Text and photos by Jim Cootes
The morning was crisp and clear and our expectations were high. It’s not every day that we get the chance to go into the forest with a very experienced field botanist, Dr. Ed de Vogel, from the Netherlands.
Dr. De Vogel was able to spare a couple of days to join us in a survey of the orchid flora of a small area of Central Luzon.
This area is at about 1,500 meters elevation with some of the surrounding mountains reaching heights of over 2,000 meters.
The higher elevations are mainly stunted trees, seldom over a couple of meters tall. This region is also very wind swept but this does not stop the orchids from growing in great profusion. The branches and trunks of the trees are always covered with several centimeters of moss that does not dry out.
Plants can be found growing on almost any part of the trees except for the actual leaves. A number of Bulbophyllum species like to grow close to the ground. The brightly colored Bulbophyllum pardalotum likes to grow in this habitat. The stunning Bulbophyllum facetum and Bulbophyllum schaiblei also inhabit this region.
It is quite common to find more than one Bulbophyllum species growing on a single tree. One time on the east coast of Luzon a large, fallen tree bore no less than nine different Bulbophyllum species on its trunk and branches (a number of other orchid genera were also present).
Another genus that is very common here are the miniature-flowered dendrochilums. They seem to take advantage of all the parts of the trunk and branches. Dendrochilum parvulum is one of the smallest of all the species with the plant being about 4 centimeters tall. These plants are normally found growing towards the ends of the branches and normally are about a dozen pseudobulbs in size. Occasionally one will find a very old plant, usually growing on the trunk that is about a foot in length and consists of several hundred pseudobulbs.
Quite a number of new Dendrochilum species have been named from this area in the last few years – Dchlm. cootesii and Dchlm. cordatum are two that have been formally described and published. Without a doubt, many more undescribed species, in many different genera, await description from this area.
The genus Dendrobium has a number of species and our trip to these mountains found a section, and species of this genus not previously recorded from the Philippines. Dendrobium erosum, from the section Calyptrochilus, has previously been recorded from Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Java, Borneo, New Guinea and a couple of the Pacific islands. The clusters of bright pink flowers aren’t large but they are produced in good numbers and are most attractive.
Coelogyne chloroptera, with its pretty green flowers is often seen on the trunks of trees of all sizes. The upright inflorescence bears up to 7 blooms about 4 cm in diameter. The petals of this species are very narrow and they often reflex back towards the column. There is also a white flowered Coelogyne species found in this area but it is seldom seen and may well be undescribed.
The number of species we found are too numerous to fully enumerate here, and as stated earlier it is quite possible that a number of them could be undescribed, or new locality records for the island of Luzon, or even the Philippines.
It should also be noted that plants from high elevations will not grow successfully in the heat of the tropical lowlands, so should not be taken from the forest.