Why does this house in Kerala grow 120 species of India’s rarest wild orchids?
An example of exquisite beauty and pleasant scent, wild orchids are known for their plant specialization (symbiosis) and their medicinal and horticultural importance.
Mountainous regions across India are home to a variety of orchids that bloom throughout the year. The Western Ghats is a major gene pool for the nearly extinct indigenous wild orchids. But over the past few decades, wild orchids have faced the threat of depletion.
a 2017 report By Kerala Forest Research Institute It indicates that these exotic ornamental plants are threatened with extinction, mainly due to habitat alteration, destruction caused by land use change, and large-scale extraction of wild plants for trade.
These changes result from human interventions – such as agricultural development, industrial development, road building, mining, tourism and recreation, and timber extraction.
Moreover, about 36 plant species are listed on the Red List by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Between these, paphiopedilum druryi (critically endangered) f Vanda spathulata (Vulnerable) are the two threatened species found in Kerala.
A resident of Wayanad, Sabu has dedicated himself to the conservation of wild orchids. To date, the innovative farmer has succeeded in preserving 60 species of wild orchids – e.g Vanda testicle, Cymbidium aloifolium, Louisia Zelanica, aria mysoreAnd foxtail Orchids from the Western Ghats.
Why preserve orchids?
In 2016, after completing postgraduate studies in healthcare management, Sabu started working with Dr Mobins Medical College, Wayanad. Regardless of profession, he was motivated to pursue his passion for the environment.
It was this passion that took him to nurseries several times. When he found a few orchids in the nursery, he was in awe of the breathtaking beauty of the flowers. “These are very small but attractive flowers and are available in a variety of colors and shapes,” says the 38-year-old. India is the best.
Upon returning home, he began researching orchids and immersed himself in the study of plant species and their delicate ecosystems.
“It was then that I discovered that the nearby Western Ghats are home to several rare species of wild orchids. They are effective in climate control and play a vital role in conserving biodiversity, as they often act as indicators of the health of the ecosystem,” he says. “It does not thrive in polluted air.”
“Orchids provide habitat and food for a wide range of species, including pollinators such as bees and butterflies. But people do not care about these plants. Many of their species are disappearing from our land. I wanted to preserve these plants so that they protect the environment and biodiversity. The environment is where they arise All forms of life, and where everything we need to survive comes from. “We have to start respecting and protecting them,” he adds.
So, for the past six years, Sabu has made conservation work his hobby. Whenever he had the opportunity, he set off into the forest to collect and preserve wild orchids.
Give back to mother earth
Without any experience in agricultural studies, Sabu started his own initiative. It follows the method of collecting, memorizing and increasing.
First, he collects wild orchids that grow on tree trunks, rocks and rock crevices. After understanding the environment necessary for its cultivation, he cares for it and propagates it in his home. He then replants the plant species in its original habitat – close to the parent plant – without harming the environment.
Not only that, but Sabu observed the plant’s growth and documented it in his diary.
But protecting these wild orchids is a daunting task, Sabo says. “It is very difficult to collect and replant these forest orchids because they need to be planted near streams, rocky areas and tree trunks. I have to make sure that these small plants are not washed away during disasters or heavy rains,” he says.
To address this problem, Sabu plants these delicate flowers on the trunks of coffee plantations. “I grow orchids on coffee trunks because these plants do not grow on trees with dense foliage. It is easier to anchor the roots of orchids on the smooth trunk of coffee plants. Coffee plantations allow a fair amount of diffused sunlight to flow onto them every day,” he adds. “Here, the orchids are protected by harsh direct sunlight and heavy rain.”
So far, he has replanted about 200 seedlings of wild orchids in the Western Ghats and has grown about 120 indigenous species of wild orchids at his home, of which 60 are from the Western Ghats. He also grew 4,000 plants from commercial orchids at his home in three multi-houses spread over 750 square metres.
Sabo also claims to have discovered a hybrid species of orchid, which he named “Benita” after his daughter.
His house in Wayanad has also become a paradise for more than 5,000 PhD students and botanists from 20 institutions, who regularly visit his house to study wild orchids. “Normally, these students find wild orchids in their textbooks. I want them to see these rare species in action,” he says.
In recognition of his work, Sabu was named the third best farmer by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in 2021 and was honored with the Udhyana Shrestha Award by the Wayanad Agriculture Department in 2022. This year he received the Best Farmer award. From the Horticulture Department of Wayanad.
I do not have any selfish motive behind this initiative,” says Sabu. Unlike others, I do not sell wild orchids to make money. I do this as part of conservation efforts. Preserving wild orchids is crucial as future generations should also be able to cherish and enjoy the heirloom in the same way I do.
Edited by Pranita Bhatt. All photos: VU Sabo.