Monday, December 27, 2010

Orchid Hunting in the Western Ghats

We have been orchid hunting in the Western Ghats. I should really leave it at that. We went to Kerala, Southern India just before Christmas because that is the season for the flowering of Vanda wightii - a Vanda not seen in Western greenhouses, and not recorded in the wild for a hundred years. We also needed to check on the range of Vanda tessellata -we have the smaller northern Vanda tessellata in the greenhouse and the much bigger Sri Lanka version. These from Travancore were betwixt and between.

I had planned to stay back at the hotel with The Hindu Times and CNN. I've read enough old accounts of orchid hunting: "Despite the terrain we only lost one man..." But orchid hunting in the Western Ghats turned out to be a lot less strenuous than Christmas shopping. It involved an SUV on loan from the Trivandrum Botanical Gardens, with driver, and Indian colleagues with my sense of humor. Sorry, America, only those who have been through the British school system and the old caste system of the English can, deep down, be on the same wavelength.

We were hunting orchids along the roads because that is where the oldest trees are: not chopped down but left for shade, not jungled up but separate, receiving their share of sunlight. And it's only on the oldest trees, Dr. Motes says, seventy-five years or more, that orchids have time to grow and can find that crusty old bark they love.

Kerala is the most populous state in India. True, whenever we stopped under a particularly old tree on those country roads, there was always a house and garden nearby where we could negotiate for a bamboo pole, be observed by grinning groups of school children walking home or locals on crowded buses charging by, their elbows jutting out of windowless sides.

We did not lose one man on those trips; we did find a Dr. Motes, more than happy, as he saw these Vanda species in the wild. And I was more than happy to just slide into my SUV seat to go hunting orchids in the Western Ghats.


  1. Did anything of note get knocked down by those bamboo poles?

  2. The two orchids Dr. M was interested in-they went back to the Botanical Garden, but Dr M photographed them in flower - the important thing. And hopefully the Garden will micro-propagate them and we can import some later.

  3. We went there a week later and came back with at least 15 species all on the roadside 'jungle'. And guess what, Dr. M is going to be upset. We found V. thwaitesii with a pod on it right at the junction where we took the diversion into orchid country!!!!!!!!!!