This is an unusual orchid that flowers at the end of March every year with sculpural brown and cream flowers and long terete leaves. Paraphalaenopsis is a genus just four species endemic to Borneo, and since visiting to Sarawak in 2019 we have a special interest in this beautiful species.
Paraphalaenopsis labukensis comes from near the Labuk river where it grows as an epiphyte from 500 to 1000m altitude. The Labuk river is in Sabah, the adjacent state to Sarawak in the north east of the island of Borneo and about 500 miles from our explorations in Mulu national park. We can therefore expect a habitat similar to several we visited, warm and wet throughout the year.
The species has variable flower colour from yellow to dark brown and on first flowering we are really pleased with the colour of our flowers. The flowers also have a twist on the petals and sepals – we think that is probably to help advertise the flowers in all directions. The leaves are long and thin, so far only 80cm long but apparently over 2m when the plant is fully mature. A basket is great to accommodate the pendulous habit and the plant is well suited to conditions in our Warm Asia section.
Terete leaves are often the sign of a species adapted to dry climates but observing terete leaved species in Sarawak we found that they were generally in more open forest (often due to limited soils) rather than dryer habitats. We have experimented with our paraphalaenopsis, and it actually seems to prefer good shade. It would be interesting to know if anyone has field observations of the species in habitat.
The name refers to the similarity between the flowers of these and Phalaenopsis but they are actually very distinct and a real point of interest.