Orchids : Cultivation and Conservation

~Pragyan Adhikari

Orchids are one of the most beautiful flowering plants on the Earth, admired for their striking colors and shapes. They have complex flowers that are often showy and unusually shaped, having large specialized lip (labellum) and often a spur. Orchids belong to the Orchidaceae family and have numerous genera as well as species. They are found worldwide, mostly as epiphytes that prefer growing perched on trees. However, lithophytes, terrestrials and saprophytes growing on moss covered rocks, ground or organic matter are also seen. In India, as many as eight orchid habitats have been identified, of which The Eastern Himalayas and the North-East region are regarded as orchid hotspots.
Discovering an orchid blooming in the wild is an ecstatic experience, no less than the pleasure Wordsworth derived from his daffodils! But as orchids are perhaps the most evolved of all flowering plants, they need very specific conditions to thrive in any ecosystem. They are very delicate plants sensitive to slightest natural disturbances. Their presence in any ecosystem itself is an indicator of a healthy and thriving ecosystem.
Unfortunately, thoughtless developmental activities, over exploitation of forest resources, deforestation and reckless human invasion of nature have taken a toll on the orchids. The habitat of these mysterious and alluring flowers is being increasingly threatened. Since, the blooming sites of orchids often act as a resource of ecotourism, it can easily attract the naturalists, photographers, tourists and unfortunately, ignorant orchid collectors. Too much disturbance and even heavy treading are potentially harmful for these delicate flowering plants. The non-sustainable and indiscriminate collection of these plants from wild also destroys them.
Presently, conservation of wild orchids has become a matter of universal concern, otherwise these beautiful creations of nature might completely disappear from our forests. One may wonder what is the need to do so if we can cultivate the orchids in green houses? Any conscientious citizen of the earth would point out that it is our duty to save each and every form of life on the planet for the sake of our future generations. Moreover, an attempt to save a species helps in conserving many others along with them in the ecosystem.
Though all orchid species are protected under the Convention International Trade for Endangered Species(CITES), it is not enough. Only conscious and active participation of the local communities can save this exotic flower. There is a need to create awareness for the conservation and propagation of orchids among locals as these flowers are often found to have cultural and religious significance for them. Encouraging the indigenous people for the commercial production of these flowering plants and providing various facilities for their marketing might also prove a crucial step in this regard. As the natural phenomenon of regeneration is low in orchids, special care is required in this regard. Both conventional methods as well as the biotechnology may be used for this purpose.
In recent times, floriculture has emerged as a major international trade and orchids occupy a significant part of it — both as cut flowers and potted plants. Unfortunately, orchid cultivation in our country is in an infant stage. Being a country blessed with both temperate and tropical climates, there is an immense scope for commercial cultivation of varieties of orchids for both domestic and international markets. Limited research on production of local good hybrid variety of planting material leading to its lesser availability, lack of proper information about prevention of pests and diseases as well as lesser awareness of people about the economic viability of orchid cultivation, have proved to be major constrains. These constrains must be worked out before commercial orchid cultivation.
Fortunately for us, the North- East region of India is deemed as an orchid paradise and can boost of about 850 species of orchids- including 34 endangered ones. The highly favorable climatic conditions, easy availability of indigenous raw materials and cheap workforce are a boon to local floriculture. The demand for cut orchid flowers in both domestic and international markets is increasing day by day, opening up immense opportunities for the local economy. As the world is under the spell of ‘orchid mania’, let us join hands to explore the avenues of orchid cultivation in our region. Thus, reinforcing the economy along with conservation of this bounty of nature.

Leave a Response