Orchids in India
Orchids in India – The Fascination of orchids
Orchids are exotic!
The rich and often unusual variety of flower forms exhibited by orchids have long provided a fascination for amateur and professional botanists alike.
They make up one of the largest families of flowering plants, the Orchidaceous, yet also one of the most highly evolved. According to current estimates there are some 20,000 orchid species in nearly 800 genera.
Extremely diversified, they are found in virtually all regions around the world except perhaps for Antarctica, but their greatest diversity occurs in the tropical and sub-tropical climates where positive factors for growth-thick vegetation, high humidity-prevail. They can grow in soil (terrestrial); on other plants, usually trees (epiphytic); on rocks (lithophytes tic / saxatic); and even in semi-aquatic and subterranean conditions.
Orchids are unique, in their floral structures, their pollination mechanisms, minute seeds and excessive promiscuity.
A vast majority of Indian orchids are mountainous in distribution; some are mountainous in distribution; some are seen in the plains as well. Ground orchids (terrestrial) are better represented in the north-west Himalayan and the Western Ghat hills while the epiphytes are abundant in the north-east Himalayan and adjacent hills and in the peninsular hills.
The rich diversity of orchids in India includes many with proven floricultural and/or herbal traits and their beauty and utility is being increasingly realised. Many Indian species, are a source of incalculable aesthetic pleasure because of their exceptionally beautiful and long-lasting flowers in a raid shapes, sizes and colours. Besides adding to the prized collection of almost all the famed botanical gardens the world over, they have been extensively used to regenerate internationally acclaimed hybrids. Most Indian orchids flower during March-May and September-November, but there is hardly a time when one or the other of their species is not in bloom.
On the Orchid trail in India with its orchid rich heritage, is now recognised as a significant producer of both, wild (or indigenous orchids) and hybrid (originally from imported plants) varieties. Over 1,600 species belonging to 160-odd genera occur in this region, of varied terrain, ranging from hot, humid valleys to alpine, Meadows and constitute almost 10 per cent of the world orchid flora. Many of the species are endemic to the region. Species can be found n the Western Ghats-from Bombay through the hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala to Pune and Mahabaleshwar; the western coastal regions, where the air is warm and humid; around the southern hill stations and of course in the foothill of the Himalayas. The natural orchid populations in India are still intact in several regions. The north-eastern region of India, ranging from Sikkim and North Bengal in the west to Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland in the east including Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, is the repository of an unrivalled wealth of orchids.
The Himalayan region has been the traditional home of many exquisite varieties of orchids in India. As this region experiences a wide range of climatic regimes, a mosaic of orchid flora is present here. This region has about 876 orchid species in 151 genera. Sikkim (450) and Arunachal Pradesh (550) have the largest number of species in the region.
Cultivating Orchids in India
Orchids have long enjoyed the reputation of being plants that were to cultivate. Today things have gone to the opposite extreme. Tissue culture techniques, have opened new possibilities in conservation and commercialization of orchids. In fact, orchids represent the first floricultural crop successfully propagated through tissue culture techniques.
Orchids can been cultivated outdoors as well as indoors. Outdoor cultivation of orchids can be achieved only at places having ideal agro- climatic conditions. Epiphytic orchids can be grown well on mature oak, mango, Jamun and other rough barked trees. Terrestrial orchids, on the other hand, can be grown in pots or in the ground in nursery beds.
For indoor cultivation, orchid houses are ideal. Environmental factors like temperature, wind, humidity, and heavy rains can be controlled to a considerable extent in an orchid house.
A large number of entrepreneurs in India have been taken to orchid cultivation. The main centers are at Chandigarh, Gangtok, Kalimpong, Chinglepet (near Chennai), Cochin, Ernakulum, Quilon, Thiruvananthapuram, Pune and Mumbai.
At Kochi, orchid cultivation is promoted as a cottage industry by involving small farmers/housewives on a co-operative basis. In Kerala there are at present 5,000 orchid farmers-mostly women, with about 2.5 million plants. A number of women orchid clubs are also coming up all over the state.
Propagation and research have been initiated at the Orchid Research and Development Centre (ORDC), Tipi, Arunachal Pradesh, Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI),
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, Indian institute of Horticulture Research (IIHR), Bangalore, Karnataka and Botany Department Punjab University, Chandigarh. Some commercial growers at Kalimpong, Gangtok and Shillong have also initiated such programs in cymbidiums and cattleyas.
Interesting Names of Orchids in India
Orchids in India carry a variety of local names, some of which are rather fancy and often represent one or the other of their characteristic features. In India also many species have local names and interesting stories associated with them e.g. Seeta Pushpa (Rhynchostylis retusa), is an orchid that gets name from the fact that Sita is believed to have adorned herself with it while she was in forest. The Mahabharata heroine Draupadi too used an orchid (Acrides multiflora) for adornment and the orchid is predictably called, Draupadi Pushpa. Then, there is the famous Lady’s Slipper orchid whose flowers actually looks like a slipper. One of its species is called the Lost Indian Lady’s Slipper as it was discovered in the mid-19th century and then remained untraced for a long time thereafter. Its botanical name is Paphiopedilium fairieanum. Other interesting names are Purusharatna ( Bulbophyllum sp. ), Kakoli (Habenaria acuminata), Shwethuli (Zeuxine strateumatica), Ridhi (Habenaria accuminata), Jivanti (Dendrobium alpestre), Jivak (Microstylis wallichii), Swarn jivanti (Cirrhopetalum maculosum), Salam Panja (Dactylorhiza hatagirea), Salabmisri (Eulophia dabia), Rishbak (Malaxis wallichi), Ban-alu (Satyrium nepalense), Vandhanika (Vanda roxburghii), Banda rasna (Vanda testacea), Bamboo orchid (Arundina graminifolia), Dancing lady orchid (Goodyera biflora, Haemaria spp., Anoectochilus sp. ), Lady’s tresses orchid (spiranthes sp. ), Lizard orchid ( Bulbophyllum purpure- orachis), Monkey orchid (Orchid simia), Rat-tail orchid (Oberonia Spp. ), Rattle-snake orchid (Pholidota Spp.), Spider orchid (Arachnanthe clarkei), Pineapple orchid (Dendrobium densiflorum), etc.
How Orchids in India Are Named
There is a very systematic way in which orchids in India are given their names.
*Genus names identify the group, such as paphiopedilum or Paphiopedilum, to which the orchid belongs. Genus names are italicised and capitalised.
*Species identify the naturally occurring form of the genus, such as violacea or callosum. This name appears in italics and is in the lower case.
*A Hybrid name identifies the offspring of the cross-pollination of two orchids.
* A Cultivar name distinguished a special clone and always appears in single quotation marks.
The Orchid Festival In Sikkim
The Orchid festival in Sikkim is held in the month of March and lasting an entire month is a great attraction for all orchid lovers. Orchids, cut-flowers and pot-plants from within and outside India are on display during this period.
The Orchid Society of India
A national society, the Orchid Society of India (TOSI), founded in 1984, has been striving to
- i) Promote awareness about the scientific and commercial importance of orchids.
- ii) Gather and disseminate information on various aspects of orchidology.
iii) Project the importance of improvement and propagation of Indian orchids
- iv) Bring together all those interested in orchids.
With a view to promoting the development of orchid based industry in India, the Society provides a common forum for exchange of ideas between orchid scientists, growers and enthusiasts by organizing meeting, seminars, symposia, lectures, poster exhibitions and slides shows at regular intervals.
To advocate germplasm conservation and preservation of already endangered or threatened taxa through tissue culture and other techniques and to seek and extend cooperative with national and international societies/ organisations, are among the other objectives of the Society. The headquarters of the Society is located at the Orchid Laboratory, Department of Botany, Punjab Univarsity, Chandigarh, India.
The Society also publishes The Journal of The Orchid Society of India and Orchid News (started in 1987 and being regularly published in yearly volumes). The former is a scientific journal aimed at disseminating advances in the scientfic and commercial aspects of orchid cultivation and the latter a newsletter of the society. At present there are nearly 500 members in this Society.
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Orchid Sanctuaries in India
Orchids are slow growers and habitat specific and since they generate very poorly in nature, the Government of India, as a part of of the strategy to conserve their natural populations, has already banned the export of orchids collected in the wild and has taken steps to protect orchid-rich habitats in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala etc.
Orchids Sanctuaries have been extablished in Arunachal Pradesh (Sessa), West Bengal (Takdah), Sikkim (Gangtok, Saramsa), Meghalaya (Barapani), and Mizoram (Ngopa, Sairep). Additional Sanctuaries are planned in several other orchid rich areas like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh (Kameng, Tirap, Lohit), Assam (Cachar, Anglong), Karnataka (Kodachadri, Kemmanagundi), Kerala (Travancore), Maharashtra (Panchgani- Mahabaleshwar), Meghalaya (Shella and Garo Hills), Orissa (Mahendragiri), Sikkim (Mangan), Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris), and Uttar Pradesh (Kaflani, Dafia, Doora). the Botanical Survey of India has also established three National Orchidaria at Howrah, Shillong and Yercaud.
Orchids in India and Herbal Remedies
The “king’s fragrance”, orchids in India plays a major role in herbal remedies. Orchids in India find a frequent mention in ancient Indian literature for their curative and aphrodisiac properties, and as symbol of sanctity. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, a group of 8 herbs, ashtavargha, form the basis of a number of rejuvanating formulations and grugs; some of these herbs .e. Jival, Kakoli, Ridhi, Vridhi are orchidacceous in nature. Other commonly used orchid drugs in the Ayurvedic system are Salem, Jivanti, Rasna and Swethuli. Besides these, the other orchids used in local systems of medicines are : Acampe papillosa ( rheumatism), Cirrhopetalum maculosum (to enhance longevity), Cypripedium elegans (for treating nervous disorders), Dactylorhiza hatagirea (as expectorant and astringent), Dendrobium alpestre (for treating acne, boils, other skin problems), Epipactis helleborine (to cure insanity), E. latifolia (to cure nervous disorder ), Eria muscicola (to cure chest, heart, lung, eye and mental problems), Eulophia campestris (as aphrodisiac and to cure pulmonary and cardiac problems), E. dabia (in Ayurveda, as an appetizer, stomach tonic, aphrodisiac and blood purifier during heart trouble), Habenaria acuminata (as tonic), H, intermedia (as tonic in Chyavanprash ), H. edgeworthii (as ingredient of Ashtavarga in Chyavanprash, blood purifier and rejuvenator), Liparis odorata (to treat burns, cancerous ulcers, gangrene, fever and dropsy), Malaxis wallichii ( as ingredient of Ashtavarga, used in preparation of Chyavanprash, cures tuberculosis and enhance sperm formation), M. muscifera (as tonic and rejuvenating drug ), M. muscifera (as tonic and rejuvanating drug), M. cylindrostachya (as tonic), Rhynchostylis retusa (in rheumatic diseases), Satyrium nepalense (as tonic, and to cure malaria and dysentry), Tropidia curculigoides (to treat diarrhoea and malaria), Vanda cristata (as expectorant ), V. roxburghii (in rheumatism, ear infection, and fractures), and V. testaccea (in rheumatism, nervous disorders and scorpion stings), The antiviral and anti-cancerous properties of Vanda parviflora and anti-AIDS properties of Cymbidium hybrid and Liparis sp. have been positively tested and leaves of Cymbidium giganteum are known to help blood clotting. Ironically, orchids are also fed to milch cattle in north-eastern India with the belief that dendrobes enhance their milk yeild and the cymbidiums improve their health.
‘Vanillin’, produced from unripe pods of Vanilla planifolia and related species is the most important commercial produce of orchids. Vanilla was introduced in India in the 18th century. Of late, The Spice Board of India has launched a scheme for Vanilla cultivation in Calicul, Ernakulam (Kerala), South Kanara (Karnataka), and Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu). Many commercial biotech labs are producing plants for the purpose.
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