Androcorys gracilis (King &Pantl.) Schltr.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Tuber small, globular to ovoid, with a stout long naked root and many hairy roots arising from it. Whole plant 12 to 20 cm in height. Stem less than half the whole length of the plant, stout, cylindrical, with a long tubular sheath at its base. Leaf solitary, elliptic to oblong, sub-acute, veined, narrowing at its base to a short tubular sheath. Flower many, laxly arranged in a spike.

The Flower

Flower small, about 1.2 to 1.5 cm in length, with the shape of slender capsule. Sepals unequal; dorsal less than half the size the lateral, ovate, arching diagonally over the petals, veined; dorsal deflexed, elliptic, arranged behind the lip and longer than it, veined. Petals longer than the dorsal sepals, oblong, curved forward and forming a hood over the column. Lip very narrow, lanceolate with broad base. Floral bract small, about one third of the ovary, lanceolate, erect, arising from the lower base of the slightly twisted and erect ovary.

Sepals, petals are shades of green. Lip yellowish green. Floral bract pale green.

Androcorys gracilis (King & Pantl.) Schltr.
Androcorys gracilis (King & Pantl.) Schltr.

 The Pursuit

The only reference of this species is in the form of a drawing of Pantling published in his monumental work. The species is believed to be native of Sikkim in the Eastern Himalayas and South Central China in the Upper Himalayas. It is a pity to note that researchers crisscross the Himalayas to locate the mythical yetis, but very few concentrate on its already recorded other living creatures including its flora. After the British era, many Indian scientists and premium institution’s never produced any results even after spending huge public funds in the field of research. Very poor documentation of many reported species is an eye-opener to the miss use of public funds in the name of research.

During my days in the alpine hills, I was working overtime to locate this species. I was enthusiastic about this species and was eager to produce a photograph, which will be of reference for next generation scientists. I was concentrating on open areas and slope around 11,000 ft, which King and Pantling mentioned as its habitat. However, there was no trace of this species. As the summer days progressed, I moved to higher pastures looking for other species.

In the mid of summer, I was working in an area much higher than the previous search location. The area was open and windy. Either the winds will obstruct walking or will push you down. The entire region was that of Rhododendron population, mostly that of Rhododendron nivale Hook.f. That is a small shrub and will not stand as an obstacle to the speedy winds across the valley. Many a times I stumbled with my heavy and expensive equipment. Hence, I used to crawl down on the ground doing survey. In that way it was not possible to cover much area, also my elbows and knees were bruised and painful. Come what may; I was determined to cover that whole valley on my knees. Even though I covered only small areas each day, I was sure I covered it perfectly by surveying each and every corner. As I was surveying the forest floor under a few Rhododendron plants, I found three slender plants with solitary leaves. The single stemmed plant was so narrow; it was very difficult even to recognize it as a plant. It resembled a fallen twig. My curiosity made me conduct a close observation. Even after a close study I was not able to recognize it, not to mention about its identity. The Rhododendron plants are with strong branches closely arranged and entangled with each other to form a strong network of bushes. Hence, reaching those small three slender stemmed plants was not so easy. The only option was to clear a few branches of those Rhododendrons and go closer near to the slender plants. The plants were so slender, I was forced to pull out my magnifying glasses for a closer look. Oh My God! It was this species, a species never seen or documented for over a century. As it was growing inside those strongly entangled twigs it was very difficult to study and document it. I searched the whole area to find one more in an open area, so that I will be comfortable in documenting it. But, not a single specimen was located from that region or from anywhere till now. As this species was very rare, I decided not to disturb its habitat and spend extra time and care to study and document it there and then.

On that evening there was no pain on my elbows or knees due to this exciting rediscovery. I still remember that I never even asked for the comforting hot water bag, which I used to put on my knees everyday after those extreme pursuits.


King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Herminium gracile King and Pantling. Pg. no. 334.