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A Book on Wild Orchids of Peninsular Malaysia

March 15, 2013

When I first opened this book I was struck by two things: it is so different and so beautiful!

Malayan orchid book

Ong PT, O’Byrne PO, Yong WSY, SAW LG (2011) Wild orchids of peninsular Malaysia. Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) & Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Malaysia. 196 pages with superb colour illustrations on black background for best contrast.

The authors have, like Linnaeus and all great teachers, climbed down from their high horses to meet with the general gardener and nature lover. They pedagogically explain and illustrate anatomy and subfamilies. The many pictures from the orchids growing in their natural forests, not hanging in a basket in a nursery, are not only breathtaking but also allows a busy city person realize what we are losing when the forests turn into rubber, corn and oil.

Malayan orchid book authors

Ong Poh Teck who is first author remarked to me in an e-mail earlier this year that he is the only Malayan scientist working on the 1000 species of wild orchids of peninsular Malaysia. Luckily there is a lot of support from abroad and Dokmai Garden’s Orchid Ark has already established a fruitful exchange of experience with Ong Poh Teck and other Malaysian botanists. The authors also encourage a collaboration between scientists, amateurs and commercial growers to overcome extinction threats and to learn more about orchid biology. I welcome this unusual thinking which comes out of necessity.

Among many interesting facts was one remark that Dipterocarpus oblongifolius seems to provide the best bark for wild orchids; 87 species! That dipterocarps provide the largest orchid abundance is in accordance with our field experience too, although in the lowlands of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai it seems to be Shorea roxburghii (‘payom’ in Central Thai). The authors also conclude that a single tree is not enough for the orchids, they need to be surrounded by a forest for optimum climate.

Would a book on Malaysian orchids be useful in Thailand? Indeed, the biology of the orchids are the same here, and Thailand shares 477 species with peninsular Malaysia, such as the pigeon orchid which I blogged about recently. It is likely more orchid species will be reported from Thailand, so to be prepared it is good to keep books on the flora of neighbouring countries in addition to Thai orchid books.

Being written by several authors with a deep passion for the subject the book is almost flawless even when it comes down to the tricky spelling of scientific names. I see the book as a perfect gift to any tropical gardener or outdoors person who wants to learn more about orchids (not just their names), and it should ideally be a part of all senior high school libraries in peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Burma and Thailand.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden

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