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.