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November 17, 2010

Tantalizing Search

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – My wife, now heavy with child, precludes any airline travel, our wandering lifestyle vastly curtailed. We decided to explore the local attractions we had missed.


One excursion was to the orchid garden set up by the government, just a quick sampan ride away. Since I arrived, I have wanted to study this flower and at least get to know the various forms and shapes. I told Suriani to stay in the flat and that I would be gone only an hour or two


Being an American, I am sure she must have some feeling that I am a bit balmy and visiting the orchid garden, I believe, was probably no exception. You see, orchids grow everywhere here.


Each house and condo balcony has at least a few. They are watered and tended like most other plants and I don’t believe they are given much of an afterthought. They grow wild along the roadside. Purists and fanatics raise and cross breed around the world and some fetch a very high price. But I am in the negative area on the learning curve when it comes to orchids.


Besides, I had heard the government center sold plants and I wanted to add them to the menagerie on my balcony. I think Suriani was curious about what I was going to bring home now.


We rode the sampan across the river and walked a few hundred meters to the center. I immediately got out my camera, notebook and started to work. One of the problems was they were not identified. Most did not have labels on them.


In my leaning furor, I studied each flower and wrote down a description. Being a visual person, I noticed the shape of the flower resembled a human face. There was a tongue and a nose. I then described each orchid thusly: Pale orange, white tipped nose with red tongue.


The next goal was the flower shape. I came upon the original notion to call them either spidery or butterfly depending on the shape of the petals. These “notes” accompanied the picture of the flower.


I was also having fun with my camera. I would get as close to a flower as I could and take a shot of the mouth with tongue hanging out. I guess I was seeking a close up of the tonsils.


All of this worked well and I was really enjoying myself when I met a gentleman from New Zealand. As most you know by now I am very nosey and will talk to anyone at any time. He was deep in thought studying a flower, and I went up and said how beautiful it was.


There I was with a notebook, pen, glasses, expensive camera and jungle shorts, the perfect stereotype of an orchid hunter. He looked up at me and agreed. He then went into a long description of the flower naming each part in botanical language and attempting to convince me that the two orchids were mislabeled. This one was the renanthera ewos and THAT one was the renanthera Brooke.


I told him I would have a closer look. I studied each specimen carefully and for the life of me I could not tell any difference between the two. They looked exactly the same to me.


I stepped back knowingly and said “Yes, I believe you are correct.” Satisfied, he made a notation and we chatted about the best place to go orchid hunting.


I told him (this time I really did know what I was talking about) he could enter the forest at this location giving him specific directions. I told him to walk about four kilometers down a path where he would come to a clearing. I knew orchids were there but hadn’t a clue about their names. He furiously wrote down directions and gave me a knowing look and thanked me profusely.


Later, reflecting back, I think he thought I was giving him the directions to my secret jungle stash where one could find the rarest of the rare. We parted company, me with tongues and noses and he with a location to find the elusive orchids of Borneo.

…Life is good…


For more scientific articles about the flora and fauna of Borneo go to click blog. Photos of the orchids can be found on Facebook also at Borneo Tom.


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