Henry fully understands our passion for orchids and today took us to a secret location in Mulu to see the extraordinary flowering of one of the world’s rarest plants, Paphiopedilum sanderianum. This Orchid is endemic to Mulu and after its original discovery in 1885 was lost for nearly 100 years and thought extinct. It was rediscovered in 1978 and we first became aware of it in 1995 when we began working with local nurseryman Bob Dadd who was t first to successfully raise the species from seed in large numbers and so reduce pressure for illegal wild collection. It is a mark of the success of Mulu as a national park that this wonderful plant still survives in the wild and long may it continue.
Paphiopedilum sanderianum is unique for its remarkable 1m long spiralled petals and today’s photograph shows them beautifully against the dark cliff behind. It also shows that the flower spike grow horizontally to present the flowers to its pollinator (The cultivated plants I have seen have always had the spikes trained vertically up canes which loses the exquisite beauty of the flowers) I have heard it suggested that the long petals are to allow a pollinator to crawl up the flowers from the ground but as you can see the petals hang in mid air on the vertical cliff which blows that theory). The petals however make the flowers much more visible from a distance and that would seem the more likely evolutionary advantage.
All paphiopedilum species are CITES appendix 1 which offers maximum legal protection against wild collection but unfortunately it does still occur and we saw evidence of it in our expeditions to Laos. The critical status of Paphs in the wild is evidenced by today’s plants being the first flowering plants we have seen in habitat on school expeditions. We must demand that anyone growing paphiopedilum species ensure that their plants have been raised sustainably from seed in laboratories, and that no more of these majestic plants are ever taken from the wild.
A massive thank you to Henry for taking us to these plants. Henry is delighted with Tallis’s field guide to the Orchids of Sarawak and we will support him to develop his orchid knowledge (to go with his expertise on bats, reptiles, birds, insects and other plants) with regular correspondence over the next few years.