Northeast India, being the bio-diversity hotspot of the country, is home to innumerable orchid species. In fact, the region is counted amongst the eight hottest biodiversity hotspots of the world. That is not surprising as it harbours about 800 orchid species, constituting nearly 70% of the total orchid flora found in the whole of India. According to the date presented by the National Research Centre for Orchids (NRCO), India has about 1,300 species of orchids, out of which 800 are found in Northeast India. And what is more interesting is that out of the 800 total varieties, 300 species are found in Meghalaya. Hence, the geographical advantage and the high concentration of orchids made it possible to establish a first-of-its-kind orchidarium in the State.
Orchids on Display
Located in Upper Shillong, the orchidarium is spread over 6000 square feet and is home to several species of orchids, which are displayed for public viewing. The orchidarium is climate-controlled, so the temperatures inside ranges between 15 and 20o Celsius. ‘The aim of setting up the state-of-the-art orchidarium is to attract eco-tourists travelling to this part of the region every year. It is good that we are channelizing the tourism potential of the State,’ stated Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma.
Albert Chiang, senior scientist at the orchidarium shares, ‘It is a golden opportunity for researchers and other botanists to work on the medicinal values of orchids. Also, there are many more species of orchids that are yet to be discovered from the region. The orchidarium can play its part by giving a big boost to the study of orchids in the region’.
Close to 300 of the world’s 17,000 species of orchids are found in forestland, gardens and nurseries of Meghalaya, reveals NRCO. Many of the orchid species are present in Nokrek Biosphere Reserve in Garo Hills, four wildlife sanctuaries, and reserved forests, and across the 125 sacred groves all across the State. However, there is an urgent need to expand the protected area network as these plants fail to withstand the pressures of habitat destruction because of their habitat specificity and slow growth. Hence, establishing an orchidarium was indeed the need of the hour. The Institute for Bio-Resources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), established in 2018, was instrumental in setting up the orchidarium and completed the construction of the building within three months time.
The orchidarium has over 20 varieties of orchids, which are found in Meghalaya and its neighbouring states. ‘Of the 17,000 species of orchids found in the world, about 1,250 can be found in India, of which nearly 300 are found in Meghalaya. In time, we are looking at developing the infrastructure of the orchidarium in order to store all the 300 different species here,’ informed Chiang.
Director of IBSD, Professor Dinabandhu Sahoo, during the inauguration of the orchidarium shared, ‘The orchidarium will educate the public about citizen science, which will help preserve the fragile ecosystem. To plant orchids in Delhi, Gurgaon or any other North Indian places, air-conditioned rooms are required and the cost is very high. But here, the weather works like a natural refrigerator. The second important thing is that the soil in the region is very fertile. You travel anywhere in the Northeast, and you are sure to come across a large number of orchids growing naturally on tree trunks. But, many people are uprooting the orchids and selling it in the market at cheap prices. IBSD will help make proper use of the innumerable orchids found in the region.’
The opening of the orchidarium saw a large number of visitors from every nook and corner of the region, and the country as a whole. The Meghalaya government has started to promote various tour packages and holiday trips to explore this extended orchid farm of the State. ‘The famous ‘orchid’s tour’ holiday extends up to Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, China on one hand, and Burma, Malayasia, Thailand on the other. Many species are also unique to Meghalaya. The awesome orchids of Meghalaya are colourful and have a striking attraction, which is expected to attract more tourists,’ shared CM Conrad Sangma. A special natural orchid habitat has been set up in the orchidarium where large varieties of orchids are displayed to attract visitors.
One of the visitors, Jenny, who visited the orchidarium on the day of its inauguration expressed her delight over having a new tourist spot in the State. ‘This orchidarium is very interesting as it has become one of the tourist spots. As Meghalaya is one of the major tourist hubs in the country, tourists will now get a chance to visit the orchidarium, and know more about the rich orchid collection of the region. Because of climate change, orchids are reducing and such efforts can help us protect the orchids.’
Chiang mentioned, ‘The orchidarium will also be vital in providing bio-based eco-tourism in the State. The entire Northeastern region is blessed with more than 800 varieties of orchids and the global demand for orchids is increasing year after year. It is expected to generate employment and boost the income of the small-scale flower farmers along with tourism.’ In order to enhance the growth of eco-tourism, the Government of Meghalaya along with IBSD, has been working towards promoting the same and encouraging the educated unemployed youth, especially in the rural areas, to pursue it as means to a sustainable livelihood. ‘Tourist inflow, both domestic and international, has increased from 4.04 lakh in 2006 to 8.39 lakh till last year, according to the latest statistics from the tourism department. Hence, promoting eco-tourism is necessary,’ stated CM Conrad Sangma.
Potential for Entrepreneurship & Research
N Rao, retired director of the Centre for Orchid Gene Conservation of Eastern Himalayan Region in Manipur, will make it to the record books for discovering 35 new species of orchids, the maximum number discovered by an individual in the country. ‘All the discoveries are new to the science of orchids in the world and will help enhance the medicinal and floral value of these fine blooms from India.’ Out of the 35, twenty were discovered by Rao individually and 15 discoveries were made in conjunction with others. Also, all the new finds were from Northeastern Himalayas. ‘The orchidarium will help give a boost to the study of orchids, for botanists and wildlife researchers of the region,’ shared Rao.
‘The exclusive orchidarium will also lead to the production of orchids in large quantities, with a proper supply chain which will, in turn, open paths for new business avenues. Such large produce with a proper supply chain, can earn a decent income, very much like farmers in other parts of the world,’ added Chiang. He shared that the temperature and climatic conditions of the region are favourable for orchids to thrive, and so, it is essential to look into orchid farming for mass production. Of late, the use of orchids has increased manifold for its medicinal value.
It is expected that the establishment will go a long way to educate people about these exotic plants and help preserve the ecosystem of the region.
This feature was first published in Eclectic NorthEast July 2019 issue