Orchids: the jewels of Similipal
The orchid wealth of Orissa faces a threat, writes MONALISA JENA.
THE dense evergreen forests of Similipal, Orissa, are a treasure trove for orchids. The moist, humid climate helps both epiphytes (growing on trees) and terrestrial plant varieties to flourish. Of the 130 species found in Orissa, 93 species are concentrated in Similipal.
Eria meghasaniensis and Bulbophylum panigrahium are exclusive while Luisia atrichorhiza, Cymbidium aloifolium and Vanda tessellata are the most common, and attractive, flowers in purple, white and yellow. Also, the white flowers of Dendrobium nobile can be seen only in Similipal. Pecterlis gigantean, with its large white flowers, a fan-shaped fringed lip and a very long spur, is the most spectacular orchid found in mossy fields.
The sal, asan, simuli and mango trees host the exotic flowers. The forests are intersected by rivers and numerous streams and add to the ambience. It is a joy to look for these orchids in the Gudugudia, Meghasanai, Barenipani, Debasthali and Jenabil regions. For orchid lovers, the best time is during the blooming season between November and June.
The existence of orchids automatically establishes the presence of a rich forest zone because orchids are climate sensitive plants and do not survive in isolation. Apart from their beauty, orchids are useful for medicines, perfumes, and have immense commercial value. The flowers are exotic and stay fresh for a day.
Similipal's forests and hills provide a unique habitat to the orchids, which were classified and discovered only a few years ago. According to Dr. Sarat Mishra, the only authority on orchids in Orissa, the species found in the Himalayas are found here. Goodyera hispida, a very rare orchid, previously found in the Sikkim Himalayas, is also found in Similipal. Similarly, Goodyera thailandica, a small terrestrial orchid found in Thailand, grows here in the shade of the moist valleys. Orchids, previously pertaining to Sri Lanka and Kerala, have also been found.
Sadly, the evergreen forests are fast disappearing.
Century-old trees are being felled everyday. Only a few years ago, all the trees bordering a river or a stream hosted an orchid like a crown. Now water bodies are disappearing and the rest is clear.
Apart from smuggling, the forests are exposed to extensive damage from local tribal practices like the tradition of "Akhand Shikar". Tribals burn a patch of forest to kill the animals trapped inside it; and later feast on them. Not only do the large trees get affected but also the grass cover is destroyed.
Orchids suffer in a different way too. As many species are edible, the flowers and fleshy roots are targets.
Over-enthusiastic tourists are notorious in causing damage to the exotic flowers too. They pull away the delicate roots and a plant once uprooted and kept in at alien atmosphere dies.
The only hope lies in the establishment of an orchid sanctuary.
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