by Rexy Prakash Chacko
Comprising 10 per cent of all the world’s flowering plants, Orchidaceae (Orchid family) is one of world’s largest plant families, rivalled in number only by the Daisy family. Orchids are identifiable by their bilaterally symmetrical flowers, with the lip, being the most prominent characteristic in distinguishing their flowers from those of other plants. Almost every region (except the Antarctic) is home to a unique collection of orchids, adapted to the specific environments they grow in. Orchid diversity is especially high in the tropics and Peninsular Malaysia is no exception, with about 1000 species. In a 2017 tally, at least 144 species were recorded as occurring on Penang Hill.
The inspiration to write a pictorial guidebook on the orchids of Penang Hill began during a gentle stroll along The Habitat Penang Hill’s nature trail. Behind the ornamental plants that lined the sides of the trail my co-author, Santhi Velayutham and I found many orchids thriving in the cool environment and the shade of the undergrowth. There were so many and no one seemed to notice! It dawned on us that a pictorial book with succinct information on orchids of the Hill could help to nurture a better understanding and appreciation of these plants, and a greater concern for the conservation of their natural habitat.
This book is the ideal companion for anyone interested in learning about the orchids spotted on the Hill. We feature a selection of 50 orchids ranging from the diminutive and leafless Taeniophyllum hasseltii to the heaviest species in the world, the gargantuan Grammatophyllum speciosum or commonly known as the Tiger Orchid!
While researching and photographing orchids for this book, I had a chance to witness one of the most spectacular events of my ‘Orchiding’ life, the sight of a massive Tiger Orchid blooming with almost 5,000 flowers!
Another species worth mention is the Ania penangiana, a common sight along The Habitat’s Nature Trail and one of the wild orchids which carry the ‘Penang’ brand in its name.
My favourite among the 50 is the captivating Tainia speciosa, a camouflaged terrestrial growing in leaf litter, which has greenish-yellow flowers with sepals and petals stretching out widely as slender tails. Try spotting them if you can!
The book also leaves the reader with a sobering reminder of the challenges facing wild orchids today. Habitat destruction and illegal collection are pushing many species to the brink of extinction. We can do our part by refusing to buy wild-collected orchids. We should also never remove them from their natural habitat. All of us have a role to play in ensuring our wild orchids, which are an integral part of the natural heritage of Penang Hill, are conserved for generations to come.
Orchids of Penang Hill was produced with the support of The Habitat Penang Hill and is part of The Habitat Series of nature publications. You can purchase your copy at The Habitat Penang Hill. It retails for RM49.90. Inhabitant members are entitled to a 20 percent discount!