Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Pigeon Orchid

Above: Buds about to open looking like little birds hanging upside down.
Below: A "string" of freshly open flowers.

The Pigeon Orchid, Dendrobium crumenatum, must be the commonest wild orchid on Borneo; it grows on trees on the edges of forest, in plantations, gardens, parks and even on roadside trees. However it usually grows unnoticed and ignored and is even sometimes treated as a weed by orchid growers! But every now and then all the Pigeon orchid in an area spontaneously burst into bloom of little white and very fragrant flowers, when every tree with a clump of this orchid are adorned with "necklaces" of what look like tiny white birds (hence its common name) and a strong perfume fills the air! Alas this only lasts a single day and by the next morning the flowers start to wilt and drop and the clumps of epiphytes are once again ignored.

A single flower with a moth attracted to it by the sweet scent.

It is believed that this mass flowering is triggered by a drop in temperature - flowers develope nine days after a drop of 5.5 oC or more, like when a sudden downpour occurs after a period of hot weather. However a recent study suggests that it is the water that washes away the inhibitary substance that initiates flowering rather than the change in temperature. The rain must be heavy and long enough, like 2 hours or more to be effective.

Dendrobium crumenatum has a wide distributional range: from China, Taiwan, Indochina, India and Sri Lanka to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Even a sickly looking plant can produce a few perfumed flowers!

Due to its infrequent flowering and short-lived bloom and lack of big showy flowers, the Pigeon Orchid is a neglected and under-rated orchid by gardeners. However I think each garden should have at least one plant as it is easy to grow and is totally maintenance-free, just stick a plantlet (called keiki in the business) on your mango (or whatever) tree and you can forget about it until one day when you notice that sweet smell coming from your garden!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Only In Sabah

Only in Sabah would you be able to see such a signboard! It's a notice to (foreign) harvesters in an oil palm plantation in their respective languages and of course English. It is also a sign of the times showing Malaysia's almost-total dependence on labour imported from her neighbours. Why? Borneans (and Malaysians in general) find these jobs too menial to do themselves... The languages represented here are Malay, English, Tagalog (Philippines) and Bugis (Sulawesi, Indonesia).