Friday, December 31, 2010

Just go easy being green

As they wave their flags and stake their claim, a true tree-hugger shy from the glare and fame.

....rediscovering the pleasure of knowing a friend, a single-minded environmentalist who had forgone much to go about his chosen path, whose low-key hands-on attitude in rescuing plants and critters from harms' way and whose motivation appears to be solely the welfare of those under his care rather than the limelight on him .... he is my motivation to be good for the new year.

Green Crested lizard, Bronchocela cristatella

Monday, December 27, 2010

Portrait of a stinko

First described by Lindley in 1855, Bulbophyllum lasianthum is a large orchid from Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra with long stiff purplish leaves up to 50cm long. Like many fly pollinated plants, especially Typhonium and Amorphophallus, this orchid adopt a similar strategy to draw pollinators - the flowers look and smell like hairy rotting carcasses.

In the lowland, the flowers open partially and only for a short period, about 2 days or so ; I had misjudged the timing on several occasions before I finally manage to capture this fresh bloom. Arriving before the flies did, I was incessantly bombarded by waves after waves of olfactory tsunamis as I worked on the closeups.
I had only seen it in the wild once, scrambling around wet rocks beside a stream in the lowland, occasionally curling around larger tree trunks but did not appear to climb too high. Although not a rare plant, it is not very commonly encountered.

There's nothing much going for it - unwieldy size, untidy habits, partially opening hairy flowers and repelling odour - so its not very commonly cultivated by orchid growers, except those who have a fetish for the obnoxious .... yes, my kind ....
Wishing all a joyous, glorious, odorous New Year !

Monday, December 20, 2010

Uvaria grandiflora

This large woody vine was found flowering at the Bukit Timah Hill area. The flower reminded me of a red sunflower and I was quite awed by its size too...about 6 cm in diameter. It has a rather wide occurence from south China to most of SE Asian rain forest. Throughout its range, it is used medicinally, as in many members of this family which has many unusual alkaloids which are known to be psycho-active.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Unknown Gesneriad

Found this stunning Gesneriad growing on a sandstone mountain slope in southern Sarawak.

I have absolutely no idea what it is - if I have to make a guess it would be a Henckelia.... suggestions much welcome.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Woman in chains

....lying and waiting is a poor man's deal
....hopelessly weighed down by your eyes of steel
It's a world gone crazy

keeps woman in chains.

- Tears for Fears -

This juvenile macaque waited patiently backstage for its Thai master to guide its entry into the show.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mass flowering of Hoya diversifolia

A common large vine found throughout SE Asia including Singapore, often draping trees near mangroves or rivers.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Discovery of Paphiopedilum primulinum

Inspired by a psychic dream of finding a blue orchid, Mr Liem Khe Wie the intrepid orchid hunter from Indonesia, set off with some companions on a perilous adventure during which one of them was wasted by leaches and the rest had to wrestle a giant python before finding this elusive "dream-like" plant flowering on a mountain slope in a "remote Indonesian Island", which we later discovered to be Sumatra.

Alas, instead of a blue flower, it turned out to be yellow.
Few seemed to buy this tall tale published in Orchid Review in 1973. but the yellow plant is real and is actually an aberrant flava form ; the more typical forma purpurascens shown below, which contains anthrocyanin pigments and a noticeably pink pouch, was described some 26 years later.
Other than the smaller flower, this species is similar to many members in sub genus cochlopetalum (most notably, I think, moquetteanum, liemianum and glaucophyllum) and differs by subtle colour variations of the bloom. As many orchid taxonomists will tell you, colour variation of the flower is insufficient for species delineation. But slipper orchids growers and experts are a passionate lot and they would have none of that. In light of this, I have to kowtowto Mark Wood who, in 1976, bravely suggested to lump all species in this section into a single taxon.

Unlike many of the Paphs, this species actually do well in the lowland and would flower quite frequently. The spike consists of several flowers which open singly and sequentially so flowering period appear to extend up to 3 months or more.

Addenda: I suspect the forma purpurascens shown in this pic to be a hybrid called Pinocchio, which is the same as the wild form except for the bigger flower.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Life as we know it....

Migrating grebes and ducks foraging in early light ..... my etched impression of Mono Lake in Autumn.

With the surreal spires of tufa, great pool of still water and encircling misty mountains, I thought that if someone were to find an alien life form on earth, a Loch New Monster or something, it would be in a place like this.

Less than 2 months later, NASA published finding a bacteria in that lake that not only utilise Arsenic for energy but use this to replace Phosphorous in their cell DNA, cell membrane etc. Now both P and As are in the same column in the periodic table which essentially means chemically they are rather similar. However, biochemically, Arsenic, as we know from our Science if not from murder books, blocks the Krebs cycle, the ubiquitous path to energy production in aerobes, which eventually leads to cell death. Even anaerobes dispel this element from the body after utilisation. So to have it as part the of cell structure is unthinkable.

Granted, an image of a bacterium does not inspire as much awe as a Nessie but the scale of the discovery is such that basic science book will be rewritten and life as we know it is no longer limited to what it used to be.

Well, I was just glad I did not heed a guide book's proposal and took a plunge in the Arsenic broth....what happened if I accidentally took in a mouthful ?

Here's the link to Nasa's Report

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Another Caudiciform Impatiens

This one again coming from the Indo China region, where exactly I am not sure but I was told it was from Laos (unsubstantiated).
The medium size flattened bulb produce a plant with reddish stems and green leaves with a red mid-vein. The whorled arrangements of the leaves, the long racemes and its corky caudex sets it apart from the other more herbaceous Impatiens with Annual growth patterns. While resembling an I. mirabilis, this is quite different in a few ways namely the red stems the scarlet fine roots that appear when it breaks dormancy and scalloped leaves. Also, it is seasonally dormant, dying down to the horizontally flattened tuber annually, which is quite different from a mirabilis which rarely goes dormant unless in severe drought. On top of that, this plant rot so easily in the lowland that I am pretty convinced it is a dryish highland species.

Anyway there appear to be a few new species of caudex-type Impatiens unleashed from this region in recent years, mostly from the limestone hills.... so while we wait for the experts to publish their authoritative findings, I welcome any reports of other fellow grower's experience and observations on this interesting group of plants.

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