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....

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