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Wild Vanda orchids are not beautiful!

May 21, 2011

The other day we had a visitor who admired the Orchid Ark’s collection of local orchid species. I showed him Vanda flabellata (Orchidaceae), a tropical orchid with a limited range including northern Thailand, Burma and southern Yunnan. It tends to grow high up in deciduous trees of Dipterocarpaceae. Formerly a member of the Aerides genus, it does not look like a classical Vanda. In fact, this flower does not look like anything else. The comment of my visitor was ‘This can not be a wild Vanda, because wild Vandas are not this beautiful’!

Does only man make beautiful things, and not nature? Is man a more supreme creator than a God? Judge for yourselves:

‘Vanda’ is a Sanskrit word for the orchid Vanda tessellata. ‘Flabellata’ means ‘fan-shaped’. The common English name ‘Fan-shaped Aerides’ is not only boring but unfortunate since the orchid no longer belongs to the genus Aerides. Generally speaking, vernacular names should never involve a genus name.

A better English name is ‘Avatar orchid’. Avatars are earthly expressions of the Hindu god Vishnu, the preserver. Formerly the Thai kings, Rama, and even lord Buddha, were considered avatars. Since the column of this orchid species looks like the stereotypic head of an alien, ‘Avatar orchid’ is in fact a descriptive name. Unfortunately, people are more obsessed with (imaginary) alien life on other planets, than (actual) life on this planet. Without serious actions, this Avatar orchid, a supreme expression no matter what faith you have, will disappear. You can help preserving it by supporting the Orchid Ark with the same amount you paid for watching the Avatar movie.

Text and Photo: Ketsanee Seehamongkol and Eric Danell

P.S. Do not forget to sign up for Sunday’s jungle excursion!

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