Preserving a delicate beauty


Preserving  a delicate beauty

Orchid cultivation has picked up in Karnataka, where the beauties are endemic to the Western Ghats. Efforts are on to promote this ‘elite’ plant’s cultivation, reducing pressure on natural ecosystems and avoiding destruction of species, says Priyanka S Rao.

Sandhya Mahesh’s home in Bangalore is an ode to orchids. There is one of every kind in each room! There are lady slippers, moth orchids and Dendrobiums, to name a few. Sitting pretty in white, yellow, orange, green, purple, pink and a combination of colours, there is an elegant charm about them. She takes pride in growing them and tend to them with the utmost affection, and it shows. If you ever visit her house, prepare to go ‘green’ – with envy! “People who grow orchids live longer as they tend to be happy all the time!”, she declares.

Her enthusiasm is infectious. Sandhya is one of the many members of the family of orchid enthusiasts in Karnataka for whom growing orchids isn’t just a passionate hobby, but a big part of their life and their identity.

Interest in orchids has multiplied in the last decade thanks to awareness and demand created for the exquisite flowers. “Twenty years ago, not many had heard of orchids in Bangalore. Back then, when I visited nurseries and asked for orchids, they would show me a different flower and ask: ‘Is this what you are looking for?’,” says Sandhya.

The initial notion that orchids are meant only for the elite has given way to orchids being embraced as the choice flower to adorn homes, offices, to gift others and for decorations, making it an attractive business venture. Orchid cultivation is booming in Karnataka and no one’s complaining! This rising trend of growing orchids, both commercially and as a hobby, has been intimately nurtured in the State by The Orchid Society of Karnataka (TOSKAR).

Established in 2005 by founder president and botanist late T Ananda Rao – who had done extensive research on orchids in Karnataka – and a few others, the society focusses on two key aspects – conservation of orchids and spr­eading awareness, and encouraging people to grow orchids in their homes, as a hobby. The main aim of the society is to reduce the press­u­re on natural ecosystems which see indiscriminate plucking of orc­h­ids and avoid destruction of species.

“We started the society with 15-20 people who were growing orchids. We all came from different backgrounds but had a common goal of conserving orchids,” says Society president Dr K S Shashidhar. As a former IFS officer, posted in Nagaland for 30 years, Shashidhar knows firsthand how human interference impacts orchids in the wild.
“There is pressure on the ecosystem....Loss of forest covers and fragmentation of habitats results in the loss of species.”

In Karnataka, orchids are endemic to the Western Ghats. “Orchids along with other epiphytes have an important role to play in the ecosystem. Presence of epiphytes (including orchids) in an ecosystem indicates its status and orchids in particular are indicators of the health of an ecosystem. Also, the orchid flower industry has become economically important in the international trade. All this makes orchids an ecological, environmental, and commercially, a very important group of plant,” he elaborates.

“There are 1,600 species in India and around 200 in the State. Not many hybrids are available in the market as not much importance is given to orchids when compared to other plants. Some people still think orchids are for the elite and we want to tell them no – you can grow them anywhere! The other issue is availability of planting material. Not many nurseries produce orchids in India – most are imported and resold. If the cost of planting material reduces, large-scale cultivation can take place here,” he says.

In order to spread awareness, the society holds talks and workshops in various societies, organisations and colleges across the state. Participation in flower shows organised by the Department of Horticulture and Mysore Horticultural Society on the eve of Republic Day and Independence Day has gotten the society tremendous response from visitors and given good exposure.

Hobbyists and commercial growers

The society promotes hobbyists, farmers and women groups to grow orchids in rural and urban areas; holds training and demonstration on orchid growing. Members meet regularly in Bangalore to share their knowledge, experience and brainstorm on how best to grow orchids. The forum also offers various activities like talks by experts, orchid shows, display of orchids, awareness programmes, exchange and sale of plants. There are growers from Sirsi, Shimoga and Doddaballapur who have benefitted from the society. “We share our expertise and help them choose the right kind of orchid to grow commercially,” says Shashidhar. In all, they have around 390 life members from ages 17 to 80.

“People think growing orchids is expensive and difficult, but that isn’t the case. Orchids stay in bloom much longer than other flowers, between one-and-a-half months to six months whereas, say rose, for example, stays only for about four days,” says Sandhya. It is this lasting quality that makes it worth the price.

Prices start from Rs 200-300 for Dendrobiums and Rs 400-500 for Phalaenopsis (moth orchids). “Bangalore is very suitable to grow orchids. They are easy to grow and require watering once in two-three days, depending on the weather. They don’t even need mud; bricks and charcoal are used.”

So who can be a member? “Anyone”, says Sandhya. The society welcomes all budding orchid enthusiasts to become members. The next big endeavour of the society is developing an orchid area in Lalbagh.

The State Horticulture Department has requested the society members to share their expertise for the project. The Mysore Zoo is also consulting Shashidhar on growing orchids inside its premises.

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