Thursday, November 12, 2009

Phalaenopsis Habitat

Phalaenopsis (or phals for short) orchids are one of my favorite orchids. Their flowers are strikingly beautiful and some species such as Phalaenopsis violacea exude a wonderful sweet cinnamon-like fragrance. Others like Phalaenopsis bellina give out a very strong citrusy fragrance. However, the fragrance from a Phalaenopsis corningiana flower is definitely my favorite!

phalaenopsis bellina orchid 1
Some species such as Phalaenopsis bellina are highly fragrant.

It has always been a dream of mine to see Phalaenopsis in the wild. I have only ever seen one two phal species in the wild, the widespread Phalaenopsis cornu-cervi and Phalaenopsis maculata. I came across P. cornu-cervi while hiking in a dry hill forest. It was quite a surprise find, to see it growing and in such a dry area.

phalaenopsis cornu cervi 1 
Phalaenopsis cornu cervi in situ.

Most phal species prefer areas with much higher humidity such as riverbanks. This is because phals do not have any proper structures to store food and water unlike species such as Dendrobium and Calanthe which have succulent pseudobulbs. Therefore, the high humidity provides the phals with a constant supply of moisture which their efficient roots readily absorb from the air.

phalaenopsis orchid 2
A swamp deep in the jungle and far from human disturbance is a perfect place for a Phalaenopsis orchid.

On one of my jungle trips, I finally got a chance to see some magnificent plants growing in their natural habitat. It wasn’t easy to move about in the jungle as there were no trails to follow and all we had to guide us or to ensure we didn’t get lost were our own instincts and a GPS. :) The undergrowth was thick and the ground was full of jumbled up stilt and breather roots of trees adapted to swamp living. We also had to watch out for the many thorny rattans and spiky palms which can cause painful and infectious wounds.

The phals we saw had no flowers but going by the seedpods and flower parts still attached to the pods, I believe they’re Phalaenopsis corningiana. The seedpods must have been at least 4 or 5 months old and near to bursting. Once the pods burst, thousands of tiny seeds will be carried off onto nearby trees and lianas. Out of the thousands if not millions of tiny seeds, only a few will germinate, grow and survive to ensure the survival of the species.

phalaenopsis orchid 3
A very healthy colony of Phalaenopsis orchids on a fig tree.

It was very fascinating to see these orchids in their natural habitat. It made me wish people didn’t collect and sell wild orchids because seeing an orchid in situ beats seeing one in a pot in a garden any day! Even without flowers, it was a momentous find for us and we took so many photographs of the plants.

phalaenopsis orchid 7
Photographing orchids in situ. Some people photograph birds, others photograph insects. We photograph orchids. Yes, we like photographing leaves too!

Some may laugh at us for taking photos of a bunch of green leaves, but it really was quite momentous. The fact that there is still a small healthy colony deep in the jungle is an important find because they are so rare now. Poachers are willing to climb the highest mountains and penetrate the thickest jungles to collect rare plants and I suspect many of Borneo’s treasures end up on overseas auction tables. It’s just very sad! The location of these plants will always be guarded and protected from all to ensure they remain there undisturbed.

phalaenopsis orchid 4
A Phalaenopsis orchid (center) growing on the stilt roots of a fig tree.

We came across a few plants which had fallen to the ground (rotting branches) but luckily, they did not fall into the water. Just think of how many that do!

phalaenopsis orchid 5
An orchid which had fallen to the ground along with the rotting branch it grew on.

phalaenopsis orchid 6
A couple of fallen plants which I picked up and secured to a new host tree nearby. They would have rotted away on the very dark and soggy ground otherwise.

Some of the phals we saw were growing very close to the water surface. They sent down trailing roots right into the water, the tips submerged about 1 cm but suffering no damage. I suspect the root tips will begin to rot if submerged permanently (the swamp water level rises and drops constanly).

phalaenopsis orchid 8
These two small plants are growing very close to the water surface with roots trailing right into the water.

phalaenopsis orchid 10
Photographing a large healthy Phalaenopsis only a couple feet above the water.

It was indeed a terrific find and we enjoyed taking photos of the plants as well as studying them closely in their natural habitat. From that, we were able to learn how to care for our own phals and what to provide them to ensure healthy growth. These phals clearly like to be close to water. For home hobbyists struggling with their phals, they should provide a high humidity level in the growing area. One of the reasons why I love taking in situ photos is because a lot of growing information can be gleaned from them!

All species phals today are very rare in the wild due to over collection and habitat destruction. Thanks to large nurseries such as LC in KL, select flasked and nursery-raised plants are now available in the market for all those charmed by this alluring genus.

Here’s a short video of two healthy plants:

Hope you all enjoyed this post, happy to hear your comments!


Edna said...

Never knew that orchids are fragrant! Do they flower in certain season?

sarawaklens said...

Edna, many orchids are fragrant! Some phals flower year round while others flower only a couple times a year. Phalaenopsis schilleriana for example, needs a cool period to flower well.

juliadam said...

wah! syurga!syurga.......
bestnya dapat melihat sendiri okid di habitat asal mereka, terutamanya phalaenopsis. akak selalu tengok pandurata, merpati, finaly and few others yangcommon aje.

sarawaklens said...

yep! mmg lain (jauh lagi best!) tgk di habitat asal banding dgn di nursery atau di rumah. harap tempat ni kekal sentiasa.

Martin said...

I read about Phal lowii having roots submerging into the water but this one seems to be a much greater phal.

In Christensons "Phalaenopsis" I read that the in situ place is unfortunatley unknown for many phal species. So you've made a kind of sensational finding. I hope these plants will get the chance to survive in situ.

sarawaklens said...

Hi Martin, I've never seen photos of phals in their natural habitat before myself except maybe for P. cornu-cervi but those were plant photos and did not show the habitat.

equestris said...

Many thanks for those great pictures from Phalaenopsis in-situ. That's indeed very informative and I hope the plants you saved will produce a numerous offspring! With chance this place will stay undisturbed for many years and the Phals. will grow and bloom in their true home!


lou said...

These are very interesting photos which help all of us who try to grow and reproduce these plants. It was especially interesting to see how dry they appear to be. The trunks do not seem to have much moss on them. How often does it rain there?
Thanks for these photos,

sarawaklens said...

Thanks Alain and Lou.
Lou, the leaves are dry but the roots and tree trunks are either wet or at least moist. Don't forget this is a swamp and the humidity level is 100%.

sarawaklens said...

Oh by the way, it rains year round but there is much less rain in the dry months of June to August. Even so, these swamps never really dry out and the humidity level remains very high.

Amy said...

I saw these lovely flowers for sale in my grocery story here in Anchorage, Alaska. How wonderful to see them in their natural setting. People love to see our bears in a zoo but nothing can compare to seeing them in their own homes. Thank you, Amy In Alaska

Corbin Fletcher said...

I would love to come to your country and experience some of your wilderness areas and photograph some orchids in situ. How do I keep informed about whats happening in Sarawak?

sarawaklens said...

@Amy, that's true, nothing like seeing the real thing in their natural habitat!

@Corbin, there's the World Orchid Conference in Singapore this November, many friends are attending that and visiting Borneo just before or after the conference. Best to come see the orchids soon, they are fast disappearing due to habitat loss and over-collection.

Corbin Fletcher said...

Your very politely said. However, you are actually speaking of human induced deforestation which is the the root cause of habitat loss for our orchids. And nothing gets me more angry than a group of politicians who use terms such as “Sustainable development,” “maximum sustainable yields,” “resource conservation,“ “wise use” which are in fact attempts to sugar-coat their ongoing intention to exploit nature for our own, often in-defensible, ends.

I would like to visit Sarawak soon and spend some time in your country and experience you culture. The issue I do not know anyone in Sarawak, and not knowing the area, I would find it difficult to explore your jungles in search of orchids. I need to make some local contacts who could assist me once I reach Sarawak and help me locate a local guide and/or water taxi, which will get me deep into the jungle.

sarawaklens said...

@Corbin, I'll be away for a week or so but do contact me via email, and I'll get back to you when I return from my trip.

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