Orchid mystery


I am currently in Western Kenya looking at one of the sites that I do some research in and exploring forests. Yesterday I went on walk in the Kaptagat Forest. This is a highland forest with a mixture of indigenous forest and commercial plantations. It had rained the previous night and the ground was wet and slippery so we made very slow progress through the forest. There were lots of orchids on the trees and some of them were flowering.

One tiny orchid, a Polystachya, had fascinating flowers. They hang like miniature xmas decorations from a tangled branch. Despite their tiny size (less than 1cm across) they exude the most enticing perfume. A mixture of lemon and marzipan that slightly tickles when you lean in close for a deeper whiff.

The orchid’s flowers are unusual too in that the reproductive parts have been rotated 180 degrees. Therefore, the potential pollinator will have the orchid’s pollen deposited on its belly! Orchid pollen is not fine and powdery but packaged into solid bundles called pollinaria that attach to the pollinator with a special glue! I hope to solve the mystery of this flower soon – for who could be its pollinator?

As my camera was back at home charging, I decided to sketch the plant…


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