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The leatherleaf orchid

May 9, 2012

The leatherleaf orchid, Aerides crassifolia (Orchidaceae) is restricted to the drier parts of Southeast Asia where it inhabits deciduous savannah-like forests.

The Dokmai Garden specimen was originally mounted on a piece of hardwood, and when I decided to move it from the nursery to the woodland, I was afraid I should accidentally hurt its roots by removing them from the original substrate. It is the only specimen of the Orchid Ark so special attention was needed. I tied the whole clump to the stem of a Dipterocarpus alatus in an area we never irrigate. In the storm a month ago the orchid with its heavy fundament must have fallen down, and only thanks to its pink blossom pleading for help amidst a sea of decaying leaf litter, it was discovered and saved from certain death. My lesson learnt: always detach the orchid from the pot/net/wood and tie it using at least two natural fiber strings to the tree. When removing the roots from the original substrate, gently push them sideways, do not grab the root tip and pull it as if the aerial root was made of tape. By transferring orchids to the trees in your garden in the early rainy season (now) you will give the orchid the possibility to firmly attach itself with its own roots. Always map your orchids in case tags disappear and in case branches or orchids fall down, and frequently monitor them (dog walking is good).

A general rule for orchids exposed to sun and drought is that they reduce the leaf surface to save water. The leaves are often cylindrical (terete). The leatherleaf orchid (crassifolia means ‘thick leaf’) is an exception, but its broad leaves are fat, almost succulent, and might be a stage in evolution towards reduced surface and increased volume.

There are many more native orchids in blossom at Dokmai Garden right now. The avatar orchid Vanda flabellata which was transferred to the monsoon woodland last year blooms happily, and it amazes me how such a dusty dry habitat fits them so well. I can also proudly report that the pollination of Vanda denisoniana was successful and we anticipate a beautiful harvest of orchid fruits and seeds.

The flower of Aerides crassifolia looks like a pink eagle. Its beauty makes it a vulnerable target for orchid thieves who steal them from the national parks and sell them along roadsides. Another very similar orchid genus with eagle-like columns is Rhynchostylis. The flowers of that genus have tongue-like lips, while members of Aerides have 3-lobed lips. Some Aerides have been moved to the genus Vanda, which is why vernacular names should not contain the genus name.

A characteristic of the Aerides genus is the spur which often points forwards.

The leaves are dark green, relatively broad, dented at the tip and strikingly thick.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin Shim permalink
    May 10, 2012 12:07 PM

    Dear Eric ,
    Thanks for sharing . I have always enjoy your write up. Always short and sweet but informative.


    • May 10, 2012 3:32 PM

      Thanks Martin – looking forward to seeing you in Borneo some day!

      Cheers, Eric

  2. Martin Shim permalink
    May 11, 2012 9:50 AM

    Dear Eric,
    I’m going to Chiangmai before year end. So hope hope to visit you and your garden. Am still planning my program.Suggestions are welcome :)) Not sure if Queen Sirikit Botanical garden worth visiting.


    • May 11, 2012 2:14 PM

      Indeed the QSBG is worth a visit – it is the national botanical garden of Thailand and is situated at higher elevation than us. We could plan to see some wild orchids too. Doi Inthanon is easy access and plenty of orchids, but you are never alone, always tourists. We could take you to a typical dry dipterocarp forest if you wish.

      Cheers, Eric

  3. Martin Shim permalink
    May 14, 2012 9:05 AM

    Thanks Eric for your suggestions. I will come back to you again . I need to check with my other half to balance it with other activities which of course include shopping. My 6 years old will also be with us :)).



    • May 14, 2012 9:50 AM

      Dear martin,

      Shopping is easy, the Airport Plaza is 20 minutes driving distance from us. Your six year old can play with Mika (4 years) and our dog. One option, if the program is tight, is that we drop your wife at the Airport Plaza en route here, and then we spend time here and we pick her up on the way back to town?

      Cheers, Eric and Ketsanee

      • Martin Shim permalink
        May 18, 2012 12:29 PM

        Dear Eric ,
        Thanks again for your suggestion. Don’t think time is an issue. We are flying into Chiang Rai on the 11 oct and and out of Chiangmai on the 17 oct. Still trying to read up what we should do in this 2 cities. Cheryl and Joshua my son would visit your garden and place together.Anything further than that would probably be optional to them. Will see how it goes. I,m sure we have so much to learn from you.


      • May 18, 2012 1:12 PM

        Great! See you later!

        Ketsanee and Eric

  4. kentiopsis permalink
    May 19, 2012 8:53 AM

    I recall that an orchid grower in Hawaii told me that soaking the roots of the orchid would make them pliable and easier to remove from a substrate. Dry, they’re pretty brittle.

  5. kentiopsis permalink
    May 19, 2012 8:59 AM

    By the way, if you want another plant geek tagging along in Borneo, sign me up! That’s very high on my list of places to visit.

  6. Martin Shim permalink
    May 20, 2012 7:50 PM

    Please to meet you guys here ! 🙂

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