The book, TERRESTRIAL ORCHIDS, is part of a research program to study and photograph orchid species from the Eastern Himalayas, covering the regions of Eastern Nepal, Sikkim, Darjeeling district, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Nagaland. Two monumental publications – The Flora of British India (1890) by Sir J.D.Hooker and The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalaya (1898) by Sir George King and Robert Pantling were relied on.
Each species was located in its natural habitats and documented while in bloom, ample time was devoted for this purpose, thereby updating its flowering time precisely, altitudinal range widely, habitat proximately and natural characteristics to detailed perfection. The study also focused on preparing a status report on the population of each species to initiate various conservation programs.
The book, TERRESTRIAL ORCHIDS, the first of its kind, is a collection of 108 rare to very rare ground orchids in the region. Majority of them are the first ever-photographic evidence. The compilation of data took more than 4 years of rigorous survey in the most difficult inhospitable terrains in the region and 45000 km of trekking on foot.
During the course of study, not a single specimen was collected nor damaged. Religiously utmost care was taken so as not to disturb the sanctimonious habitat of the studied specimens. The nomenclature of each species is in accordance with the current World Checklist of selected plant families, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.
The author thanks each and every individual and all institutions in the region as well as from around the globe, who directly or indirectly helped on a daily basis or for a short duration, during the course of study.
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Epiphyte. Whole plant less than 15 cm in height. Erect or pendulous. Rhizome thick, covered with many fibrous sheaths. Pseudo-stems many, arising together from the rhizomes. Stems sub-cylindric or in many cases compressed, 7 to 9 cm long and around 1 to 2 cm thick. Leaves 4 to 6 in numbers arising from the apex of the stem, 5 to 7 cm long and 1 to 2 cm in width, lanceolate, tapering to both sides, with 2 to 3 cm long translucent and veined sheaths.
Flowers in dense capitulum, arising in short peduncles from the axils of the leaves. Capitulum 2 to 2.5 cm across with 12 to 26 minute flowers. Sepals oblong to obtuse, erect. Petals much narrower, spreading. Lip oblong, three lobed, disc ridged. Lateral lobes, short, erect. The mid lobe deeply cut into two lobules.
Sepals and petals translucent, pale pink. Lip of a creamy white shade. Column brownish red.
This is a plant never been studied from its natural habitats of Sikkim-Himalayas. With very little information available – including a question mark (?) on its blooming time by the authors, this was one of the most interesting pursuit made by me in the region. The only reference made was that the species is found in the tropical valleys and the blooming season as “August?”.
Between the months of May and October I always concentrated on orchids from the higher altitudes. But, I had always found time to come down to tropical valleys in search of many species and succeeded in finding many in bloom. King and Pantling in many cases mentioned some indications like Teesta valley, Frontier regions etc., so that the search can be done in those areas. In this case, it was only mentioned “Tropical valleys”. I tried several locations between the months of April and September in 2011, but was unable to locate this species. In 2012, I was taking a long trek along with my assistant and my assistant in a heavy forested region in the tropical zone to document another plant we had spotted few months back. The location was around 6 to 7 hours trek from the nearest village and it was impossible to return on the same day. Hence, we were carrying tents, food etc for the day. Midway, we were cooking our lunch on the banks of the stream we were following. My assistant boy was a local of the region and had the art of making utensils like spoons, glasses etc. from bamboos and plates from leaves for serving food. He was able to find few bamboos from near the stream, but was not able to collect wide leaves to make plates. As he was looking after the cooking, I went inside the thick forest to bring few wide leaves. While inside the forest, I found two orchids in bloom which I had already documented a year ago. Those finds made me do some survey in that location, with my mind saying “I will find something more”. Usually it has been advised by the Forest officials not to venture deep inside the forest all alone. As I was already inside the thick forest, I decided to do a quick survey and was constantly in touch with my helper by blowing whistles (a way of communication inside thick forests).
The forest was very thick, so movement as well as locating plants from tree tops were not easy. Within five minutes I came across two fallen trees. Fallen trees are always a home to many wild orchids. To my surprise I found a two stemmed single plant of this species with almost dried flowers. I was so excited I ran back to the stream to bring my camera and my assistant to help me. We searched the whole area for more plants with fresh flowers, but never able to locate anymore. As the plants were on a fallen tree, I started documenting the flowers without any help from my assistant. However, he used that time to climb few trees near by for a closer survey and was lucky to find another cluster of this species with fresh flowers. I too climbed up that tree and produced this beautiful photograph, probably the first of its kind from the region. Thus updating the information of its blooming time with more accuracy.
We both were returning so happy just to see a herd of 21 elephants on the stream enjoying their bath after smashing off our lunch and my beautiful tent and back pack!!!.
King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden.(Calcutta). Eria pumila, Lindl., Page no 118 – 119.
Epiphyte, pseudo-bulbs varying in shape at different stages of growth, generally cylindric to barrel shaped, its surface mottled with purplish brown, enveloped by loose brown fibers. Leaf in pairs, 6 to 15 cm long and 3 to 4 cm in width, narrowly elliptic-oblong, acute, narrowed to the petiole, base sheathed with bracts having nodular inflations. Leaf-less during flowering.
Flowers solitary, erect, large, 5 to 6 cm across, rising from the base of the pseudo-bulb by a very short peduncle covered in a large spathaceous flower bract with broad emarginate apex, longer than the ovary. Sepals spreading, sub-equal, oblong to lanceolate, sub-acute, 7 nerved. Petals spreading, narrower than the sepals, of the same length or slightly shorter than latter, oblong, five to seven nerved. Lip broadly elliptic, three lobed, the basal part convolate round the column; the lateral lobes entire and narrower; the terminal broader, with sub-entire edges and broad apex. The disc with 5 to 7 fimbriate ridges. Column long and slightly curved, its apex winged. Pollinia elliptic.
Sepals and petals pure white, occasionally with streaks of dark brownish pink. The lip is white based with its interior marked with yellow and brownish pink streaks. The fimbriate ridges are yellow.
A rare and threatened species of the region. Very rarely spotted in the natural habitats in the past decade. However, it is surprising to see many orchid scientists and researchers published its photographs in many articles. It amused me to know most of them had never been too long in the region. I had closely studied many photographs to find that the colouration and structure never matched the descriptions of King and Pantling. Later, I found that this species is growing in many nurseries of the region – one of the reasons of its disappearance from the natural habitats, and all those scientists had the privilege of documenting the plant and its flower from those nurseries. The species is a native to tropical forests and its translocation to higher altitude made it adopt another characteristics which was evident in all those photographs.
Hence, I decided to find it from its natural habitats itself. As it is a low altitude species and native to tropical valleys, the search was concentrated on the banks of river Teesta. However, I was not able to spot them from any of the places known to me. In the month of October, I was traveling in a service vehicle to another region in search of some species. A group of ladies were the co-passengers, returning to their homes after purchase in connection with Durga puja (a big festival of the region). As a practice, I always show my co-passengers drawings of orchids made by Pantling from my IPad. It had helped me a lot as many people had given me enough tips to find many species. I had shown the drawing of this species also. One of the ladies identified it and even narrated stories of collecting its flowers for the Durga puja (it flowers in the month of October/November, the season of Durga puja). She had explained to me about its location which is near to her maternal home. I noted down all the points for identifying the location from her talks. Next week, I started my journey to her village, where I luckily got some contacts. However, even after searching for three days we were not able to locate the tree or the plant. On the fourth day, as we were about to go to another site for search, we met the same lady in the village market. She is back in her home in connection with the Durga puja. My contacts were very well connected with her and made enquiries about the location of the tree. After getting maximum information, our small party of three went to the place she directed. All the three were climbing different trees to locate the plant. Finally, after a search of around four hours we found a small patch of plants, numbering 14, in full bloom. It was such an exciting moment to all of us. I was so lucky when the whole village was celebrating the Durga puja with local brew and drinks, my loyal contacts were happy to be with me in locating the plant. If we had waited for all the celebrations to be over, we would have found the flowers in a withered state only. With the help of those very kind friends I was able to produce this wonderful photograph with all the characteristics described by King and Pantling.
Later on, last year, I found one more habitat of this rare plant.
Epiphyte, with small oval shaped pseudo bulbs covered with a few lax sheaths. Leaf solitary, 3 to 5 cm long and 1 to 1.5 cm cm in width, proceeding from the base of the adult pseudo-bulb, narrowly elliptic, acute, tapering towards the petiole. Leafy during flowering. Peduncle longer than the leaves, enclosed in tubular imbricate sheaths.
Flowers solitary, 2 to 3 cm across, floral bract about as long as the stalked ovary, arising from the apex of the pseudo-bulb and protruding through the petiole of the leaf. Sepals spreading, sub-equal in length, elliptic to oblong, the dorsal slightly narrowed than the lateral, five nerved. Petals spreading, narrower and longer than the petals, obtuse, 5 to 7 nerved. Lip sub-reniform, cordate at base, broader in its posterior half, minutely erose in its anterior portion, apex retuse, disc with 7 ciliate ridges from the base to apex. Column long and curved, broadly winged. Pollinia obliquely elliptic.
Sepals and petals are of various shades of pale pink to rose, slightly darkening towards the margins. Lip almost white with a few reddish brown markings on its disc. The ciliate ridges are bright yellow.
A rather common species of the high altitude hills. I had spotted this species from several hilly areas of the region during my work. In the pre-monsoon days this species creates an interesting view, with hundreds of flowers fully covering many tree trunks. Before my research on orchids of Sikkim-Himalayas, I had noticed this species in full bloom during one of my trips to North Sikkim. The observation of the species in flower from a very high altitude caught our attention and we did some photo shoots. On our way back me and my fellow class mates had a long conversation about the species. Later on, I started my research on orchids and became an almost permanent resident of the region. During its flowering season, I was working from Lachen in North Sikkim and decided to study and document the species from those same trees.
The trees are on the right side of a sharp curve on an ascending road (most of the roads of North Sikkim are uphill only!!!). The sharp curve coupled with the ascending nature of the road makes all vehicles slow down there. Thus the flowers on those trees had bought the attention of all passing by. Even the taxi operators got a scheduled stop there for the tourists to have photo shoots.
I visited the place every time when I went up the road. Finally, the flowers started opening up. My visits turned regular and saw more and more flowers in bloom. My intention was to get maximum blooming flowers in one frame. Finally, I decided the shoot for the next day and also wanted to document the top most growing plant in bloom. The reason was that, this is the highest growing epiphytic orchid of the region at 11,800 ft MSL. That means the top most flower on those trees will be the record bearer for the highest growing epiphytic orchid of the region!!!. Our journey uphill from Lachen was systematically planned with ladder, hooks, ropes, cardboards etc. While in the spot only we realized the fact that the ladder width is around half the diameter of the tree, hence it is difficult for it to hold on to the tree. My driver came up with some ideas to fix the ladder rigidly with some iron wires he found nearby. I and my assistant were right up the tree taking much caution not to destroy any plants on the trunk and branches. I selected the topmost flower, luckily it was a fresh flower too. Shooting was so difficult due to heavy winds. The flower was shivering in the wind, which makes sharp photos impossible. My assistant was kind enough to hold many hardboards on almost all sides to prevent wind and made me produce this wonderful photograph of the species, the highest blooming epiphytic orchid of the region!!!
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.
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.
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.
Epiphyte. Rhizomes thick, stems very short, even unnoticeable. Leaves pendulous, fleshy, cylindrical, pointed at the apex, 5 to 8 cm long and less than .35 cm in diameter. Peduncle woolly, terminal with 1 to 3 flowers. Flowers about 1 to 1.5 cm across, sepals and petal bright yellow with green shade while opening and turns to orange shade in a day or two. Lip is with shades of dark brown with a bright yellow marking on its apex. Dorsal sepal broadly elliptic, lateral pair ovate to triangular, spreading. Petals smaller than the sepals, elliptic. Lip fleshy, oblong, concave, downy with oblong granular calli near the base and apex. Sepals and petals externally pubescent.
A very interesting plant with pendulous narrow cylindrical fleshy leaves. The leaves are seen hanging down in long lines from the under side of tree branches. I had spotted this rarely only. The species is getting rarer and rarer, hence I put extra attention on the specimens I found and waited for them to be in flowers. The climb up the tree was very hard as the single trunk tree was a huge old one with no support to climb. The villagers of the area who are very familiar with climbing trees did a lot of hard work in helping me to climb up the tree along with my camera equipments up the tree. The first day of documentation was not satisfying as I was not able to bring out the hairy details of the flowers. My desire to back lit the flower with flashes at this great height made it a very difficult task. After several ideas and attempts I was able to fix the flashes on the appropriate position to bring out such a wonderful photograph of the species with amazing details.
Epiphyte. Stems 2 to 3 ft long and about 1.5 cm in diameter. Leaves many, fleshy, linear, sessile, 2 to 3 cm long and hardly 1 cm in width. Racemes in terminal fascicles, 2 to 3 in numbers, sometimes even up to 5, 5 to 12 cm long, woolly with lanceolate bracts at their bases. Flowers around 1 cm across, translucent, petals and sepals and the lip is of a pale yellowish green base. Petals and base of the lip with broad purple shade and deep blotches of the same colour, except on the midrib portion and edges of the petals and on the callus of the lip. Sepals with irregular pale purple markings. Dorsal sepal ovate and the lateral pair more towards a triangular shape, spreading. Petals as long as the dorsal sepal, obovate. The lip is sub-orbicular, 3 lobed, the base with a large callus, lateral lobes oblong, sub-falcate. All parts are pubescent externally.
This species can be found growing in the tropical forests of the region. However, the find of this specimen was accidental. It was in the late days of winter and I was on a trip to locate some other plants. The survey was in a valley which is a tributary of the river Teesta, at low elevation. I have to climb down from 4800 ft to the valley. As there was a village in the valley the trek path was regularly used by villagers. As it was the early spring month the undergrowth on the valley was also moderate. Hence I was searching for some terrestrial orchids in the valley. As the schools of the region are yet to open after the winter vacations, a few kids of the village also joined me. As they know me and my work, they also joined the search operation for the ground orchids. After a couple of hours of search and survey, we all were crossing the tributary through a wooden bridge. All of a sudden one of the boys spotted this plant, a pendulous stem about 2 ft long with flowers on a tree next to the bridge. I was surprised to see it in flowers too. The enthusiastic boys were ready to pull the plant down for me. It has always been my policy not to remove the plants from its natural habitats. The plant was hardly 12 to 15 ft high on the tree. My companions were expert enough to climb up the tree before me. This valley of the region is always devoid of any wind or breeze, which makes it very much comfortable to shoot even pendulous plants. With the help of the three kids I produced this wonderful photograph. After that I came across this species in flower many times for the next 2 to 3 months from several locations also.
Epiphyte as well as lithophyte. Pseudo-bulbs much compressed with sheathed bases, vertically ribbed, 4 to 7 cm long and 2 to 3 cm in width, arranged at a distance of 3 to 4 cm apart on a stout and clothed rhizome. Leaves from the apex of the bulbs, three to five in numbers, almost oblong, tapering to the base, 5 to 9 cm long and 2 to 3 cm in width. Raceme from the base of the bulbs, erect, stout, fully covered with soft hairs. Flowers 4 to 10, about 2 cm across. Sepal hairy on the outer surface; dorsal small, lanceolate, arching; lateral large, triangular and spreading. Petals parallel over the column, narrowed at the base. Lip oblong, three lobed; lateral lobes very narrow, terminal lobe oblong, acute, slightly deflexed, the disc with two ridges.
A very common plant of the tropics. Can be easily distinguished by its compressed and ribbed bulbs. I had seen this species on various habitats of the region during my earlier visits itself and documented it in the year 2011. However, back in my class room in Delhi only I noticed the fact that I miserably failed in documenting the very peculiar characteristics of this species. This species got soft, wooly hairs on its external side of its sepals. As usual one more year of wait to see those in bloom again. In the year 2012, I visited the same place and documented new flowers from the same plant with more concentration and lighting techniques to document its very peculiar characteristics. Even though I had spend extra money and time on this species, my professor back in the college was very much happy to see the new documented evidences.
Epiphyte. Pseudo-stem 3 or 4 arise from one point, clavate shaped, ribbed from base to apex, with several large sheaths. Leaves from the apex, 3 to 5 in number, oblong-lanceolate, tapering to the base, 5 to 8 cm in length and 2 to 3 cm in width. Each stem with 3 to 4 raceme, arising from the axils of each sheath. Flowers many, less than 2 cm across. Sepals and petals brownish yellow with 5 purple veins all through its length. The lateral lobes, disc and lamellae of the lip is purplish red and its apical lobe bright yellow.
A beautiful species with wide range of habitats in the region. Its peculiar stems are an attraction and can be easily spotted. I had located the species in my earlier days of flower hunt itself. However, I missed it for a couple of seasons and got the opportunity to document it in the year 2012 only. When I visited the plant I marked for documenting, the whole branch of that host tree was full of flowers of this species. Even though the flowers are only 2 cm across, they grow in dense raceme to create a beautiful view. Being a common species, I haven’t put much attention and was casually documenting it with 5 micro flashes. After the shoot, when I was transferring the photographs only I noticed its peculiar lip disc and the well developed lamellae. Then I decided to document those flowers again and to record those details in a better way. With fallen logs and bamboo pieces from the forest floor quickly made an erect structure of about 8 ft high. Tied it to the host tree with local creeper twigs and climbed on to it to create a steady view of the flowers. Selected a few freshly bloomed flowers and with 11 micro flashes and 2 optical fibre cable lightings I produced this wonderful photograph of the species. If anybody ask me to gift the best photograph from my collection, I will surely offer this photograph.
Epiphyte. A plant with a solitary pendulous leaf and numerous spreading, flat roots running into meters. Leaf elliptic-oblong, sessile, tapering to its base, 3 to 7 cm long and 1 to 2 cm in width. Flowers in racemes, longer than the leaves, pendulous, 5 to 9 flowered. Flowers small, 1 to 1.5 cm across. Sepals and petals are pale pink, the epichile of the lip and anther are dark punk, the base of the spur with a faint yellow shade. Sepals unequal, the dorsal lanceolate, the lateral broader than the dorsal, undulate on one side. Petals obovate to spathulate. Both sepals and petals five nerved. Lip adnate to the foot of the column, its hypochile turned into a stout sub-cylindric spur and with two narrow lobes, the epichile oblong, entire.
This species got long and flat root network, often forming large clusters. In the winter months when most of the trees shed their leaves, its root network can be easily spotted. I spotted the species in the winter months because of this reason. By the early spring, leaf appears on this plant, a single pendulous leaf, from the centre of the root network. Then within a few days a pendulous raceme. I was making a visit to the location every week to ascertain its status. The authors in their monumental work mentioned about the plants producing white flowers too. However, till date there is no photographic evidence for that. Hence, I was looking for more plants from the region, to make sure I would get flowers in white. The search ended up with not much success as I was not able to find more plants from that area. With the start of early monsoon showers, the buds opened. The flowers were so beautiful, but its peculiar lip shape made the documentation time consuming and needed more technical skills than expected. There were seven flowers on the raceme I selected to document. I tried with the lower most flower on the raceme on the first day. Even after several attempts I was not getting the result I desired. The position of the pendulous flowers were also not providing a good opportunity for me to position my flashes. The day ended with much disappointment. Next day I started the journey to the location by Sunrise, determined to rectify the defects of the previous day. The location was around 7400 ft high, deep inside a forest, hence there will always be fog and slight shower. As I was about to reach there, it rained heavily and made my last stretch of trek impossible. One more day ended up on a dissatisfactory mode. The third was a bright day and I reached the place around 8 in the morning to find one more raceme in bloom on another tree. Decided to try to document those flowers and with the help of a local cattle herder, who helped me with holding six micro flashes between his short fingers, produced this wonderful photograph. However, my hunt for those white flowers of this species is still continuing.