Calanthe trulliformis King and Pantling – A very rare species native to Sikkim and Darjeeling district, and believed to be of Eastern Nepal. The species was described more than 115 years ago by King and Pantling in their monumental work. However, till the work of this author in the region, the species was devoid of any photographic evidence. The author during his study was able to rediscover the species from Sikkim as well as from the district of Darjeeling (West Bengal) and produce the only currently available photographic evidence of the species. The book, TERRESTRIAL ORCHIDS, presents the species in bloom, with its characteristics and habitat described in great detail and dimension.
Terrestrial. Pseudo-bulbs very small, oblong to cylindrical, less than 1.5 cm long, with many stout long roots. Pseudo-stem short, about 2 cm long. Leaves 4 to 5, narrow, linear- lanceolate, acute, erect and arching diagonally, sessile, distinctly veined, 7 to 12 cm long and 1.5 to 2 cm in width. Flowers in a peduncle longer than the leaves, arising from the inside of the outer leaf, flowers arranged laxly at the top quarter of the peduncle, the peduncle with a single erect, large lanceolate bract around the middle of it.
Flowers 1.5 to 3 cm across, erect. Sepals sub-equal, lanceolate, much narrowed towards apex; dorsal erect; lateral spreading; surface and margins irregularly curving, three veined. Petals narrow than the sepals, lanceolate, spreading, surface and margins irregularly curving, one veined. Base of the lip adnate with the column, side lobes absent, trowel shaped with few irregular rounded lobes at its margins, much narrowed to its apex. The disc with two lamellae converging from its base and running parallel to two-third of its length, puberulous to its apex. The opening of the mouth is triangular in shape with its interior covered with fine hairs. Spur short, cylindrical with rounded apex, minutely puberulosus. Ovary stalked, curved and puberulous. Floral bract erect, lanceolate, as long and arising from the lower base of the stalked ovary.
Sepals with long varying sized purplish brown margins running parallel to its veins, broader at its base and diminishing and disappearing to its apex. Petals as same as the sepals, but the purplish brown margins are broken or irregular in length. Lip creamy white with its base with pink margins, the inside base of the converging lamellae are also marked with pink. The fine hairs on the opening of the spur is pure white. Spur creamy white, translucent. Floral bract dark green. The exterior of the sepals and petals are green with few darker veins.
Another beautiful Calanthe of the region, but very rarely found or documented from its natural habitats. In the description of this species in the monumental work, the authors mentioned “Mahaldaram Peak” as its habitat. Even with that reference also no researchers were able to locate it from its natural habitat till now from the region.
In the year 2012, with my alpine region flower hunt, I was able to visit many densely forested hills and mountains of the region during the monsoon season. Monsoon months are generally the blooming time of most of the Calanthes. Hence, I was determined to locate this species also.
Several visits to Mahaldaram Peak never yielded any result in finding this species. With my studies on orchids of the region, I found several orchid species showing proximity to many trees and plants of the region and were also found growing near to those same trees and plants from different region too. Hence, I particularly collected more details of some trees and plants of the region. I was very much confident that if this species was growing at this peak during the work of King and Pantling, the trees and plants here will help me in finding the species from some other region. Hence, during my visit to several other places I was looking for the same trees and plants of the Mahaldaram Peak. The monsoon season is full of activities in the hills with many plants flowering and many animals breeding. The breeding time of animals are not the best time time to be inside deep forests, as they attack any intruders into their territory. Frequent visits were not possible to all locations due to inclement weather and road blocks due to heavy monsoon showers. But I always tried to utilise the days maximum with regular surveys. Once during the peak monsoon days I was very far away in a dense forested area in connection with another find. I came across many of the same species trees and plants of the Mahaldaram Peak. I shared the information to my assistant that there is a possibility of finding this species there as the region’s habitat is as close to that of Mahaldaram Peak. I shown him the drawing of the species by Pantling and requested him to search other areas while I concentrate on documenting another species. After the documentation was done I also started searching for the species. Presence of a leopard with its new born cubs made both of us search together. The plant is very small and looking for it from thick undergrowths on a wet rainy day was very difficult. As the days are with many flowering orchids across the region, my days were very busy traveling length and breadth of the region. Hence, each and every hour matters and I am very particular to use the hours available at the maximum.
By evening, we found three small plants very similar to this species. As one more Calanthe resembles this in plant form, it was not sure whether it was this species itself. I visited the place several times in the next 20 days to see the growth progress of those plants. Finally, after around one month it produced a long peduncle. By studying the features of the peduncle I understood this is the species I am looking for. It took another 3 weeks to the flowers to open and to produce this wonderful photograph. By that time my travel log book got 17 records of visits to this location, which was more than any other species finds.
However, in the year 2013, I found 2 more plants of this species from another location of the region accidentally. As I was trekking to a high altitude location I found two of them from the near to the trek route, one in buds and the other in bloom. As I was in a hurry I haven’t documented the flowers on that occasion, but I noted down many other trees and plants of that location only to prove my findings of plant to plant relationships.
King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Calanthe trulliformis King and Pantling, Page no 168.