When I was last in Kuching, I had written about the new orchid garden that has been added as one the latest tourist attraction to this city. On that visit I had a chance to click on my trusted camera handphone N93i an image of one of the rarest of the rare orchids in the world which was in the form of a painting. It is called the Paphiopedilum sanderianum ( pronounced "paf-ee-oh-pedilum) as shown in the painting above and a photograph in the inset left. I am amazed to learn that the plant is one of the most sought-after orchids in the world. Its main attraction lies in its flowers which have two wavy drooping petals that can reach more than three feet length! It was discovered by a German collector (J. Forster-mann) who scoured the Sarawak forest in 1885. It was then "rediscovered" in 1978 by botanist Ivan Nielsen who found it flowering near Fire Mountain in Sarawak's deep interior.
Recently I got hold of a book on orchids entitled " Orchid Fever" written by Eric Hensen bought at a local bookstore in Kuching. The first chapter of the book focused on this endangered orchid species. Well more than that. In 1989, the sanderianum was up in the CITES list of the most endangered species in the world. And what does that mean? Caught taking it out of Sarawak or into any other signatory countries of CITES one can be fined as high as US$ 500,000 plus ten years in jail!!!
The book further described of an adventure into the impenetrable tropical rainforest of Borneo, near the Fire Mountain or what the local Penans called " Gunung Api". The expedition took on a ten days round trip just to see the sanderianum flower in the wild i.e. in its natural state. Having reached the holy grail of orchids, Eric Hansen wrote:"We climbed to about 950 feet, where we were surrounded by hundreds of sanderianum plants. It was difficult to move around for fear of trampling on the orchids, so we stood still for a moment savoring the incredible sight of these pristine wild plants. Only a handful of people on earth had ever seen what lay before us.
"AGGGGGH WHERE THE HELL IS MY GOD-DAMN HIGH -SPEED FILM?" Donald screamed into his camera bag before dumping its contents onto the ground.
Once the two men had calmed down, they swung into action while Bati, Katong, and I sat to drink in the scene of orchid ecstasy. Motor drives whirred, leaves were measured ( 3 inches across), mature plants, seedlings, and seed pods were counted, rain water was tested (pH 6.3), light was measured in units of foot-candles (2,500 to 4,000), and samples of rock (pH 7.5) were tested. Four hours later we were on our way down the mountain with notebooks full of data. Over the course of a week, we returned to the site several times, and then moved on to discover thousands of sanderianum plants in dozens of different sites."
The above expedition was in 1993 and in a light-hearted manner, Eric wrote towards the end of the chapter:" I was surprised when Richard told me that this sort of independent research, without special permits from the host country, is also prohibited".
A view of the new orchid garden ( DBKU Orchid Garden) towards the newly completed Sarawak State Legislative Assembly building in the far background.
The Tiger Orchid is an epiphytic orchid and grows naturally in Sarawak on the crowns of tall trees. However it can also be grown on the lowlands for example in town or city residential gardens. The handsome sample above can be seen at the orchid garden. I'll look forward to see when it will flower in future, which happens only once a year displaying lovely masses of golden yellow and spoted orange petals.
To me then, the sanderianum and the tiger orchid are one of the many of Sarawak's gifts to the world .
Note: For more pictures and stories about tropical orchids, please click on my blog about orchids by following this link: http://4loveoforchids.blogspot.com/
Ref: Eric Hansen (2000 ) Orchid Fever, Methuen Publishing Ltd, London.