Habenaria furcifera Lindl.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 1.5 to 2 ft in height. Stem narrow. Leaves 4 to 7 arranged on the lower portion of the stem, with the middle ones larger, elliptic, acute, with sheathing bases and undulate margins, veined, 6 to 14 cm long and 1.5 to 3 cm in width. Peduncle with 10 to 14 erect, lanceolate and clasping leafy bracts diminishing in size to the apex. Flowers many, laxly arranged in a spike of 8 to 12 cm long. Tubers ovoid.

The Flower

Flowers large and slightly drooping. Dorsal sepal concave, ovate to oblong, arched; lateral sepals lanceolate, acute, spreading. Petals are of the same size of the dorsal petal, oblong,  connivent with the later to form a hood. Lip long and tri-segmented; lateral pair filiform, longer than the middle, diverging and with narrowing tips. Middle segment broad and blunt. Spur laterally compressed, longer than the arched ovary, stout at the base and curved up at its apex. Bracts arising from the under side of the ovary and longer than it, erect and lanceolate.

Flower green throughout, with sepals of darker shade than the petals. Lip and spur are of pale green.

Habenaria furcifera, Lindl.
Habenaria furcifera Lindl.

The Pursuit

This species has a special place in my heart. This is one of the few species I studied in my early days of research from Sikkim-Himalayas. Moreover, it is a very elusive species to find, relatively rare to find from the region.

For my work, I moved from the scorching heat of mainland Delhi to the monsoon hit Himalayas. Getting accustomed to the region, its climate and the fieldwork were of great difficulty. I had to get used to heavy rains, landslides, roadblocks, leeches, homesickness etc. I overcame these difficulties and went for pursuits everyday. On that particular day, I was concentrating on a hill near to my base camp apparently to avoid long journeys through the landslide prone roads. We went up the hill in our vehicle and were trekking down through the forested area in the valley. The heavy rains on the previous days made the whole trek route slippery and made it very difficult to walk down hill. My assistant and I had many slips and falls on that slope. We decided to leave the trek route and walk through the forested area, which was fully covered with fresh undergrowth. As we walked over the forest our choice would avert further slips and falls, but would damage or destroy many plants. Those were my initial days in the field and I was not so conscious about those matters. As we were negotiating through 2 to 3 ft high undergrowth, I found a very small plant of this species with few buds. The plant was just 14.3 cm high, with 11 buds and 3 small leaves. As I got the whole of King and Pantling’s monumental book in my Ipad, it enabled me to identify the species immediately. As it was in bud, my assistant and I decided to have a detailed survey on that slope for more specimens of this plant. The whole we searched the valley without anymore finds. It started raining by 2:30 PM and we returned to our camp. Luckily, next day was a day with no rains. We went to the other side of the hills. That side was steeper with river Teesta flowing around 1400 ft below us and the hunt was very risky. In that type of terrain for safety reasons I would secure myself with a rope tied on to my waist with its other end tied around a strong tree. The rope I use was of 18 ft length and its length will further get reduced by another 7 ft when it is secured on both ends. Hence, the search area will be reduced to just 10 feet only, but it is an unavoidable safety decree. To cover that whole mountain slope, we tied and untied the rope many times on that day to find another specimen of this species. Luckily there were two plants in bloom, with fresh flowers. As I was sure that coming down to the spot again will be a matter of concern I wanted to have one of the best photographs. With strong winds blowing, hanging down on the hill slope secured by a rope, was a very unpleasant situation to produce technically perfect photographs. But somehow I succeeded. I still remember the chill that went down my spine on looking down at the river Teesta flowing below.


Habenaria furcifera Lindl., Page no 313 of The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas by Sir. George King and Robert Pantling (1898).