violacea and Phalaenopsis
the moral behind the story
the 11th World Orchid Conference, 1984 in Miami,
I wanted so much to talk on Phalaenopsis
violacea and was especially proud because
after blooming thousands of plants, I was able
to select a very special coloured variety and
breed enough seedlings; subsequently offering
for sales my blue Phalaenopsis violacea .
the subject chosen for me to speak was
Paphiopedilum of Malaysia.” – can
you imagine my disappointment?
know, if given a chance to speak on this subject – “Collecting
Paphiopedilum of Malaysia” again, I would
be happy to share with you the many stories
about my adventures and the habitats of Paphiopedilum sanderianum,
Paphiopedilum volonteanum, the rediscovery of Paphiopedilum
lawreancaenum and my discovery of Paphiopedilum
would have shown you the pleasure of vacationing in
the Resort Islands of Langkawi, where Paphiopedilum
niveum could be seen flowering by the thousands.
Where you would have driven up the mountains and able
to see Paphiopedilum callosum growing
and flowering by the side of the road. Going
to Lake Resorts where orchids are found on
every tree. We can go fishing, bird watching
and if you are lucky, you can even find your
very own “islands of orchids”.
you can only imagine the thrill I experienced when
I was invited to speak on Phalaenopsis violacea and Phalaenopsis
bellina. Something I wanted to do so much at
the World Orchid Conference in Miami 24 years ago.
has been THAT long that even this particular species
was reclassified as two different species.
It would definitely
be easier to talk on this species 24 years ago because then it
was just one species - Phalaenopsis violacea . Thanks
to Eric Christenson, we now know that those from Peninsula Malaysia
are Phalaenopsis violacea and those from Borneo
are Phalaenopsis bellina. Now what about those from
all that needed to be written and discussed on this
orchid species has been documented. All that needed
to be done for these two fascinating species had already
been done. The progeny of these two phalaenopsis species,
I believe has the most awards and the most numerous
numbers of hybrids.
me, it started during the trip to visit Mrs. Irene
Dobkin in 1972 with the purpose to see her collection
of Phalaenopsis gigantea and her infamous Asconopsis Irene
Dobkin; where below all the huge plants of Phalaenopsis
gigantea, I saw a tiny little red flower that smelled
fatal attraction got me a scolding from Mrs. Dobkin
for not even knowing a species that came from somewhere
near my home. I never did forget that day as it was
the beginning of a long and fateful journey.
35 years later in my 6th generation of line breeding
the Phalaenopsis bellina. I am ashamed
to say that it was only two years ago, that I bred
my first seedpod of a regular Phalaenopsis violacea .
then, when I first started to collect Phalaenopsis
violacea , it never crossed my mind to consider
the necessity of making seedpods for this species and
the need for propagating this species in my laboratory.
With the habitats gone now and this species almost
extinct in the wild, I am glad that I will soon have
seedlings bred from selected jungle-collected plants.
As far as I know, there is only one place in Peninsula Malaysia
that this species could be found. It is a well known fact that
the last known habitat where one can find Phalaenopsis
violacea is in the State of Perak in Malaysia.
forest of which most of it was a swampland of about
5,000 acres is in fact a Phalaenopsis violacea paradise
for me. It was the happiest ‘playground’
for me – a naughty young boy 35 years
ago and now still the same - but maybe a bit
forest is about twelve kilometres from the
town of Langkap which is located about 100 kilometres
from the town of Ipoh. The last weekend of every
month would be ‘playtime’ for me and my collector friends
to go looking for these sweet smelling flowers. And
believe me, we normally come out with hundreds of these
species – most of the plants collected
are flowering and many with seedpods.
I can say is that the only habitat of Phalaenopsis
violacea is now gone.
last known habitat of Phalaenopsis
of Phalaenopsis violacea
For these 5,000 acres of swamp is now a new township with proper
roads with proper infrastructure, with schools, hospitals, factories,
shops and a healthy and thriving oil palm industry.
only I knew what I was doing then was actually saving
these plants from extinction, I would have saved them
all. I was back there three years ago and was truly
devastated losing a place which I had so much fun and
fond memories. But looking at the children playing,
going to school, people having coffee with their friends,
women going shopping with their babies, perhaps it
was selfish of me to only think of the good times that
this place has given me.
have attended many conferences and even argued with
my fellow dedicated conservationists. I agreed with
them that the destruction of the orchid habitat is
a horrendous thing; for this is the biggest treat to
the extinction of a species. The destruction of natural
habitats of orchids following development is as sure
as night following day and nothing is going to stop
it, nothing that we, as orchid lovers, can say or do
to stop this natural phenomenon of development and
mineral development, energy projects are all big money,
and all these are made possible only from the sacrifice
of our jungles. Phalaenopsis violacea of Malaysia
is the perfect example of a very unfortunate victim
in the face of development and advancement.
with all the endless committees around the world, with
the names of important people on them, we have spoken,
expressed our feeling and strong sentiments on conservation,
we have made impassioned plea with our governments,
but sadly, I think we have achieved very little.
remember very well the argument I had many years ago
during a conference with the late Mrs. Andree Millar
from Papua New Guinea. She asked me why I can not leave
the Phalaenopsis violacea alone. I simply told
her that I believe in looking for the best to breed
reply certainly didn’t help with our
relationship. It was only after about fifteen
years later, during another international orchid
dinner party, that I had the most wonderful
surprise. Mrs. Andree Millar actually came
over to my table to say hello and with a smile
on her face, told me that what I am doing is
also helping in conservation. I could not help
but smiled back, and we became best of friends.
What I have done with Phalaenopsis violacea might not
be the best and most scientific way in saving a species but I
sincerely think it helped, in whatever small way. What we did
was to collect as many as we could manage; grow them, flower
them, selecting desirable qualities and start breeding more of
this wonderful Phalaenopsis violacea or any other species.
By selection of more desirable quality in a species, the seedlings
produced are definitely prettier then plants collected from the
jungle. This not only makes a species more desirable, you are
actually taking the pressure away from plants being collected
from the wild.
for the bigger question. Is there something we can
learn from these two species?
we have two species that showed us what could happen
if we are not careful about our intentions and the
directions we take in our efforts of conservations
of a species.
violacea , where her habitat is only about
5,000 acres and a few miles from a village;
the habitat of Phalaenopsis bellina is
our planet’s third largest island – Borneo,
with an area of 743330 sq. kilometre or 287000
those early years, I did not care to breed more of
the Phalaenopsis violacea , for the simple reason
that there were plenty and Phalaenopsis violacea is
definitely not as pretty compared to Phalaenopsis
a choice, orchid hobbyists and nurserymen would normally
prefer having the Phalaenopsis bellina. And
there are too many species in the wild suffering the
same fate as the of Phalaenopsis violacea simply
because they have lesser or no commercial value.
do not see the possibility of species such as Paphiopedilum
sanderianum, Paphiopedilum rothschildianum, Phalaenopsis
bellina or other such pretty and valuable species
being lost to extinction.
I am more concerned is what will
happen to the little guys, which,
perhaps, are not as “pretty”
and preferred as the others and
flower only for a few hours?
Are they not worth saving?
it is a virgin jungle, and then we need to invade
into our jungles for natural resources like timber
and minerals. Later, land for agriculture, followed
by settlements and new villages. Even their mountain
habitats are not spared. Now, many countries in
Asia are boosting luxurious mountain resorts with
golf courses, not to mention huge areas being cleared
for the cultivation of tea.
we can discourage tourism and we can try to stop drinking
tea! This might help save the orchid species?
in the 1800’s, these two species not
only has given us such great pleasures of growing,
flowering and getting them awarded. We have
also bred some of the most beautiful orchid
two hundred years later, shouldn’t we
now look seriously what these two species are
trying to tell us?
the other not so desirable species, there doesn’t
seem to be a solution. Many of these “little
guys” are doomed. Can their silent plea
for survival be heard?
OOi e Charles Marden Ficth
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