During my stay in Australia I had the opportunity to join a group of Australians and South African going to Malaysia to participate in the 17th World Orchid Conference, last April.
The trip was organized by my friends Murray and Jean Shergold, owners of Easy Orchids, from Woodburn, NSW. This was my first trip with a group and also my first experience in Asia.
In this article I will be telling you about the extra-WOC excursion.

  Our entry in the country was through the very modern airport of Kuala Lumpur (known by all as KL) but early in the next morning we flew to the island of Penang, in the Northwest of Malaysia. As we arrived we were taken by bus to "Hutam Sipan Kekal Gunung Jerai", a permanent forest reserve, in the main land, where the heat and the humidity were very high. Small vans took us to the top of the mountain, at 1200m of altitude, along a windy road that crosses a beautiful tropical forest.
The forest is more dense in the lower part and changes it's structure as we go uphill. The rainfall in the area is around 1000mm but, at the top of the mountain the mist seems to be very frequent and when we got there we were among the clouds.
As we waited for the lunch that was offered to us at the old local hotel, I started my exploration, although it was easy to see that the vegetation around the hotel had been disturbed already. But, as everything was new for me, the curiosity did not let me stay seated still.
A few meters from the hotel, besides a monkeys' family that seemed more aggressive than our Atlantic Rainforest monkeys, I found a low tree, with branches well exposed to the sun, covered by an orchid with thin upright leaves. Unfortunately no one in the group was able to identify it and it was the only true epiphyte orchid we found along our walk.


  After lunch a local man brought from the forest around eight different species of orchids.
Among the eight we recognized two species of Bulbophyllum, two of Eria and another species in flower. The local man could only speak Malay and the only thing we understood was that the plants were orchids and that he was going to attach them to the local trees.
Nevertheless, it was enough to show us that we would probably find a lot of them ahead from us.
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga Flowering orchid collected in the "Hutam Sipan Kekal Gunung Jerai"
 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga
Bromheadia finlaysoniana,
growing in a sunny road cut
As soon as we started to walk downhill, in a sunny road cut covered by Sphagnum moss, I saw some suspicious leaves - yes, it was a big clump Bromheadia finlaysoniana looking like a terrestrial Epidendrum, more than 1m tall and with an apical single flower, 6cm in diameter, white with a labellum with red stripes.
It is a common orchid in Southeast Asia.
 
Along all our
way, every one
was fascinated
by the variety
and quantity
of the carnivorous
plant Nepanthes.


 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga The carnivorous plant Nepanthes sp
  Down to 800m, while the forest was low and open, we found from 10 to 15 different species of orchids, almost none in flower and that we could not identify.
Many Dendrobium, Bulbophyllum and Eria, among other micro-orchids, were growing close to the base of trunks, associated to mosses and to organic matter and sometimes covering great part of the ground.
 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga Bulbophyllum sp. growing among mosses, on the ground.
  As we continued walking downhill and the forest became more dense and tall, the orchids became rarer and apparently epiphytic plants in general were few.
In Penang we visited the nursery "Orchid Park", where the most attractive orchids were enormous plants of Grammatophyllum speciosum and the "Penang Botanical Garden".
In the "Penang Botanical Garden", surrounded by a beautiful piece of tropical forest, one can find orchids in the old "Orchidarium", which has a great number of established species (not all in good conditions) in a garden with high humidity and also in the "Orchid Shop", close to the main gate, where there are many beautiful hybrid seedlings for sale. The "Orchidarium" and the shop are closed on Tuesdays.


 

It is easy to see that
orchids are part of
Malaysia dayly life:
in the old part of town,
flower markets on the
streets show beautiful
dendrobium and vandaceae hybrids displays, like
necklaces, to be used
as ornaments for Hindu's and
Chinese's altars.
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga Flower market on Penang's street displaying necklaces of
dendrobium and vandaceae hybrids
  Back to Kuala Lumpur we visited a new commercial orchid nursery: "Serendah International Orchid Park", one hour and a half from KL, that was opened to receive the participants of the WOC.
They offered us a beautiful reception and a very tasty lunch, but I could not get well impressed by what I saw. The shade houses, where they are starting to grow thousands of Dendrobium, Vanda, Aranda, Ascocenda, Cattleya and Cymbidium (only Phalaenopsis are growing in a green house) were all built on terraces made on top of hills, where a few months ago there was luxuriant tropical rainforest.
The signs of destruction are still well visible and it will be necessary an intense work on environmental protection to stop erosion caused by the tropical storms - in an enterprise where a lot of public money was spent.
The advertisement talks about a future nature park, but what we saw is very distant from proposal.
 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga Road construction in the
"Serendah International Orchid Park"

  As a normal group of tourists we had a "tour" around the multiracial city of KL and
as the 17th WOC was the main reason of our visit to Malaysia, we participate in the opening ceremony and we were able to get into the show before the general public.

But the 17th WOC is another story…

What is part of this story is the quick conversation that I had with Peter O'Byrne, who gave the first lecture of the Conference and author of the book "A to Z South East Asian Orchids Species".
O'Byrne works in the neighbor Singapore and has been surveying the orchids of the region for many years. As he talked about the richness of the Malay orchid flora he showed great concern about the present rate of cutting down the forests in the country and the total lack of conservation projects.

 

At the third day of the WOC
some of us were again on
the road.
This time our destiny was
the region known as the
Cameron Highlands,
two hours from KL.
At the foot of the mountain
(high temperature and humidity),
we stopped to visit a local
artisan and were fascinated
by many plants of
Cymbidium finlaysonianum
,
in flower and bearing many
fruits, epiphytic in many trees,
growing together with some
species of Dendrobium that
we could not identify.

 

Cymbidium finlaysonianum
 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga
Grammatophyllum speciosum,
for sale along the road.
  Along the road, from the low plain mountains, isolated flowers of Arundina graminifolia emerged from the low disturbed vegetation. Half way to the top of the mountains, a road side vendor was offering a big plant of Grammatophyllum speciosum in flower, looking like it had been taken from the forest.
The Cameron Highlands is a mountain area where the English colonizers used to spend their weekends, running from the heath in KL. Besides its natural beauty the region is also known as a big producer of tea, flowers and vegetables.
The annual rainfall in the area is around 2000mm and we experienced intense rain periods during the two days we spent there.
Excavation works were taking place at many sites and, with the strong rains, a lot of soil was being washed to the rivers, that showed the clay in suspension - as we were able to observe in many other rivers during the ten days that we spent in Malaysia.
It was raining when we got into the "Mentigi Forest Reserve", 1400 m high, a tropical rainforest looking very much alike our Atlantic Rainforest: epiphytes, creepers and lianas hanging from the trees and mosses, ferns and a lot of organic material on the soil.

 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga
Liparis purpureoviridis
  Our guide was a graduating student from Singapore, who has been surveying the local orchids for many years and he knew exactly where the different species were growing.
On the humid and shady soil of the forest we saw:
the saprophytic leafless Lecanorchis pauciflora,only showing its floral spike with terminal buds above the ground ;
Liparis purpureoviridis
, in flower;
Calanthes nicolae
and Calanthes sp., the last one with yellow buds, growing right by the edge of the small stream
 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga
Calanthes sp.
  and Goodyera procera, a "jewel-orchid" with its beautiful dark leaves and golden veins, growing in a very shady condition.
All the terrestrial orchids that we spoted have a limited population as they can be easily collected or even stepped over.
 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga
Goodyera procera
  As epiphytes we saw: the common Eria obliterata and E. flavescens, Dendrobium acerosum (growing on branches exposed to a higher light intensity) and Dendrobium excavatum, Bulbophyllum angustifolium, B. flavescens and B. lobbii - none of them in flower. The only epiphytic orchid in bloom was Dendrobium reseatum, with its beautiful white flowers. Bulbophyllum lobbii and Dendrobium reseatum are endangered species in the area, due to intense collecting.
As the "Mentigi Forest Reserve" is a forest reserve and not a park, collecting is not forbidden. There are no parks in the area.

 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga
Varieties of Paphiopedilum barbatum
Paphiopedilum barbatum is considered a common orchid in the forests of the Cameron Highlands. We did not have the opportunity to find them growing in the wild but we visited a local orchid grower, who has worked for many years cutting trees in the area. He was able to put together a collection of 110 varieties of Paph. barbatum, just by collecting them from the places where the forest was going to be chopped down. The peak of the flowering season is in January and he could only show us five very distinct varieties in flower in April, still a good sample of the local richness.
  Still in the Cameron Highlands and still under strong rains we stopped at the small Kea village for a visit to the orchid nursery "Taman Orkid Liar Dan Ros".
  All the plants for sale were adult plants and possibly many of them had been collected from the surrounding forests some time ago. At the present no one is putting effort in propagating the orchids.
Many of the species were not identified but great number of them was really very impressive.
We saw many different species of Dendrobium, Dendrochillum, Coelogyne, Callanthes, Eria and Bulbophyllum, among other genera. We calculated that around 500 different species were growing in the various micro-environments of the many shade-houses. Many plants were in flower, as the interesting Bulbophyllum lemiscoides.
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga
Bulbophyllum lemiscoides for sale in an
orchid nursery in the Cameron Highlands
  After returning to KL and when the WOC had finished, I stayed still one more day in the city, before coming back to Brisbane. It was a must for me to visit the "The Kuala Lumpur Orchid Garden", close to the "Hibiscus (national flower of Malaysia) Garden", both in the "Lake Gardens".
 

Phalaenopsis violacea
The exuberance of the flower
beds of orchids attract a large public.
By the end of the April the species
in flower were:
Cymbidium finlaysonianum,
Dendrobium acerosum,

Dendrobium cruentum,
Phalaenopsis cornucervi,
Phalaenopsis equestris
and
Phalaenopsis violacea
.

 
But the great attraction is the colorful bed flowers with hybrids of Vanda, Ascocenda, Dendrobium, Aranda and Monara.
 
Foto/Photo: Rosário Almeida Braga
Bed flower of hybrids in "The Kuala Lumpur Orchid Garden"
 
Although we saw many different orchids in ten days, I know I was able to see only a small sample of the rich flora of Peninsula Malaysia. And there are two other big Malaysian states in Borneo Is.: Sarawak and Sabah, where the famous Mt. Kinabalu Nat. Park is located, which is the habitat of many other well known orchid species as well as some others still to be described.
One thing that this trip had helped to make very clear to me is my passion for Conservation.
Once more I was able to confirm my wish to effectively enroll myself and my commercial nursery in working for the conservation of what is still left of our Atlantic Rainforest, which is at our door step, and for the conservation of orchids in general.


  Bibliography:
O'Byrne, P. 2001. A to Z South East Asian Orchid Species. Singapure, Orchid Society of South East Asia. 168pp.
Photos: Maria do Rosário de Almeida Braga



  Foto/Photo: ? Manipulação digital/Digital manipulation: Sergio Araujo Born in Rio de Janeiro City, Rosário is a biologist and master of Marine Botanical

Between 1988 and 1994, she lives in the Parque Estadual da Ilha do Cardoso, south littoral of São Paulo, when she began to be interested in Atlantic Forest Conservation.

In September 1994, she started to work at Quinta do Lago Nurseries, immediately falling in love with the orchids.

Since then, she has been learning about many aspects of the orchids and about their commercialization.

She has three sons and is married to the Australian ecologist Tim Moulton, who is, during this year, working in Brisbane, Australia.


  Editor's note: In our next issue Maria do Rosário Almeida Braga will tell us about the 17ª WOC


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