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Lady Denison Londesborough

June 2, 2011

The blue Vanda coerulea (Orchidaceae) is commonly used in man-made garden hybrids, and is perfect for Chiang Mai in northern Thailand where we need orchids which like it dry and sunny. V. coerulea grows wild here in northern Thailand, but is now highly endangered due to collection and theft from the national parks. A very nice initiative of the Queen Sirikit Botanical garden aims at its reintroduction into one village.

There are more wild Vanda species in Thailand. One that used to inhabit the evergreen jungles of India, Yunnan, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam is Vanda denisoniana.

The scientific name ‘denisoniana’ has rendered it the English name ‘Lady Denison Londesborough’s Vanda’. It is a name from 1869, referring to one of the prettiest women at the time, an aristocratic lady with connections to the court. The name may remind us of a time when the world still had vast tracts of virgin forests. Some may also remark that it was in those days the British Empire, with enthusiastic support of the locals, began turning the lush and ancient fairy-tale forests of Southeast Asia into sand. Some claim that naming an orchid after Lady Denison Londesborough is like naming it after Zarah Leander, pretty, but associated with people involved in a holocaust or ecocide. I leave the judgement to the reader. A significant benefactor of the Orchid Ark may also lend his or her name to a newly discovered plant, and be remembered as a patron of flora.

This orchid is highly variable in colours, and is also used for making man-made ornamental hybrids. The fragrance is strong at night, and although some literature compare it with ‘vanilla’, I can feel none of that. To me, the fragrance is a mixture of incense and lemon peel, paired with a few molecules of mushroom (1-octene-3-ol), but everyone’s brain is different and that is why fragrance is rarely used for identification. The orchid on this photograph should be a native wild variety which you can admire at Dokmai Garden now. If you wish to smell its perfume, please call ahead, as it only develops at night.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2011 10:53 PM

    One of the Orchid Ark’s scouts have discovered a site in northern Thailand with hundreds of this endangered orchid. We plan to study its pollination biology at night, aiming at introducing the host plant of the larva of the pollinator to Dokmai Garden. Like with all orchid sites in Thailand, this site can be robbed or clear cut any day. If any of our 4000 readers know about a good reference for Southeast Asian orchid pollinators, that would save us a lot of time.

    Eric Danell

  2. August 8, 2011 10:24 PM

    We did not get any fruits of this orchid at Dokmai Garden. That means we do not have the pollinator here. Reports from our orchid scout said fruits are scarce also in the wild. We do not know why.

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