• B.M. Allsopp

Fiji's gorgeous orchids

Updated: 5 days ago

The other day, Google sent me an email to tell me that my most searched-for blog post was 'Sleeping tears - Fiji's national flower'. Statistics often surprise me, in this case also showing me what fascinates many readers. So this month, I'll focus on Fijian plants - specifically the beautiful orchids which right now are bursting into bloom. The picture below shows Fiji's largest ground orchid, Phaius Tankervilliae.

Fiji's Phaius tankervilliae

The sex life of orchids

Readers of Death by Tradition: Fiji Island Mysteries 2 may remember that vanilla is an orchid. As far as I can find out, it is the only orchid in the world cultivated commercially as a food product. Vanilla's natural rate of reproduction is so low that each flower must be pollinated by hand to ensure a viable crop of vanilla beans. Few of Fiji's orchids seem to suffer this problem. Natural pollination is managed by insects, particularly wasps.

The word orchid comes from the Greek orchis, meaning testicle, which the tuber of the ground orchid was thought to resemble. To male wasps, the flowers of hundreds of species of orchids look just like female wasps. Some orchids smell like them, too. As the male wasp attempts to mate with the flower, pollen from the stamens sticks to the wasp, who carries it to another flower. Women, or indeed men, who wear orchids in their hair should be wary!

Introduced or native?

Orchids hybridise easily, so an orchid discovered by gardeners many years ago, like the showy pink Vanda, could spread throughout the tropics, producing thousands of hybrids. This propensity makes the distinction between introduced and native orchids at best blurry. For example, some hybrids are endemic to Fiji, even though they derive from an introduced species, whether natural or hybrid.

Orchids from my garden

Up a tree or in the ground?

Entranced by the bountiful ground orchids flowering in roadside ditches in the hills behind Suva, my husband and I dug some up and planted them in the gooey red clay near our house. Even I knew that heavy clay was not what orchids liked, but these specimens, mostly varavara and bamboo orchids, didn't mind at all. Heat and high rainfall did the trick. I added ginger roots and the small garden thrived, looking lush from the kitchen window. It also provided flowers for the house throughout the year.

However, most Fiji orchids are epiphytic, their roots binding to a support tree. Fiji's gardeners attach Dendrobium orchids to sections of black tree-fern trunks planted upright in the ground. Villages and resorts create spectacular sculptural specimens and even avenues with this simple combination. Although I couldn't find an image of this anywhere, please enjoy two more photos of typical Fiji orchids.

Epiphytic Dendrobium prasinum
Roadside orchids near Suva

I would love to answer any questions about Fiji or my books from readers. Just leave me a message on bmallsopp.com or email me at bernadette@bmallsopp.com.

I look forward to hearing from you!


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