Galeola falconeri Hook.f.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Rhizome long, stout and branching clothed with many triangular scales all along its length. Stem thick, 2 to 4 cm in cross section, 3.5 to 5.6 ft in height, ribbed at its lower half, upper half almost cylindric. Leaf less. Flowers in pendulous panicles, arising at intervals of about 10 to 15 cm apart; with a broad lanceolate bract at its base.

The Flower

Flower large, 3 to 5 cm across; spongy, laxly arranged in 4 to 6 cm long narrow stalks, pendulous. Sepals un-equal, ovate to lanceolate; the dorsal narrow than the lateral, arching; the lateral keeled with apex edges curved up, spreading, outer surface rough. Petals shorter than the sepals, oblong, one veined, margins undulate, spreading. Lip single lobed, concave when spread out, wide mouthed, sessile, and hairy inside. Floral bract small, 1 to 1.5 cm long, lanceolate, acuminate, veined, horizontal, arising from the lower side of the flower stalk.

The inside of the sepals bright yellow and its outer surface pale brown. Petals and lip bright yellow, with the inside of the latter tinged with orange. Floral bract and the bracts of the panicles are with shades of dark brown. The stem pale brown throughout.

Galeola falconeri Hook.f.
Galeola falconeri Hook.f.

The Pursuit

In the span of three years I located this interesting plant from four different locations from the whole of Sikkim – Himalayas. According to me its special characteristics of being leafless and of immense height helped the species to survive in its natural habitats. Due to these special characteristics the local population was not aware that this plant is an orchid, thus escaping being collected for commercial purpose.

King and Pantling described this plant as tall as 10 feet. I was searching for this species on several areas and had shown many villagers its drawings to get some clue on its possible populations. In 2012, in the month of July, one villager took to me to a forested area near to his home where he found 4 young plants of this species. The plants were hardly 1.5 ft tall and at that time it was not possible to identify it as this species or its close relative, Galeola lindleyana Reichb. It took another 5 weeks and several visits to see the first flower in bloom. By that time all the plants had attained a height between 4′ 8″ to 5′ 10″. As I had studied this plant and its ally very much from the referral book, with its flower I identified the species on the first sight. However, I was not satisfied with the flowers in blooms and wanted to revisit the plant in a week to find some more fresh flowers and document. Next, week I went to the location again to see perfect flowers of my choice and produced several wonderful photographs.

Later on in the same week I got information from another village about its presence and I visited the location to find two more plants, which were already in flower by that time.

In the monumental publication of King and Pantling, the authors described this species as growing between 5000 to 7000 ft. My first experience with the plant was from 4800 ft, the second was from 5400 ft. The third relatively much higher at 8800 ft. The third find of the plant from 8800 ft was also surprising to many researchers as that altitude almost touched the border limit of the semi alpine zone. However, in the year 2013, I had the most interesting discovery of this species from a staggering altitude of 10, 150 ft. That record height had brought more attention as well as rethinking on of all research works and researchers working on climate change and its influence on plants from the alpine zone. Till date there were no records available of any orchid species believed to be from lower altitudes climbing above 10,000 ft.

As the record altitude, the discovery of the plants was also breathtaking. I was working in the alpine region in the monsoon months. The region received heavy rains, which triggered heavy landslides and roadblocks. The roadblocks cut off the upper regions from the main land. The Government machinery started evacuating people fearing more rains. We were all scuttled in overcrowded helicopters and flown out of the danger zone. Due to low rain clouds, the helicopter pilots took the aerial route over river valleys. As we were flying over a mountain I spotted 5 plants of this species on the riverside slope of that mountain. We almost flew over those plants and my “god gifted and precise” eyes helped to identify the species even from that immense height. Later on, in the evening while noting down the events of the day I stuck to its staggering altitude. From the flight data records and consultation with the pilots I found that place was around 10,000 ft or even more. That interesting find made me curious and started making plans to go to that location. As heavy rains ransacked the entire region and the only road blocked with heavy landslides, the mission turned out to be almost impossible.

I am always blessed for reasons that I can’t disclose here. Within the next 36 hours I was able to document those three plants to my absolute satisfaction in a manner that would make Hollywood stunt filmmakers jealous!!!


King, G. &Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas.Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Galeola falconeri Hook., Page no 265.