Terrestrial. Stem narrow, about 0.5 cm in diameter, 4 to 9 cm in height, arising from the base of a tuber of the previous year. Stem cylindrical along the lower portion, turning ribbed to the apex and with a long lanceolate sheath at its base. Leaf solitary, attached around one third from the base of the stem, elliptic, 3 to 6 cm long and 1.25 to 1.75 cm in width, the base narrowed to a long tubular petiole, which runs to the base of the stem. Inflorescence terminal, 5 to 11 cm long, raceme cylindrical, with many closely arranged (crowded) small flowers.
Flowers non-resupinate. Sepals unequal, dorsal oblanceolate with broader base, undulate and pointing downwards; lateral oblanceolate to lanceolate with broad base, erect, slightly shorter than the dorsal. Petals much narrowed, oblong to linear, shorter or almost of the same length as that of the lateral sepals, diagonally spreading. Lip fleshy, orbicular in outline with a pointed erect apex, its margins thickened and with a converging narrow broad marginal structure running from its apex to the base under the column. Floral bract lanceolate, shorter or as long as the ovary, erect and arising from the lower base of the diagonally erect ovary.
Sepals, petals and the pointed apex of the lip yellowish green. Margins of the lip green turning pale towards its inside. Floral bract green at its base turning yellowish green towards its apex.
One of the most difficult and rare to find ground orchid of the alpine region. During my theoretical research on this species I never encountered a photograph of the same taken from the region. As in the case of many other species, several research articles regarding this species added to the confusion and mismatches.
King and Pantling’s iconic work mentioned this species from an area of about 12,000 ft and blooming in July. Hence, I was hunting for this species above 10,000 ft from the mid of June. A whole week went by without any trace of the species. It was my first visit to the region and I was facing many hurdles in working in those dense forested areas. June is the month of heavy rains and it hindered my work every other day. However, as I was new to the region, every other day I was able to locate some amazing new finds.
On the third week of June, there was an alert from the meteorological department about heavy to very heavy thundershowers. As the entire region comes under the control of the Army the movement of any individuals other than locals needed prior permissions. The authorities will be very reluctant to allow any movement during those days. I was also asked not to make any adventurous moves. I was forced to be in my camp for two days in a row. I was well aware that many species were in bloom on those days, and I was restless to be closeted inside the camp. On the second day, it rained heavily all through the day till I went to sleep around 11 PM. Next morning by 5 AM, the skies had cleared and I was able to see the tall trees outside my room through the window. Sun rays were peeping through its shining green leaves. As I was surprised to see the change in weather I was out in the field in no time. My plan was to go uphill to the same location around 10,000 ft to continue in search of this species. As I was waiting for the Army convoy to go uphill, I got news that there will be no vehicular movement on that day too. As it was late to walk uphill, I decided to walk downhill in search of any other species. As downhill walk is relatively easy and quick, I covered around 2 km in no time. My attention went to an open green field some 50 ft down on the left side of the road. Every time I passed through that road that particular area had attracted my attention. A small concrete trek was there to facilitate domestic grazing, even though I never found any animals there. The trek disappears after around 20 to 25 m and the open slope stretches to a thick-forested area along the river.
On my way downhill I noticed many ground orchids spurting up, even though identifying them in their budding stage was very difficult. After the trek road came to a dead end, walking downhill was very hard. The previous two days of heavy shower made the slope very slippery. As I was not carrying my walking stick, I moved down with great caution.
As I was helping myself downhill with caution by holding on to small bushes, I noticed a single leaved plant with its inflorescence broken. I instantly identified the species with its leaf shape, as I had glanced the drawing of this species from the King and Pantling’s monumental work several hundred times. On close observation I found that 3 flowers were open on the broken inflorescence, which made me establish its identity with authenticity. Even after searching the areas around the plant I was not able to find the remaining broken part of the inflorescence. I was totally disappointed about the situation as well as surprised to find the plant in bloom at a much lower altitude and a month earlier than what King and Pantling’s findings. Determined to thoroughly search the area, I left my heavy baggage there to make my movement easy and searched most of that open green slope. My hard work never paved any result as I was not able to trace any other specimens. Finally, around afternoon I documented the plant with the broken inflorescence to make it an evidence of the species and walked back home disappointed.
Next day, it was sunnier than the previous day and I was on the open slope as early as the Sun rise, this time equipped with my walking stick. I walked down to the edge of the open area and was thoroughly searching each and every corner. Finally, after around 1 hour and 45 minutes of search I was able to locate two more specimens of this species, that too in full bloom. The inflorescence was in full bloom from its base to apex. It was such a wonderful sight to see a plant I was dreaming for, in front of me. The next couple of hours flew of in no time with drawings and photographing. Finally by late afternoon I started climbing up the slope for my trek back home. Interestingly on my climb back, I found one more specimen of this species in full bloom. Spent another hour with that too to make comparative notes and photographs.
This was one of the few species found growing in lower altitudes than what was described by King and Pantling. Interestingly, none of the research works which were published in the last few decades never mentioned about this altitudinal difference. Every research papers mentioned the altitudinal range of this species as 12,000 ft and it’s blooming in July, as mentioned by King and Pantling. These factual information emphasizes the importance of real field studies which is lacking among researchers.
King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Microstylis cylindrostachya Reichb., Page no 20.