Each plant family has its own characteristics. Knowing a few of those will help in identifying each family and even the species. But, following the unique features of flowers of each family helps in zeroing the identity much easier. For example, Asteraceae with rings of sepals, petals, stamens and pistil in order; Convolvulaceae with a star pattern on its corolla; Liliaceae with all flower parts in multiples of threes.
In orchids, 3 sepals, 3 petals with one of them modified as lip, the unique column and the not so common presence of spur.
However, there are a few orchid species that defy the general rule – Corybas himalaicus (King & Pantl.) Schltr., is an example. Its flower is without any petals, and with 2 spurs.
The solitary flower of the plant is with unequal sepals – helmet shaped dorsal sepal, filiform (very narrow) shaped lateral ones, and a large lip.
The genus Corybas is also known as Helmet orchids due to its unique shaped dorsal sepal.
Corybas himalaicus (King & Pantl.) Schltr., is the only species in the genus Corybas found in India.
Corybas himalaicus (King & Pantling) Schltr., the only petal-less orchid from the region of eastern Himalayas. In their monumental work King and panting mentioned about a “moist vertical rock” from where their collectors found the species. After more than 125 years, this author during his studies was able to locate the same moist vertical rock and the species thriving on it. The book, TERRESTRIAL ORCHIDS, presents the species in bloom, with its characteristics and habitat described in great detail and dimension.
A small plant of the height 4 to 5 cm. Stem glabrous, with a single sheath near its base. Leaves solitary, 1 to 1.5 cm long, sessile, just under the flower, green with many white nerves. Flower solitary, dorsal sepal blunt, concave, arching over the column and the basal half of the lip, lateral pair short, filiform, lying between the two spurs of the lip. Petals none. Lip oblong, longer than the dorsal sepal, the basal portion convolute, with two short cylindric straight spurs at the base.
This species is the only orchid with no petals from the region of Sikkim-Himalayas.
Corysanthes himalaica, King and Pantling (Corybas himalaicus, King and Panting (Schltr))
Sir George King and Robert Pantling in their monumental work, “The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas”, published in the year 1898, described this plant. They found it from Lam-teng in the Lachen Valley at an altitude of 9000 ft, from a vertical moist rock. Part of my research work, I surveyed all the areas of Lam-teng, which is mostly of very difficult terrain, with high rocky mountains on one side of the river and dense forests on the other. The mention of “moist vertical rock” by Sir George King and Robert Pantling made me search and survey all the vertical rocks especially those on the banks of the river. After a search of 18 days, I finally found the plant from a moist vertical rock itself, probably the same place from where Sir George King and Robert Pantling found it some 125 years ago!!!!!