The sheer stylishness of these three orchids has evolved over millennia to prove irresistible to pollinators. It also proved irresistible to me – the painter in me was helpless in the face of their design and colour combinations. P. curtisii prefers to grow near flowing water in Indonesian tropical forests at between 900 – 2200 metres and can be found in Sumatra , P, lawrenceanum chooses lower altitudes and cool, mossy, limestone rocks in Brunei and P. esquirolei is native to northern Thailand and China where it can grow at 1200 – 1800 metres in primary and secondary forests. All are considered endangered in the wild.
These orchids were painted in Paris as I was currently living in a tiny yet light-filled studio near the Bois de Boulogne, on loan to me for 6 months. The owner was abroad but as he is a a well-regarded artist, impressive invitations to current openings etc., kept arriving. As it was part of my agreement with him that I sometimes stopped painting, usually opened the invites and always go, sample and be amazed by the quality of the French wine on offer, I was, naturellement, obliged to comply.
P. superbiems has only been found, so far, in west and north Sumatra so it seems to be endemic to that island. Its spectacular flowering form graces June and July, glowing near sparkling rivulets on deeply shaded forest floors. Incidentally, P. superbiens curtesii and P. superbiens are so alike that even the expert’s experts can disagree on which is which. From about 200 -1800 metres in the north east of India, from Assam and Manipur to Myanmar, P. hirtussissimum can grow either on trees or rocks where it flowers from April to June. But, as it so often chooses steeply plunging, sunless chasms it can justifiably be called by that delicious word – chasmophyte !
Yet in China, P. hirsuitissimum has more varied tastes, and though still often growing facing north, and choosing rocky crevices packed with moist, nutritious leaf mould, it can also grow terrestrially. P. lawrenceanum must surely have decorated our world with one of the most spectacular of all flowers, larger even and more brilliantly coloured than P. callosum. It has evolved to thrive at between 300-450 metres in the deep leaf litter of primary forests from the north of Borneo to Sarawak and was even seen occasionally on calceous rocks.
The composition of this watercolour painting was, no doubt, inspired by walks in Parisian gardens and boulevards in which the French genius for celebrating natural beauty is often presented within a rhythmic, formal framework. © Frances Livingstone 2018