Pleione praecox (Sm.) D.Don.

The Plant

Mostly epiphytic, seen also growing on rocks and even as terrestrial. Pseudo-bulbs vary in shape from cylindric to barrel, surface mottled with brown and imperfectly sheathed with fibers. Leaves in pairs, 6 to 14 cm long and 2 to 4 cm in width, membranous, elliptic to oblong, many-nerved, narrowed at the base to the petiole. Leaf less during flowering. Peduncle from the base of the pseudo bulb. Flowers solitary, mostly pendulous, large, 4 to 6 cm across. Floral bract obovoid, obtuse, as long as the stalked ovary. Sepals spreading, sub-equal and lanceolate. Petals spreading, much narrower than the sepals. Lip ovate to orbicular, side lobes absent, the basal convolate round the column, the anterior concave, the mouth wide open with irregular lobulate edges, the apex slightly bifid. The disc with three laciniate lamellae. Column very long, with a short sac at the base. Pollinia clavate.

The Flower

Sepals, petals and lip are of various shades of rose to pink, sometimes darker or lighter. The disc of the lip got many dull yellow to brown spots, the lamellae is of a bright yellow shade. However, several colour forms of this species are spotted on various locations like pure white form, with only the lip with white etc.

Pleione praecox, (Sm) D. Don
Pleione praecox (Sm) D. Don.

The Pursuit

This species is locally common in the region. It blooms in plenty in its natural habitats between September and November. As it blooms after shedding its leaves, the species turns the whole trunk on which it is growing into a shade of pink. The flowers show enough colour variations from dark pink to pale pink and sometimes pure white. My intention was to find the flower with the exact descriptions made by Sir George King and Robert Pantling in their monumental work a century ago. This made the task somewhat difficult. I studied and observed several hundred specimens from various locations and host trees for several days. Finally, zeroed on a particular tree with hundreds of flowers. The tree was of 70 to 80 ft in height with with around 8 ft diameter trunk and huge branches. The flowers which I wanted to document were at a height of around 18 ft from the ground on the main trunk. In the absence of a ladder, I always uses a rope circled around the trunk to climb trees. With this tree that was impossible, as it will destroy many flowers on its trunk. The only option was to climb up another tree near to it and move across its branches to the top of this tree and winch down using a long rope. The cold winds and leafy moss covered branches will not make such movements and manoeuvring easy at staggering heights in deep forests. Somehow, I managed it with the help of my assistant and hung down from the branch with the help of a rope at 20 feet high from the ground and made this wonderful photograph of its flowers – with all the characteristics matching the text of King and Pantling.