There are about 5,000-6,000 species of orchids living in Indonesia. Most of them are native to Sumatra, and there are many more to be discovered here. Sumatra is one of the world’s orchid hot-spots but it faces many problems; habitat loss and exploitation are dragging so many orchids towards extinction.
With funding from the Biodiversity and Conservation Agency of South Sumatra, I started a pilot project called the Flora Conservation Act. The aim is to rescue orchids, and many flora species native to South Sumatra, in plantations surrounding the Kerinci Seblat National Park. Due to unsustainable agricultural practices many of these trees—especially old rubber trees—will cut down and burnt by villagers to make new plantations. Unfortunately, flora aren’t like animals who can run away and save themselves from fires. If the villagers continue to cut and burn the land, then a lot of flora will become no more than dust.
Biodiversity and Conservation Agency of South Sumatra staff helping to rescue orchids from a coffee plantation.
So far we have rescued 40 species of orchids, such as: Phalaenopsis violacea, Coelogyne asperata and Grammatophyllum speciosum. We established a small nursery as a sanctuary for native flora, and we try to propagate them with plans to return the refugee plants back to the wild—within Kerinci Seblat National Park or another protected area.
The end of December 2017 was the busiest month for us. For about two weeks I was collecting orchids from rubber and coffee plantations near Kerinci Seblat National Park. Sometimes I spent up to six hours per day on rescue missions. Sometimes it’s easy for me to rescue them, but often they grow in difficult places like on the top of tree or on a cliff.
When rescuing orchids you must be careful not to fall in the river!
At the end of 2017, I was so glad I could save one of the most beautiful endemic orchid species in southern Sumatra, called Phalaenopsis violacea, together with a local indigenous with a keen botanic interest called Taufik Hidayat. We walked for about two hours in the rubber plantations and coffee plantations before we found them hanging on a tree near the riverbank. Phalaenopsis violacea is an orchid that needs a precise climate to grow: it needs highly humidity and low sunlight. They have beautiful shapes like stars with purple, white and green colours on the petals. The most special thing on the Phalaenopsis violacea: they have a rose-like perfume that attracts key pollinators.
Phalaenopsis violacea. If only I could share the perfume with you.
I recently got a chance to join a forest patrol with staff from the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Agency of South Sumatra in the Gumai Nature Reserve, South Sumatra. We patrolled the southern part of the Gumai Nature Reserve that has big problems like illegal logging and plantations inside the Protected Area. Besides the patrol, we also tried to save many orchids growing inside vulnerable plantations. We walked for about 10 hours, and we obtained 23 species of orchids—which are now in our nursery.
Rescuing orchids with staff from the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Agency of South Sumatra
We are trying our best to save orchids before they disappear. With this small-scale flora conservation project, we hope to get this pilot project recognised by people—especially students or researchers—and thereby use this nursery to raise awareness about flora conservation in general.