Orchids of 'invisible' wildlife trade

Paphiopedilum exul (The Excluded Lady Slipper Orchid)
Paphiopedilum exul (The Excluded Lady Slipper Orchid)
Dendrobium lamyaiae (The Longan Tree Dendrobium)
Dendrobium lamyaiae (The Longan Tree Dendrobium)
Rhynchostylis gigantea (The Elephant Freckle Orchid)
Rhynchostylis gigantea (The Elephant Freckle Orchid)
Chiloschista lunifera (The Moon Chiloschista)
Chiloschista lunifera (The Moon Chiloschista)

The fascination with orchids goes back centuries. The Victorians, for example, sent expeditions all over the world in search of new species to entertain wealthy collectors.

Today, many orchids are still highly sought after due to their large blooms, fragrance and rarity.

Here is a look at some of the orchids that were collected and sold illegally at the markets in Thailand.

Paphiopedilum exul
(The Excluded Lady Slipper Orchid)

It is known to exist only within a 4 sq km area of limestone forest in Peninsular Thailand. It is recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered and is protected in Thailand.

This photo shows a wild-collected plant for sale at a market in Bangkok.


Dendrobium lamyaiae
(The Longan Tree Dendrobium)

It is found only in northern Laos, although scientists are still uncertain about exactly where it can be found in the wild. The species was first found growing in a greenhouse in Thailand, where it had been illegally imported.

It has not been studied well enough to determine its conservation status, but it is likely threatened because of its presumed narrow distribution, and the pressures of habitat destruction and illegal commercial trade.


Rhynchostylis gigantea
(The Elephant Freckle Orchid)

An attractive, fragrant orchid that can be found across tropical Asia.

Although heavily collected from the wild, the species is also legally grown in greenhouses across Thailand.


Chiloschista lunifera
(The Moon Chiloschista)

This leafless orchid has very small flowers less than 1.5cm in width. This species exemplifies the diversity of the orchid family, as well as some consumers' interest in small, less commonly traded species.

Commercial trade in such species can also be a threat to their conservation, as they are collected in huge volumes.

The conservation status of the Moon Chiloschista, however, has not yet been studied.

SOURCE: JACOB PHELPS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2015, with the headline 'Orchids of 'invisible' wildlife trade'. Print Edition | Subscribe