Nepal’s Special Pride―Orchids

Nepal’s abundant diversity of flora and fauna is due to the fact that the country has an amazing topography within a relatively small distance—from the lowlands of the Terai (about 40 m above sea level) to Mount Everest (8,848 m), the highest point on the planet—a distance of just about 300-350 kilometers, a distance that you can traverse in a day. Among the many wonders of nature within this area are the orchids. If you go to eastern Nepal, specifically the Dolpa region, you will come across a uniquely shaped orchid known locally as panch aunlle (literally, five-fingered). This species, known scientifically as Dactylorhinza hatagirea, is a prized specimen for its ability to impart vim and vigor.

Similarly, two other species, Flickingrea macrei and Pholidota articulata are known locally as Jivanti (meaning, ‘giving life’). They are also equally highly regarded for their medicinal values and are used in products like Chayawanprash, a widely popular tonic preparation taken by millions in the Indian subcontinent to enhance immunity to common ailments. These orchids are but a few of the many other flora that makes Nepal a rich source of medicinal botanical resource, including of course, the famous Yarsagumba, one of the best known natural aphrodisiacs.

Talking about orchids specifically, there are some 385 species in Nepal. Next time you take a trip to the Godavari Botanical Park in Lalitpur district, some 14 km from Satdobato on the Ring Road, make sure to visit the Orchid House. Here, you will find some 90 species of orchids (Sunakhari in Nepali), the most common being the popular Sungava (Dendrobium densifloram) and Chandigava (Coelogyne cristata). The orchids are tended to with a lot of love and care by the gardeners here, and most of the orchids are seen growing in little hanging wooden containers. Orchids require constant humidity and regular watering if they are to thrive. Care must also be taken to ensure that the soil compost is nutritious, and neither waterlogged nor dry. This explains the wooden baskets, which ensure that the plant does not get waterlogged. On the other hand, to prevent excessive dryness, pieces of tree barks, humus, etc. are placed over the soil compost to soak and retain water.

Although no hybrids are found in the garden, most nurseries around Kathmandu have hybrid varieties that have been imported from places like Sikkim and Kalimpong in India. Hybrids are sturdier than pure breeds and the flowers are larger as well, aside from lasting for longer periods. That is why hybrids command good prices, much higher than pure breeds. Now, if you are thinking of taking a look at the orchids in the Godavari Botanical Garden, then it is advisable to go sometime in March-April and July-August, since these are the best months to see many orchid flowers in bloom—surely a sight for sore eyes.

Orchids are of three types: saprophytes, terrestrials, and epiphytes. The first are chlorophyll-less (so, pale in color) and depend on fungus for nourishment. It’s difficult to cultivate them and, anyway, they don’t have much ornamental value. Terrestrials, on the other hand, do have chlorophyll and they grow just like any other plant. Epiphytes, however, grow on trees, mostly old and rotting tree trunks, or even on mossy rocks. Although they are not parasites, they do derive much of their nourishment from the humus they grow in.

It need not be said that orchids are most prized for the dazzling array of colors of their flowers, colors that you will not find in other flowers. For example, the rarest color among flowers, blue, is present in a variety of shades. Vanda coerulea and Disa graminifoli are two good examples of orchids with the color blue as part of their design. Another fine example of a dazzling color is deep velvet, which can be seen in the labella of the Cattleya species. Orchids with lilac-colored flowers are important for the cut-flower business, and these include Cattleya, Laelia, Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, Paphiopedilu, etc. Orchids having yellow tones are also highly regarded, these include Cinnabar and orange orchids. In fact, there are far more orchids having yellow color than there are others. The color tone ranges from sunny yellow to brown to rust to almost red. Another common orchid color is green which is seen in species like Cymbidium, Paphiopedilum, etc. But, all said and done, it is pure white that is the most highly regarded although pure white is not a naturally occurring color in nature. At the same time, it should be noted that there are many more orchids with two or more colors than with only a single color. You’ll notice that most orchid flowers are striped or spotted.

Well, so much for an impromptu lesson on orchids. Hope it fulfills its purpose, that of piquing your curiosity. If so, wait no more, take a trip down to the wonderful Godavari Botanical Garden and see for yourself what we’re talking about.

 

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