Friday, December 30, 2011

A fallowed ground

.... time to send off another year of the usual economic crisis, natural disasters and East Asian assets bubble, sprinkled with a little nuclear scare. Some may point out bits of notable bright sparks, namely - the obliteration of some seriously undesirable characters, crumbling of tyrannical regimes, scientific break-throughs and revitilisation of Liverpool Football Club.

Anyway, it had not been my most productive period and I am glad to see the back of it. Now, if I can only find the "Reset" button ....

Winter in highland terraced rice field of Lao Cai, Northern Vietnam, where duration of rice growing season is roughly half of that in the lowland due to the cold climate.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Male bloom of Balanophora fungosa ssp. indica

Balanophora is an interesting but obscure genus of flowering plants consisiting of no more than 20 species of root parasites distributed in the tropical old world. This particular species is widespread from SE India to SE Asia and Australia and may in fact be more commonly reported if not for the fact that it is not visible unless in flower. Its vegetative part consist of subterranean tubers with hausterias attaching to its hosts from which it derived its nourishment. Unlike Rafflesias, it is not very picky with hosts - large lianas and trees from Fabaceae (Pea family), Figs, Ilex (Holly), Cissus (from grape family) and Syzygium (Myrtle family) are known targets.

This plant has 2 subspecies, ssp. fungosa has male and female flowers on the same inflorescence while the one pictured here, ssp. indica, bears only flower of either sex but not both.

The confounding thing about botany terminology is that it then goes to classify the unisex plant as "dioecious" while the plant with both sexes is "monoecious". Hmmmm...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ssssnuggled at the comfort zone ....

....coiled below a tree trunk, the nocturnal Trimeresurus venustus barely blinked as it allowed its image to be frozen amongst multitude of flashes. This small pit viper is endemic to Southern Thailand and closely resembled the Trimeresurus kanburiensis, the Kanburi pit viper.
...... chanced upon this critter during a climb up a vertical limestone cliff in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Throwing caution to the wind, we fired indiscrimately ....

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Looking out....

.... it is a bigger world out there. Perhaps its time to leave the comfort zone .....

Sunday, November 27, 2011


My cameras ran out of batteries as I left the orchid show, leaving me with just my handphone to make a snapshot inside one of the 2 chilled Flower Domes at the Garden-By-The-Bay project. It turned out quite decent, showing the giant ferris wheel and skyscrapers at the backdrop.
Out at the garden, I rubbed my eyes and looked twice to confirm that one of the super trees was indeed laden with Tillandsia xerographical. I do hope this form is more tolerant of the monsoon here ....
This is the zoom-out view of the project, evidently still a work-in-progress but there's enough stuff to visualise the fab-out product.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A walk through WOC 2011

With dark clouds looming overhead, the iconic venue for the World Orchid Conference looked rather menacing as we made quick strides towards it. Not a moment too soon, rain started pelting us as we reached the lobby ....

a few days ago, the hallway to the entrance was deserted ….
today, not so ....

We were first greeted by the award winning display from Papua New Guinea ..... the Sepik mask had a crocodile tongue, beside it was another mask with a flying fox looking like a vodoo doll .... ahem excuse me is any for sale ?
Another one from PNG, with a birds-of paradies and another intricate mask with bird motiff....
.... crowds jostled to take photos, inevitably leading to some not-so-nice exchanges beside me .... time to move on.....

Indonesia's display, modelled after a Tana Toraja cliff burial site ....
...this one from Australian Orchid Council ....
Sabah's display - a ferret-badger with Liparis, Malaxis and other ground orchids. I actually liked this quite a bit as it showcased many obscure local species.
Paphs are omni-present in shows like this, this is the ever popular P. spicerianum that sadly will not do well in lowland tropics .....
and here's hybrid from the Dark Side .....
at the floral window section, this one caught my eye with backdrop of variegated leaves (Pandanus ?) and its apparent new hybrid fern .....
alas....they were stapled together.
.... another floral window.
Yes its an orchid show but it did not stop Borneo Exotics from putting a fine display of Nepenthes that almost stole the limelight. Some would say they did ....
I would have dwelled a little more at the displays but crowds were gathering. The frequency of unwelcomed human torsos inserting between the lens and the exhibits rose with every release of the shuttle.

Eventually I retreated to the vendor section for some retail therapy ....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

World Orchid Conference 2011 - Singapore

After more than 4 decades, the World Orchid Conference is back in Singapore once more. The round-robin show had been held every 3 years since 1954 and the last time Singapore hosted this event was in October 1963. What's more, this time we get a sneak preview of the Garden-by-the-bay, a project which will costs a few hundred million S$ upon completion. As usual, Government booths will be set up to hand out export certificates on-the-spot if you so wish to bring plants out of the island.

So despite the fact that the venue is connected to the glitzy gambling den, I went ahead and ordered tickets for it.

And if you had yet to plan your vacations, do come - but visit the show first before hopping to the casino , I bet you will find it more enjoyable that way ....

When : 13 – 20 November 2011
Where: Sands Expo and Convention Centre

20th WOC

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sierra Nevada detour

A detour from my usual babble on the SE Asian scene, we took this roadtrip after finishing business in the US West Coast.

Burning the wheels down the uneventful highway out of Vegas in the early morning, the landscape became decidedly more interesting once I swirled west into a country road which twirled between and around arid hills dotted with Yuccas and brown scrubs.

I only managed to find the turn-off to White Mountains after a couple of attempts (cursed GPS). My reason for being here was to see this old timer – the eastern bristle cone pine Pinus longaeva – the oldest living organism in the world. A specimen here was said to be more than 4800 years old but we would not be told where it grew.

To be frank there were more than 1 species of pine tree here, and they all looked similar to me. However, as one climbed towards the treeline, the concentration of the real McCoy became much denser.
Supposedly, there were slivers of living tissue sandwiched between those gnarled lifeless trunks, but then again, some may have been killed by lightning – hard to tell really, especially when they have so little leaves.
We pushed north under a wide sky glowing crimson to spend the night at Lee Vining.
Before the first ray of sun, we bolted out of the door to soak in the lunar ambience of Mono Lake and its ancient tufa towers. These calcium deposit were only visible after the lake was partially drained to irrigate orchards and now the local conservationists had stepped in to stop the waterline from dropping further.
I kept my fingers crossed at Lee Vining – sometimes Tioga Pass, our planned entry route to Yosemite, would be closed due to snow in October. This time luck was on our side. This was the view of the mountain range we would be traversing …..
Patchy fall colours were were starting to show as we entered Tioga pass, which ascended up to 3000m at the western Sierra Nevada before dipping towards the valley.....
....leading us right into the glacial-carved panoramas of Yosemite National Park.

At Olmstead Point, I took a vested interest in a strangely shaped pine, and hoped it would be a hundred times smaller so it could fit into my bonsai pot …..

Signing off .....

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mr Macfarlane's exquisite WC

Amongst tall grasses away from prying eyes, these would be my inspiration for truly luxurious WCs, if I am ever asked to submit a prototype.
Nepenthes macfarlanei is named after a Scottish botanist, John Muirhead Macfarlane, who authored one of the earliest monograph of this genus in 1908. Since his original description of 51 species way back then, the list of known species of tropical pitcher plants has roughly been doubled.
The species is endemic to highlands of Peninsula Malaysia and is still relatively common. The lower pitcher is urn shaped, with its pointy end anchoring it securely in the moss or soft substrate. Literature suggests it could be as tall as 30cm. So far the few specimens encountered in this recce were sitting at the ledge of precipituous drops, I presumed the reason was that the more accessible specimens had been collected by admirers.

The underside of the lid of this species has white hairs - which is unique amongst the Malaysian species. The glands secret a nectar which attract ants. Inevitably, some will drop into the pitcher.

In one of the pitchers, I found a white grub doing a back stroke.
I am not really sure if its a resident or an ingredient of the deadly broth - but the leisurely flapping of its behind seemed to suggest it was neither in pain nor danger.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hairy orchid

Furry bloom of Bulbophyllum lindleyanum - a smallish orchid found from India all the way to Indochina. I do not grow this as I believe its one of those plants best suited to a cooler climate although I was told with tender loving care, some specimens many still flower in the sweltering lowland.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Madangia (Hoya) inflata

First described by PI Forster and the late Mr Liddle in 1997, this plant was initially placed as a monotypic genus based on the fused corolla and fused outer corona as shown in pictures above. The genus Madangia is subsumed within Hoya now, I am retaining this in the title merely for nostalgia.

The line drawing from the original publication is reproduced as follows. The venation of the dark green leaf as well as the thin black stem is rather characteristic as well.
So far it has only been found in the Madang Province of New Guinea. After numerous attempts to establish this plant, I eventually have a flowering vine this year - so its certainly not one of those robust vines that had run amok at the plot.

Like most tropical Hoyas, a high humidity (above 80%) and a wooden trellis or pole to climb and root is important for success. Some Hoya growers coil their vines around the metal wires of the hanging pots - which will not optimise root growth. Peduncle and flowers appeared at about 30-40% shade so it does not seem to need a lot of light.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Begonia foxworthyi

I found this rather plain looking plant clinging on steep limestone faces at Pahang, Peninsula Malaysia. The male flowers have 2 white tepals while the female flowers have pinkish placenta. The closest match I can think of is Begonia foxworthyi.
Unlike many Begonias, the variation in leaf appearance for this plant is minimal - I have yet to see a variegated form, even on young plants, which would be more horticulturally pleasing.

Begonia foxworthyi is an endemic species found in central to North-eastern part of Peninsula Malaysia. It is not a well known plant due to its plain apperance and finicky habit. It is said to be found on limestone as well as granite slopes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A walk in the rain

Fed by the heavy downpour, the gentle little stream running down the mountain had turned into a raging beast. I watched in amazement as this small frog made a suicidal dive into the furious brown depth with a trailing cry of Goodbye cruel world . Pelted by rain and deafened by the roaring torrent, I was an alien in this dark world of snaking roots ....
and angry waters ....
and pervasive wetness ....
.... fern-like orchids Podochilus microphyllus and an Appendicula draped the trunks
and boulders....
....the rather uncommon Hoya coriacea dangled from a tree ....

....the torch of a forest ginger, probably Globba patens, lit up the rocky bank....

....out of the blue, a black giant squirrel (Ratufa bicolor) bolted from the canopy, followed soon after by its cream coloured cousin Ratufa affinis scrambling up the tree.
Taken by surprise, I only managed some blury shots. These are amongst the largest squirrels in the world - and to see them side by side in the wild really made my day - even if it was a wet, gloomy one.

.... by the way, the suicidal amphibian is a torrent frog, Amolops larutensis - which as its name suggests, relishes opportunities like this.

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