Vanda Re-Discovered in the Wild – Last Seen in 1907

5962On Saturday, July 17, 2004, noted Singapore orchid expert Peter O’Byrne wrote to the discussion boards of an exciting discovery:

“I’ve just returned from a trip to a remote part of Sulawesi, where I found a Vanda species growing in huge numbers on trees in 2 mountain valleys. I am fairly certain it is an undescribed species. When I have finished doing drawings & a full description, I’ll circulate it around various experts and see if they concur.

A few details: the largest plant I saw had a stem that was 175 cm long, and had leaves on the upper 80cm. Leaves are up to 34 cm x 42 mm; leaf apex is bilobed, truncated, but rather variable in shape. The largest inflorescence was 21 cm long with 8 flowers. The flowers are ~45 mm wide, lightly fragrant and have a highly mobile lip with a very short spur. ”

Then, on July 24th, Peter wrote:

“After several days of scouring the libraries and reading the original descriptions of all likely candidates, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Vanda species I saw in Sulawesi recently… is Vanda arcuata J.J.Smith.

Smith described V. arcuata in 1907 from a Jellesma collection, and it appears to have been “missing” ever since, so I’m delighted to have had a hand in re-discovering it. The plants I saw vary from the Type description in several ways: the flowers are larger, the petals wider and more rounded, the lip narrower, and the colours different (the Type plant had rows of yellow-brown spots on the lip), but these are minor differences, and none of these is a reason to doubt that they are the same species. There are not even enough significant differences to merit describing my finding as a new variety.”

Needless to say, this discovery has generated a great deal of excitement in the orchid community. Most aficionados dream of the prestige of discovering and naming a new species, and experts were quick to praise Peter for avoiding this temptation.

“I am still not going to divulge any information about the locality, but I have now acquired some fresh seed and am making arrangements to distribute it to people who can put it to good use. With a bit of luck, you’ll all be able to add V. arcuata to your collection in 4-5 years time.”

“There is a bit of a story behind the discovery of these plants. I first saw this species some 5-6 years ago; one plant was flowering under a shade-net in an orchid-collection in the garden of a house in a town in the Poso Valley. I took some photos of the plant & chatted to the owner for a while. She was from a different part of the island and had brought the orchids with her to remind her of home, which is a quite common thing for Indonesians to do. I came back to Singapore and, on the basis of the photos, decided that it was probably an undescribed species, so I’d have to go back and follow it up.

The civil-war, which was just starting in ’99, got much worse and for the next few years it was too dangerous to return to the Poso area. By early 2003 the war had died down, so last August I went back to the Poso Valley.

The house was still there, but it had been heavily machine-gunned and was standing empty …. there was no sign of the owner and her family. The shade-house was still there, but no orchids … someone else was using it to cultivate cocoa seedlings. The neighbours said the family had gone back to their village, and asking around produced the names of the village and it’s subdistrict.

The village is very remote, and getting there (and back) posed some major problems, so I waited until this year and organised a special trip. Yes, it was worthwhile … the first one I saw flowering in the wild was a real thrill. Then I saw the next one, and then the next one…… ”

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