Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bulbophyllum sumatranum Garay 1996

Bulbophyllum lobbii is a widely distributed taxon from the very horticulturally interesting section Sestochilus which has many large flowering species. Its found throughout SE Asia and New Guinea and due to this wide geographical range, many forms exist.

In 1996, Dr Leslie Garay and other experts published this new species from Sumatra - Bulbophyllum sumatranum, which many scholars from a different camp considered to be simply a variation of Bulbophyllum lobbii (var. breviflorum to be exact) described some 88 years earlier. Personally. I think it just looked like a smaller version of lobbii with very red lateral sepals.

You can compare this with B. claptonense - another delectable, if debatable, species and make your own conclusion.

Ref: Garay et al, Lindleyana 11: 230 (1996)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Subjugated by darkness and dull drone of a midnight torrent, my mind wandered off to a coronal cartwheel that swirled with bursts of imperial yellow and perfumed with a cheerful tinge of fruit that had yet to form.

It felt like a new sunny morning already.

Gardenia gjellerupii is a smallish tree with nice mango fragrance bloom.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cyrtandra splendens- field notes

This large species from the African violet family (Gesneriaceae) is commonly encountered in lowland of Borneo. It has an errect woody stem and whorls of large woolly leaves that may be plain green or in shades of darker hues which is an attraction in itself. However, when a large plant is in flower, its a magnificent sight.

Cyrtandra is a large Malesian genus consisting of 500 species - give and take a hundred - many species are notoriously difficult to differentiate due to them taking on different appearances, a characteristic termed polymorphism by biologists. The genus as a whole is not commonly cultivated as most species are rather plain and the flowers are in shades of white. Cyrtandra, unlike its close relatives Didymocarpus or Henckelia, have indehiscent fruits - ie the fruits do not split open to release the seeds into the wind. In fact, the seeds are likely dispersed by birds as many of them are fleshy and soft.

Local tribesman told me they rub the leaves on game meat like wild boar or civet prior to cooking, as they absorb the heavy oily taste typical of such flesh. They also said this herb can only be gathered in the forest as attempts to cultivate them have failed. This is rather typical - many of these jungle herbs need a highly moist and shady environment to thrive and they can be tricky to grow.
As it so happened, they had a smoked civet paw by the fireside and I was welcomed to try it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ember Fire

Well, I like this photo quite a bit. There was no special effect in this, what I saw and capture is what appeared here. The background yellow light came from my newly created DIY water feature and I intentionally placed the small LED light to cast a shadow of the flower on the leaf.

This Seemania sylvatica is seed grown and can spread rapidly by underground stems, forming a spectacular carpet if humidity is kept high.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Yellow flowered Impatiens mirabilis aff

This is one of the several caudiciform Impatiens I have right now - it may be Impatiens mirabilis or something closely related to it. The inflorescence is sequentially flowering and the caudex fist size and corky. I am not sure how large it can grow but a true I. mirabilis is of tree-like proportion. Many new caudiciform Impatiens are being discovered in this part the world as I speak and this could well be one of the new discoveries - I am including more pics here with the hope of someone suggesting an ID one day.

Generally caudiciform Impatiens are difficult - some of them just die without rhyme or reason. This species seems easier than others, it even produced a crop of viable seedlings for me !

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Trinket from Tanimbar

An unknown lemony yellow Aeschynanthus (lipstick vine) collected by a friend from Tanimbar Islands, one of the spice islands off the south coast of New Guinea. If you have any suggestions about its ID, please let me know.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Tale of 2 Begonia brevirimosa

Begonia brevirimosa ssp "Exotica" Begonia brevirimosa ssp "Brevirimosa".

The image of the Begonia "exotica" was implanted in my memory 10 plus years ago while reading Alfred B. Graf's book "Tropica" borrowed from library. In fact, I probably borrowed the book more than ten times - it was a stress reliever and I literally hugged the heavy book to sleep. Anyway, this strange new species tentatively named Begonia "exotica" from the mysterious island of New Guinea, was so different from any Begonias I knew, psychedelically coloured leaves and all, that I set my sight to hunt it down at all cost, even to the dark depths of New Guinea ...

Luckily, I did not have to go that far. When I eventually saw it on the rack of a private collector a few years later, my heart was thumping.

I remembered he said, almost apologetically, that it would be a bit expensive as it was a rare plant

So how much ? I asked

8 dollars, he replied.

I grabbed it immediately and thanked him profusely. Nowadays, you can probably see them on sale in quite a few on-line sites but in those days it was indeed rare.

As it turned out, what I had was not exactly "exotica" but the subspecies Begonia brevirimosa brevirimosa (by the way, subspecies is a taxonomic term meaning naturally occuring variants of ths same species). In 2005, Mark Tebbitt formally described "exotica" to be a subspecies, rather than another new species, after considering the flowers and fruits characteristics. I acquired the real "exotica" only last year and finally had a chance to compare the two. Both of them are quite similar but not really the same - the dominating bright pink streaks for "exotica" really stood out.

Given some shade from full sun, warmth and high humidity, the plants thrived at my plot - but do not seem to flower freely. Unfortunately, snails and slugs cannot leave them alone and they cannot adapt to the drier balcony environment when I tried to bring them indoors.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Watery hunter

I chanced upon a Malayan brown snake Xenelaphis hexagonotus while out hiking at night. This non venonmous creature was in the forest stream noisily foraging for snacks, most likely young frogs. Suddenly, a young water monitor dashed out from nowhere and pursued it until both disappeared into the happened so quickly I had no time to shoot.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hoya micrantha

This is the large leaf form of Hoya micrantha, which is found from IndoChina down to northern part of Peninsula Malaysia. It is a relatively cool grower usually found in higher elevation but I have a specimen that has proven a reliable bloomer although it does not become too weedy.
The nice patterning on the tiny bloom can only be appreciated after magnification. This Hoya is placed in Section Eu-Hoya (Miquel), where most of the Hoyas belong, including H. verticiliata, H. revoluta and waymaniae.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cauldrons of mass destruction

It was a seemingly normal warm cloudy evening.

I was travelling along a little-travelled bitumen path at a little-known corner of Borneo when I caught sight of these curious little pitchers dangling from a vertical slope rising from both sides of our path.
Elegant in pastel hues and seemingly harmless....yet there was something unholy about them....

Curiosity got the better of me as I lifted one of the pitchers and peered into its murky crevice.....

.... what I saw was a massacre of the highest order, a genocide so foul it would stink the Seventh Heaven. Bodies were everywhere, some still intact, others had been disfigured to such extend that rendered identification impossible.

With a heavy heart and heavier footsteps, I made my way gingerly back to the town.

Fortunately there was curry chicken for dinner, which was truly therapeutic for a bitter soul ....

Nepenthes mirabilis, a widespread and very variable plant in SE Asia. This is the common form which is found from S. China down south all the way to Borneo and spreading as far east as New Guinea. While the major diet of Nepenthes albomarginata is termites and that of ampullaria is leaf-litter and droppings, this species is particularly adapted for trapping many types of live insects, using the pinkish pitchers and extrafloral nectaries concentrating on the lids and mouths as bait. The lids and rims of the pitchers are both treacherously slippery so any critters landing there will ski briefly to the well of death, where the marinating fluid, which can have a pH as low as 2 if its freshly secreted, will send them to their afterlife.

Just as a guide, I found that commercial undiluted white vinegar typically has a pH of 2.4 - you can always check out its effect on an ant if you are morbidly curious....

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Maybe a paganistic blacksmith pounded it to shape fact, maybe some small humanoids may be hiding behind the shield with their spears or arrows.

Alocasia cuprea, the Copper leaf from Borneo. The aroid genus Alocasia contains many mesmerising foliage plants that would have been ideal for the landscaping trade had they not been so unpredictable. They tend to grow like perrenials - getting smaller and smaller or suddenly dying off, leaving corms in the soil for regeneration at a latter date.

This specimen has been growing for some years on a wet, shady and peaty area before reaching this size - I am pretty accustomed to it being there - hope it would not decide to die down anytime soon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Devil and the deep blue C

.... C as in coerulea, Latin for "blue", or in this case a blue orchid, Vanda coerulea to be exact. Blue is a rare colour in nature, so when this large Vanda was found to be endowed with this beautiful bloom, its fate was sealed. It was hunted to near extincton in its habitat by hordes of drooling fanciers and hybridisers. Having been artificially propagated for decades, the plant is now, fortunately, common in trade.
This original form is a rather ungainly looking plant with slender twisted petals. Modern cultivated varieties are more blue and more full - with wide overlapping petals and sepals. This is how man thinks the plant should look like. It is not inconcievable that with the passage of time, the original form will become rarer...or even extinct.

Humans' visions of idealised beauty can be so undemocratic....

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Up in Aba county, Sichuan

Yaks grazed below us all over verdant valleys nestled between towering peaks of the Minshan (泯山)range. The van crept pass the frigid Snow Ridge at 4000m before descending to about 3000m from which we started our walk. Sadly for us, Huang Long was cloaked in fog and snow. More flakes descended upon our puffy clothes as we made our ascent, further dampening the mood. We were ill-prepared for this - snow in the first week of October, wet socks and pathetic wind breakers. Eventually, some of us decided to turn back.

Like a gasping goldfish out of water, I eventually made my way to the famed turquoise terraced pools. On a bright clear day, I could imagine that it would make a stunning photograph but in such poor light, I simply snapped a few SOPs and hurried along a two hour track back to the van....

Illuminated by headlights, streaks of raindrops appeared from nowhere in the darkness and pounded upon the windscreen with pugnacity.

I was the front seat passenger of the little van speeding past queer villages interspersed by stands of coniferous trees. The van was going at 100km/hr on a narrow winding mountain road that had an official speed limit of 30km /hr.

We were late and cold, and I was still having tsunamis in my gut. I shuddered at the thought of what local cuisine might be available to us up here, having just attended a grand banquet in the lowland village a couple of days ago.... ....I was convinced SiChuan food is not good for me. I did not know if it was the peppercorn or something else. It might well be the peppercorn - if it could numb my lips and tongue upon contact - imagine what it could do if it lingered a couple of hours inside the gut.

"Entering the road of nine bends" said a sign.

As the van made an almost 180 degree turn, a sign appeared at the turning point: "First of nine Bends"

"Second of nine Bends".

"Third of nine Bends". I was ready to wind down the window and puke on the tarmac.

When we finally turned pass the sign declaring "Ninth of nine Bends", my head was oscillating and eye balls spinning, but managed to let out a sigh of relief nontheless - a gesture to others sitting behind that I had not passed out. Then the van suddenly veered right and make another sharp descending hairpin turn, and yet another on the left. Someone had obviously forgotten about the "Tenth of nine Bends" - or eleventh for that matter.....

At the restaurant's cashier counter, there was a curious large glass jar filled with a dark coloured liquid with lots of fibrous debris at the bottom. An attendent gestured me to try it. The Chinese labelled read "Duo Bian Jiu" or multiple-penises wine - very good if you want to you-know-what. I tried to explain that in my current state, it could reduce my chance of survival.

An adjacent counter was selling all types of local medicine - deer antlers ; pseudobulbs of Tian Ma or Gastrodia in Latin, a saprophytic orchid ; dried flower heads of Snow Lotuses or Sasssurea sp, a magical herb much mentioned in Kung Fu novels as an antidote for an "evil heat" toxin but used traditionally as cure for inflammation, flu, stomach ache and infertility :
claws of a badger-like beast : Of course, we also found some of the raw ingredients of potent wine - yak penises almost 2 foot long : and those of wild dogs, which I suspect could be dholes or red dogs :

By next daylight, we realised we were actually surrounded by lush slopes on both flanks of the hotel. As it turned out, the trip in Jiu Zhai Gou was very tame - shuttles ferried visitors to most attractions. So now I could claim to have seen with my eyes those emerald pools, waterfalls. snow dusted conifers etc etc previously seen in brochures and coffee table books. I do wish the light condition had been better though .......

.... the little piece of mound that one calls home is pinched away by hostile forces well beyond one's control.

Signing off....

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Night weaver

I found this mid-size orb-web spider (Dolophones) floating in the swamp forest in one of my night forays. The web was quite large, half a man's height and hung from large tree branches. The genus is found mostly in Australia and this is one of the few recorded sightings in SE Asia.

Thanks David from Nature Photography Society Singapore for the ID.

This is what he also added to the findings:

Your specimen is a male; it has the complex, swollen palps characteristic of araneid male spiders.

Because of its structural adaptation and habit of clinging very closely to a branch during the day, Dolophones is sometimes given the very suitable common name of 'wrap-around' spider . At night it releases its hold on the branch and spins an orb web -to catch moths or other night-flying insects.

So there you go.

Although it seemed like a mounted specimen, the photos are depicting a living creature. I was lying face up on the wet ground to take some of the shots but it turned out pretty ok, a bit soft and could not see the abdomen in the top pic but good enough for me.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What you see is what you get ....

In this age of air heads, superficial beauty pageants, bad English and human bodies covered with leopard prints, its good to encounter a strong, silent, immensely self confident type, who has left nothing on the outside to be desired ......

An orb-web spider Dolophones.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Globba - torches of the undergrowth

Any casual visitors of the Malay, Thai or Borneo forests would inadvertently find some of these smallish herbs with their brightly coloured inflorescence in red, pink or yellow burning at the dark undergrowth. There are about 100 species of this highly unusual gingers and identification of the species is not at all easy - one of the keys is to count the number of anther appendages in the flower - in this case you can see 4 pointy spikes at the top.

This plant appears to be Globba patens

Tuesday, September 22, 2009



All dolled up in pastel shades, waiting and hoping to be the chosen one ....

Bulbophyllum dentiferum

Friday, September 18, 2009

The cryptic Hoya caudata

This Hoya has thin wiry stem and tough leaf that looks like its lichen covered. It is a native of Thailand and Malaysia (east and west) and perhaps Kalimantan as well. The mesophyll of the leaf are arranged so that the tissue are densely cross-linked, so the leaves are actually quite tough and resistant to tearing.
A specimen in the wild - as we climbed up a steep limestone slope, we saw one perfectly camouflaged plant scrambling along the mottled rocks.
The corolla of the flower is hairy and there is a long protruding anther appendages. This plant likes to climb on a pole and may rot if pot bound. It is a slow grower and definetely a good plant for people who does not like to mess around with vigorous vines running amok in the nursery. A related but much smaller species is H. flagelata which has similar but smaller speckled leaves and a very different flower.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ah Kow's Cyrtandra

A 1819 water colour painting by a Chinese painter named Ah Kow, literally meaning dog. Many painters comissioned by the British to make plant illustrations remained anonymous and they rarely signed their names in the work.
It is believed that this plant is Cyrtandra pendula, a common Gesneriad from Malaysia. In the forest of Pahang, at the base of a tall rock face, there was a patch of muddy area where we found big localised clumps of this plant growing in deep shade. Some of them are in flowers, which are bigger than typical Cyrtandra blooms and quite sturdy looking. The leaves of some of them are variegated so they are pretty ornamental. This plant is widespread throughout West Malaysia and has even been recorded in Singapore.

Related Posts with Thumbnails