The TIger Orchid is flowering in Rimba Ilmu botanic garden, University of Malaya (medicinal plants section). This unpredictable event happens only once every two to five years, so catch it while you can!
Above: The Tiger Orchid blooming in the medicinal plants section of Rimba Ilmu in 2014.
As the world's biggest orchid, the Tiger Orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum) can grow to a weight of two tonnes (180 kgs). Although it is a magnificent exhibit at orchid shows, cranes are needed to transport it around.
Its sheer size makes it a difficult plant to cultivate in private gardens. In the wild, it grows as an epiphyte on the forks and trunks of large, sturdy trees, where its giant root bundles trap leaf litter for nutrients. The Tiger Orchid is native to Southeast Asia, and is usually found in exposed areas of tropical lowland forests.
Above: The specimen outside the Rimba Ilmu gate in 2007, before it tumbled and was replanted.
There are several specimens of the Tiger Orchid in Rimba Ilmu. The first specimen planted outside the conservatory grew so large that it was halved in 2003, with the other half replanted outside the Rimba Ilmu botanic garden gate. In 2011, the second clump grew so heavy that it tumbled into four pieces, which were then replanted around the garden.
In mid-August 2014, the specimen planted behind the tongkat ali trees in medicinal plants section flowered. This is only the third time the Tiger Orchid has flowered in its 14 years in Rimba Ilmu, and the first since five years ago!
Above, left: A Tiger Orchid raceme bearing about 40 flowers. Above, right: The flowers up close.
The raceme (shoot bearing flowers) can grow up to 3 m long, with 40 to 80 flowers. As the raceme grows in length, older flowers at the base will wither and new ones blossom at the tip. The flowers are 10 cm in diameter and are yellow, overlaid with dark red to brown blotches.
The Tiger Orchid requires immense sunlight and heat to flower, which normally happens once every two to five years after it has reached a certain size. A Tiger Orchid in bloom is a spectacular sight, as many racemes will produce magnificent sprays of blossoms. The Tiger Orchid will remain in flower for about two months, so do take a visit to Rimba Ilmu for this rare, precious occasion!
Happiest when surrounded by books, Vanessa Ting finds herself thriving in the no-less-fascinating world of conservation biology. This mostly involves exponential (learning and topographical) curves, tagging behind ardent, energetic botanists and zoologists. She can be reached at email@example.com.