the clothes so that winds will not dislocate it and went to my friend’s location. It was a total surprise to see those plants – the Alba of Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó., a variety never ever discovered. I can’t forget that first sight of those plants and the circumstances that made me discover it for the scientific world. But for those three rainy days and the crazy mind of both of us in crossing a chill cold fast flowing river, this variety would have went unnoticed at least for that flowering season.

The interesting second part of the find– documentation, turned out to be so hard in those windy and sunny conditions. We were forced to construct walls with our dress on three sides to prevent winds from oscillating the plants. Finally, after more than two hours of hard work I was able to produce documentary evidence of this variety to my satisfaction.

Reference:

The Alba variety of Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó., is a new report to the region as well to the family of orchidaceae.

Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 6 to 9 cm in height. Tuber single, 0.75 to 1 cm long and less than 0.75 cm in width at its widest part, ovate to orbicular, with 3 to 4 short and thick roots arising from it along with a few thin fibrous roots. Stem cylindrical, thick, arising from the apex of the bulb and less than one-third in height of the whole plant, covered with the petiole of the leaf and with a long clasping lanceolate sheath at its base. Leaf solitary, arising from the apex of the stem, lanceolate to oblanceolate, 2 to 3 cm long and 1.2 cm in width at its widest part, sessile, base clasping and narrowed to a long petiole. Flowers two, arranged at the topmost portion of a long cylindrical and faintly ribbed terminal spike, secund.

The Flower

Flowers large, 2.5 to 3 cm long diagonally. Sepals un-equal, the dorsal much smaller than that of the lateral. Dorsal sepal oblanceolate, diagonally erect and not touching the petals, its base margins curved forward to form a wide boat like structure. Lateral sepals larger than the dorsal, ovate, spreading and curved upwards, margins undulate and sickle shaped at its base. Petals as long as the dorsal sepal, oblong to oval, curved forward with its apex overlapping or touching each other. Lip longer and wider than the lateral sepals, obcordate in outline, with faintly cut apex forming mid and side lobes; apex of both mid and side lobes rounded. Spur as long as the ovary and the lip, cylindrical, straight, slightly compressed. Floral bract lanceolate, erect, longer than the ovary but diminishing to less than half in length in the apex flower and arising from the upper base of it.

Stem pink at its base turning dark brown towards its apex, the sheath at the base of the stem is creamy white with brown reticulations. Floral spike pale green at its base and turning dark pink towards its apex.

Sepals and petals pink to dark rose. Lip of the same shade but with irregular dark shaded patches and white markings at its base surrounding the mouth of the spur. Spur pale pink. Ovary brownish pink. Floral bract dark brown to reddish brown.

Note: Described as Orchis chusua Don. var nana King and Pantling., by the authors in the Ann. Roy. Bot. Gard. (Calcutta) 8:304 (1898), during their monumental work on orchids from the region of Sikkim-Himalayas. Later on, many authors moved the variety to Gymnadenia and Ponerorchis, with some retaining it as Orchis. According to present Kew Database on World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, the variety got merged with the Ponerorchis chusua (D.Don) Soó., which is entirely another plant growing at a different altitude and habitat with all together different characteristics. This author is of the concerned opinion, by discovering the variety again and conducting a detailed in-situ study, that the above variety should be described as Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó. (Reference: Acta Bot. Acad. Sci. Hung. 12:353 (1966)). Interestingly, the plant has its own Alba, thus making it a species by its own characteristics.

Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó.
Ponerorchis nana (King and Pantling) Soó.

The Pursuit

A plant which went undocumented for some 125 years after its first report from the region of Sikkim-Himalayas. Even after several exploration and expedition trips year after year in the region by many research scholars, the variety remained untraced, thus was merged with its species form.

I was not able to find any related documents or photographs of this variety during my pre-survey work. However, the variety was a top priority in my list of pursuit.

After a thrilling trek I succeeded to find the species form, that too by the second half of the flowering season. As the flowering season would be over soon, I was of the opinion that the variety may not be found. By the end of the third month, I was regularly accompanied by a very kindhearted forest staff. We regularly took uphill drive, courtesy Army convoy, and surveyed many new areas every day. The results were amazing with many new finds.

We planned a trip to one of the most remote valleys of the region by the end of the third month. The valley was around 27 km of trek from the place of last motorable road. The only human settlements in the valley were of security people guarding the borders. Hence, entry and research into that valley were highly restricted and needed multiple permissions from various agencies. Luckily, I was granted permission to work there. However, the other official who accompanies me was denied permission by the authorities. Thus I was left all alone to work in that remote area.

It took almost 13 hours of trek for me to reach there. Even though I encountered many plants in flower, I was left with no option than walking as fast as I could, so to reach the camp before sun set. Next day morning, I ventured into the valley, a real botanical paradise. The long trek of the previous day has made my feet swollen; it was very difficult to fit both my feet into my boots. I was forced to borrow a bigger sized boot of a soldier from the camp. Even with those swollen feet I took a trek along the only stream of the valley. Thousands of flowers were in full bloom all along the river. I felt it would be better to crawl along the ground so that I would not miss any of those flowers. Interestingly no orchids were spotted for the first three hours of my survey in that new world.

As I was returning to the camp for lunch, I met a patrol party of soldiers returning to the camp after their routine border patrol. As always, soldiers raise a lot of question regarding any outsider’s visit. While explaining to them about my nature of duty, one of them took his mobile and shown me some photographs of flowers he had captured. I was so disappointed to see no orchid photograph from his hundreds of flower photographs. In return of his generosity, I took out my Ipad to show them my photograph collections of orchids. As they were going through the photographs, I explained to them what an orchid look like. Suddenly, he opened his mobile again to show a few other photographs he stored in another folder. They were only a few, but one of them, a damaged plant was like the one I was looking for – the variety which was unheard and unseen for more than a century. However, he was not able to remember from where he found the plant.

As I was determined to locate the plant, I planned my next three in such a way that I could cover most of the areas. The first day went without any trace of the plant even after surveying many miles. The second day was disrupted with morning showers, later on, the day became clear with sunshine and I was out to another location in search of the plant. The day ended without any success, even though some other interesting Alpine flowers were spotted.

On the third day, I went to a higher open meadow, which had a small lake in the middle. As I was walking along its bank, I spotted few very small plants with pink to rose flowers growing next to some small scattered rocks. They were hardly 5 to 7 cm in height. I never thought next moment I am going to create history by re-discovering a plant not found for more than a century. I went near to the plant and on close observation I was sure it was the one I was looking for. The find made me speechless; the joy boundless. I settled down on the ground to normalize my heartbeat and breathe and produced some real great photographs of the plant.

Reference:

King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Orchis chusua Don. var nana King and Pantling., Page no 304.