Orchid House a haven for nature lovers

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By BIBHUTI BARIK
  • Published 23.08.10
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Bhubaneswar, Aug. 22: There are people who prefer to gift an orchid twig to their girlfriend or wife rather than a rose. But the number of such people is not very large and despite their beauty, orchids are yet to become popular in the city.

In case you are an orchid lover, however, and would like to spend time amidst the plants, the Orchid House at Nandankanan Biological Park is the place to be.

If you go by the number of species, orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in India. But their population is extremely low since they are restricted to certain geographical areas. Around 73 per cent of them are found atop trees in forests. “The Orchid House in Nandankanan on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar is a project of the forest department, but the dream was chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s. Once he came to know about my work and interest in the subject he asked me to go for a project to house orchids in Nandankanan,” said Sarat Mishra, a noted expert on orchids.

“The aim was to have a proper collection of orchids of the state so that people visiting Nandankanan could see them and develop an interest for the conservation of the plants. Also, nowhere in the state were orchids introduced in a special protected enclosure. It will also have an impact on our forest wealth because these plants grow in well-managed forests. In fact, orchids are seen in those areas where the forest habitat is healthy,” he said.

Mishra, who has authored two books, Orchids of Orissa and Orchids of India, said the Orchid House took shape with active support from the then principal conservator of forests (wildlife) S.C. Mohanty and a space was earmarked in the botanical garden of Nandankanan. According to plan, 1,000 orchid plants would be accommodated there.

In order to make the place more attractive and tourist-friendly, only hybrid varieties of orchids are on display now. Eventually, orchids specific to Orissa’s forests and other climatic zones would be placed in special sections.

Currently, Orissa is home to about 130 species of orchids and 97 of them are found in Mayurbhanj district, especially at the Similipal Biosphere Reserve. These plants are found in high-rainfall hills in Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Gajapati, Rayagada and Kandhamal districts.

“We have started an information board at the entrance of the house to educate people regarding the plant species. The board tells the visitors regarding orchids in both Oriya and English and their importance in our environment and ecology. Orchids, which are herbs, have a very slow growing process and they take between six to eight years from germination to flowering. They are depleting very fast from the wild due to shrinkage of their habitat in the moist deciduous and evergreen forests. Major climatic changes have also adversely affected the growth and regeneration of the plant species. Also, over-collection of the plants from the wild is another cause of their disappearance from their natural habitat,” he said.

“Botany students engaged in taxonomic research, people managing nurseries and plant lovers take out orchids from the wild not knowing their endangered status and conservation value. In most of the cases, the plants face unnatural death at the hands of the collectors. Therefore, orchids should not be allowed to be collected indiscriminately from the forest as they have been placed under the restricted group of plants in the Wildlife Protection Act,” Mohanty said.

“This venture on the premises of the Botanical Garden in Nandankanan is therefore to educate people regarding the habitat conservation of the endangered plants as they have a greater ornamental and heritage value. Sadly, till today, they have not received adequate attention in the management of forest resources or even in the protected habitat mainly due to lack of knowledge of the field staff to identify and its propagation technique. Even data regarding their location, distribution and rarity in the various forest patches of the state also need proper documentation and they should be now published in Oriya language for better understanding of the common citizens,” he added.

Regional Plant Resource Centre’s (RPRC) senior scientist of Taxonomy and Conservation Division, Pratap Chandra Panda, who is also involved in conservation of orchids and their documentation process at RPRC, said: “Orchids have a sporadic range of distribution, especially in these days when the forest covers are shrinking fast due to increasing human interference and other reasons. In India, orchids are distributed mostly in the Northeast — Arunachal, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura — apart from Bengal’s Darjeeling district, between altitudes of 300 to 900 metres above sea level. The Western Ghats in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra is also home to many varieties. There are some 1,331 species of orchids in India.”