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26 Feb 2024, Edition - 3149, Monday

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Orchids beckon in the blue mountains



Udhagamandalam: Growing pressure on their habitat notwithstanding, gregarious flowering of orchids, particularly during the wet seasons continues to be a topic of discussion in various circles here.

Orchids are especially interesting to the botanist and the naturalist, for every single one of them has a different arrangement of the floral parts, to facilitate the right insect to reach the honey inside the long horn or “sac” at the back of the flower.

The Nilgiris in particular and the Western Ghats in general are the home of numerous species of orchids, and although the exact numbers are yet to be ascertained, the district manual of 1880 enumerates 105 varieties, and recent reports indicate that the numbers may even be higher.

For nature lovers there is something very exciting about finding an orchid, whether it is a ground orchid or one that belongs to the species that make a home on the branches of trees.

In tune with their blooming pattern thousands of ground dwelling ones are now covering the entire stretch of the Southwestern slopes of the Nilgiris.

Among them the one that easily catches the eye is a variety known as Satyrium nepalense also known by the popular but unimaginative name of Nepal Satyrium, with its small pinkish flowers which bloom as an upright spiky inflorescence. Details about this variety make interesting reading.

Though both the binomial and the common name suggest a Himalayan distribution, it is also found in the Western Ghats, where it was once known to the Europeans of pre independence times as Satyrium Neilgherrensis or the ‘Twin Spur Orchid.’

The older popular name is derived from the word ‘Ezhtkwehhdr’ which in the Today language refers to the bullock horn-like resemblance provided by the twin spurs of these flowers. The Todas are known to use the dried and powdered tubers of this orchid as an energising tonic and as a febrifuge.

Speaking to the Covai Post Conservationist P.J.Vasanthan observed that it is quite unfortunate that most of these flowers, which were once seen in fairly large numbers are now confined to isolated pockets.Attributing it to habitat alteration,he said that many haven’t yet been assessed vis a vis their conservation status and threats existing and emerging are quite unknown.

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