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An orchid pachyderm

August 25, 2011

Pachyderms are thick-skinned mammals such as elephant and rhinoceros. A native Thai orchid with stiff and thick leaves, somewhat reminding one of lingonberry leaves but bigger, is Dendrobium pachyphyllum (Orchidaceae). ‘Pachyphyllum’ simply means ‘thick leaf’. It makes two thick leaves on a small, stalked striated pseudobulb. An English name could be ‘The Orchid pachyderm’.

The orchid pachyderm has many other peculiar traits. It does have a pleasant perfume, although you need to put your nose close to the flower to detect it. The perfume seems expensive! When observed from above, the side (lateral) sepals are very broad, which may explain its other English name: broad-stemmed dendrobium.

Now to the most important aspect, in what environment (habitat) does it grow? As usual the literature and the websites are based on nursery specimens, so the poor conservationist has to spend many unpaid hours searching and asking around. It is native to the area from Assam in India to Borneo, including many provinces of Thailand. Many specimens seem to prefer a moist but sun bright position, found even along roads and in orchards. I think this one should stay in the nursery until we know if it can stand the dry Chiang Mai valley climate.

The second most important aspect, which together with habitat data often lacks in the popular orchid literature, is which organism pollinates it?

Other orchid species currently in blossom at Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai (northern Thailand):

Bulbophyllum bittnerianum

C. fuerstenbergianum

Dendrobium ellipsophyllum

D. pachyphyllum

D. spatella

D. venustum

Grosourdya appendiculata

Habenaria myriotricha

Oberonia sp.

Phalaenopsis cornu-cervi

Ph. deliciosa

Polystachya crenulata

Robiquetia succisa

Sarcoglyphis sp.

Thecostele alata

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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