During a glorious 18 month stay in Sri Lanka, I was based in the cool of hills overlooking the Temple of The Golden Tooth in Kandy. A Sri Lankan naturalist friend, Asela, regularly whisked me off on his motorbike to alluring places where we tramped about admiring the fabulous biodiversity.
However, some forests are renowned for being vulgarly over-supplied with leeches. For those of us with any sort of sensibility at all, the very thought of determined battalions of starved leeches, inching bunched and bloodless towards us [ blind yet armed with vastly over-proportioned anaesthetizing mouth parts ] will guarantee our transformation from sober adults into shrieking, foot stamping, clothes-ripping children. I was in need of any protection going so researched globally – no chances were going to be taken here ! In the end I found a local oil which supposedly gave one a fighting chance.
Asela and I plunged down paths where leeches, described and undescribed, of every shape, colour and form approached us with impressive commitment, only to watch them fall away, traumatised, from my reeking self. The oil worked ! Some may have felt compassion for them….. Looking up into a tree [ honestly, to make sure no leeches were sky-diving off high branches ] I was awestruck by the glimpsed pale presence of this orchid growing exactly where it chose. Leeches and all….. P. s. Asela, who’d refused the oil, rang me that evening to say he’d counted nearly 70 leech wounds. Phalaenopsis, named after the Greek words opsis, meaning resembling, and phalaena, moth, has over 50 species. In common with 80% of Phalaenopsis species, Phalaenopsis deliciosa var rosea chooses tree branches, preferring those growing in the warmer and damper air rising near the flowing waters of the tropical rainforests of India, Sri Lanka and the Phillipines at from sea level to about 750 metres.
The genus Phalaenopsis’ habitat is widely distributed across southeastern Asia and includes southern India, Sri Lanka, southern China to Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and northern Australia. Many Phalaenopsis species – including those of the subgenera Phalaenopsis to which P. deliciosa var. rosea belongs, inhabit the lowland open rainforest, which is consistently warm and moist throughout the year.
Little is known about the pollinators of the genus Phalaenopsis in general – in part because no food rewards such as pollen or nectar are typically available. Even less is known about P. deliciosa var. rosea, but it seems likely that this species’ mildly fragrant, long flowering blossoms are visited by Xylocopinae, carpenter bees. © Frances Livingstone 2018