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The eagle’s nest – a common wild orchid?

April 20, 2012

Are there common wild orchids in Thailand? Everything is relative. Many visitors to Dokmai Garden, settlers since years in Chiang Mai, say they have never seen wild orchids here. When I hear that I show them the ‘crystal lip’  (Acriopsis indica, Orchidaceae) and the ‘eagle’s nest’ (Cymbidium aloifolium, Orchidaceae) which grow wild here at Dokmai Garden. The largest specimen of ‘eagle’s nest’ grows high up in our wild forest mango (Mangifera caloneura, Anacardiaceae), a relict of a once mighty lowland monsoon forest.

When walking about in the surrounding jungles this is one of the wild orchid species you do have a fair chance of seeing. The problem is most people stay indoors now (temperatures 36-37°C), but this is the best season for wild orchids! The eagle’s nest is highly tolerant of drought and so a beginner’s choice when first establishing a monsoon garden. You can easily adorn deciduous trees with this species, bought from CITES certified dealers. The leaves are strap-like with a dented end, and old specimens may grow into impressive proportions resembling an eagle’s nest. Being an epiphyte it grows on tree branches, but may survive on a rock if it is sunny enough. If you grow it outdoors here in Chiang Mai, you should not do anything but allow it to follow the seasons of droughts and rains. The natural distribution overlaps quite well with that of the tiger, from India to Sumatra and southern China.

This specimen of ‘eagle’s nest’ just began blooming at Dokmai Garden. The species was originally described by the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus (1707-1778) who coined the name Epidendrum aloifolium (‘epidendrum’ meaning ‘on trees’ and ‘aloifolium’ meaning ‘leaves resembling aloe’). When the early naturalists realized there were thousands of epiphytic orchid species, lumping them all into one genus ‘epidendrum’ was not practical. Linnaeus’ student Swartz therefore moved the ‘eagle’s nest’ to a new genus (1799) he named Cymbidium (meaning ‘little boat’).

Other Dokmai Dogma articles on Thai Cymbidium:

Cymbidium ensifolium

Cymbidium tracyanum

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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