Orchids bring various words to one’s mind: unique, beautiful and exotic. People admire orchids for various reasons – some like their beauty, some wonder about their diverse habitat and some are amazed by their unique adaptation of being epiphytic in nature. It is also amazing to note that some orchids mimic various animals like bees. The evolution of animal mimicry and their pollination mechanism is beyond our imagination.
Orchids belong to a family ‘orchidaceae’, which is a highly evolved and diverse family of flowering plants. About 30000 species of orchids are found all over the globe, from the tropics to the alpine regions of the world. India has around 1141 reported species of orchids and the Western Ghats has nearly 300 species. Orchids are mainly divided into two groups: terrestrial and epiphytic. Terrestrial orchids grow on the ground, as their name suggests. Some orchids are saprophytic, meaning they grow on decaying leaf litter on the forest floor. These are usually leafless orchids. Epiphytic orchids grow on other trees; they are not parasitic, but just take the support of the host plant.
Nearly 30-40% of the orchids found in the Western Ghats are endemic and threatened. The main threat to these beautiful plants is habitat destruction and collection by humans for commercial use or as a hobby.
Here are a few examples of different orchids which are either common or very rare.
This is an epiphytic orchid endemic to the Western Ghats. It is found in evergreen forests, usually hanging on a tree or shrub near a stream. It is a rare orchid and its flowering season is October-November; sometimes, flowers are seen in June as well. It is an endangered orchid species.
The inflorescence of this orchid looks like a pearl necklace. This is an epiphytic orchid, usually found in moist deciduous to evergreen forests. The flowering season for this orchid is from June to September.
This is a common, tiny epiphytic orchid found on small trees or bushes at higher altitudes in semi-evergreen forests. The flowering period for this orchid starts from July and flowers can be seen well into December. This is an endemic to peninsular India and falls under the endangered category.
It is a terrestrial orchid and its flowers resemble a spider, and hence, its common name is spider orchid. It is found in heavy rainfall areas of evergreen forests. The flowering season for this orchid is from August to September. This is endemic to the Western Ghats and falls under the vulnerable category.
It is a terrestrial orchid – the largest orchid flower in the region – found around forest margins throughout the Western Ghats. It has a mild scent as well. The flowering season for these orchids is from September to October. Due to over-exploitation of its flowers, it has become rare in the region.
This is a beautifully coloured terrestrial orchid found on grassy slopes at higher altitudes in the Western Ghats. The flowering season for these orchids is from September to January.
This is a very rare orchid found in the under-growth of evergreen forest floors. The flowering season is from August to September.
This is an endemic epiphytic orchid from the Western Ghats. It is found in semi-evergreen habitats. The flowering season for this orchid is from December to March and it falls under the near-threatened category.
This is a tiny, beautifully coloured epiphytic orchid endemic to the Western Ghats. It is found in evergreen forests of the Western Ghats and is critically endangered. The flowering season for this orchid is from February to March.
This is fairly common orchid in ideal habitats of dry and moist deciduous forests of the Western Ghats. The flowering season for this orchid is from March to June. This orchid too has been over-exploited by humans for its beautiful flowers and is now becoming rarer.
This is a very delicate, beautifully coloured terrestrial orchid. It is saprophytic in nature, and grows on the forest floor on decaying leaf litter. It is unique by not having any leaves at all. It grows in semi-evergreen and moist deciduous forests. The flowering season starts in winter and flowers are seen till January. It is very difficult to locate on the forest floor.
This one of the most beautiful epiphytic orchids and its flowers are quite large. This is commonly called kathakali flower as it resembles kathakali dancers. It is endemic to the Western Ghats and found in ever green forests. Its flowers are seen throughout the year.
It is an endangered species.
Eulophia spectabilis [E. nuda]
It is a terrestrial orchid found on forest slopes in moist deciduous forest. The flowering season for this orchid is from June to July. It is also over-exploited by humans as an ornamental flower, and is becoming rare.
This is an extremely rare orchid found on the forest floor at higher altitudes in semi to evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. The flowers are seen in the month of October.
This is one more orchid from the vanda species. This is rare than the other vanda species. It is endemic to the Western Ghats.
It is a terrestrial orchid found in heavy rainfall areas of the Western Ghats, on the forest edges. This is a very rare orchid and is difficult to locate.