Platanthera biermanniana (King &Pantl.) Kraenzl.

The Plant

Terrestrial. Whole plant between 8 to 15 cm in height. Tubers two, cylindrical to ovoid, up to 3 cm long, with four or five short stout cylindrical roots arising from its apex joining the stem. Stem narrow cylindrical with two lanceolate bracts at its base. Leaves five, unequal, scattered, lanceolate, acute, strongly nerved, narrowed to a sheathing base. Flower in a spike shorter than the stem. Flower many, densely arranged

The Flower

Flower small, less than 1 cm across. Sepals unequal, dorsal ovate, shorter than the lateral, connivent with the petals to form a hood; lateral lanceolate, erect and arranged parallel to the dorsal sepals. Petals as long as the dorsal sepal, lanceolate. Lip decurved, linear to oblong, obtuse, with tooth like side lobes at its base. Spur as long as the lip, cylindrical, widening to its apex. Floral bracts longer than the erect ovary, lanceolate, arising from the lower side of the ovary.

Platanthera biermanniana (King & Pantl.) Kraenzl.
Platanthera biermanniana (King & Pantl.) Kraenzl.

The Pursuit

According to the monumental publication of King and Pantling, this species was described as a very “distinct species”; dedicated to the memory of late Adolf Biermann. Adolf Biermann was a resident of Government Cinchona Plantation for many years and died as Curator of the Botanic Garden, Calcutta.

Even after having very distinguishing features, the species was neither documented nor studied from its natural habitat. It was described very rare by many research publications. This made me extra determined to find this species and marked it on the “important” list.

In the year 2012, with Alpine area survey I was in the higher altitudes from May to October. Even though I searched many locations to find this species, it had remained elusive. The plant is very small; finding it from heavy undergrowth made it more difficult. Taller plants with attractive flowers are spotted with less difficulty than smaller ones. By the last week of September I noticed the change in climatic conditions in upper ranges and decided to move to a relatively lower altitude to continue with the work for one more month. On the second last day, I spotted this species, four plants of them unexpectedly. The find was really surprising. I was on a casual survey along the only road which connects to the plains. As I had found most of the possible species from the region I was in a relaxed mood. As I was walking past a small waterfall, I noticed few iron pipes dumped along the side of the road. They were piled up one over the other to a height of about 3.5 m. The child in me made me remember my school days and I climbed up those piled iron pipes as I used to do as a child. Those pipes were left there for a couple of years with many shrubs and plants growing all over them. While sitting on the top of it, I thought of getting to the other side and do some survey. Before I realised anything more, I spotted this species on a small open area a few feet away from those pipes. As the plants were so small, I was unable to identify them. My curiosity made me to analyse the plant from close quarters and to my surprise it was this species. A species described as “very distinct” and “very rare”. All of the four plants were in bloom and I produced a set of wonderful photographs of this species with ease, that too for the first time in history.

Later on, from another protected area of the region, I found several of this species from a wide range of altitude, thus paving way to describe the species as “rare, but locally common”.


King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Habenaria biermanniana King and Pantling Page no 318 -319.