Herminium macrophyllum (D.Don) Dandy.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant 12 to 17 cm in height. Tuber two, small ovoid to globular with many fine hairs arising from it, also with two or three long stout cylindrical roots arising from the base of the stem. Stem more than half in length of that of the whole plant, its base with one or two short tubular sheaths. Leaf two, arising close together, unequal, oblong to elliptic, narrowing to a short tubular sheath, 3 to 7 cm long and 1 to 2 cm in width. The portion between the stem and the spike is with a single linear, erect bract of less than 1 cm long. Flower many, laxly arranged on a minutely ribbed cylindrical spike.

The Flower

Flower around 2 cm across, diagonally drooping. Sepals unequal; dorsal broadly ovate, erect, shorter but wider than the laterals sepals; laterals sepals oblanceolate, with its apex margins curved up, spreading, three veined; margins of sepals minutely irregular. Petals longer than the sepals, erect, oblanceolate, with its inner margins curving to its apex to form a semi-sickle shape. Lip pointing downwards, longer than the sepals and petals, triangularly lanceolate, its apex margins minutely irregular and with a very Floral bract ovate, less than one third and arising from the lower base of the beaked ovary.

Sepal green. Petal and lip yellowish green. The canaliculate and its margins of the lip dark green. Floral green.

Herminium macrophyllum (D.Don) Dandy.
Herminium macrophyllum (D.Don) Dandy.

The Pursuit

Another rare orchid species of the high alpines, which went without any documentary evidences till date. It is surprising to note that even after many governmental agencies and other organisations working in the region spent huge amounts on research but without any positive results.

This species was also at the top of my “to be found” list when I first set out to North Sikkim’s alpine slopes. Even after several weeks of survey this species remained untraced. Even though King and Pantling described this species as “common” in their text, the species was not found. I came to the conclusion that the toll of climatic changes and natural calamities in the last 125 years made the axe fall on this species. One day I found that a new hanging bridge is being made across a small but deep stream. The reasons for making this bridge by spending lakhs of rupees remained a mystery as the area across the river was devoid of any hamlets or any open pastures used for grazing cattle. The area was of high mountains and thick forests. Around five workers were involved in the work and they were living there by constructing a small make shift camp house. I befriended them, with the sole intention to take one of them along with me when I venture deep into that region. A young man was kind enough to assist me whenever I visited that side. To make a rapport with them, every time I visited them I used to carry some fresh vegetables from the mainland, so that they can cook some tasty food. The young man who accompanied me every time had college education and was keen on flora and fauna. During our first three visits I taught him how an orchid plant looks like and how its flowers are. As he was keen to learn he started locating orchids and taking me to various location. Once in a week I a made trip with him to that location, however nothing new was found. All the species we located were all documented earlier from other habitats.

On a Wednesday evening, I was informed by a truck driver who came from the high hills that the boy who accompanies me had asked me to come to their location the very next day. Even though my schedule for the next day was for a different route, I decided to attend his call. I reached there by 8:30 AM, thanks to a lift by the Army convoy. He was waiting for me, from his facial expression itself I understood he found something very interesting for me. We made the arduous climb across the bridge and climbed up the dense forest. He took me to a very deep forest and shown me this species, a total of 13 of them. Most of the flowers were in full bloom and ready to be studied. The next 4 hours went with at most silence, we both were working in tandem, making drawings, arranging flashes and doing documentation. I was so happy the way people are helping me in finding each species. He was also so proud that he also part of rewriting history.

As I was saying goodbye to him on the road, instead of accepting my token of appreciation he requested that he would be happy to be gifted with an autographed copy of my publication.


King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Herminium congestum Lindl., Pg. no. 335.