5 things you need to know about the black orchid

Patricia Hului

The black orchid (Coelogyne pandurata) is such a unique plant that it is the official mascot for East Kalimantan province.

Also known as anggrek hitam in the Indonesian language, this orchid can be found in all three countries on Borneo; Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Unlike popular belief, it is not endemic to Borneo. It is also found in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and the Philippines.

The orchid is an epiphyte found on large trees located usually near rivers.

Here are five things you need to know about the black orchid:
Coelogyne pandurata
1.It is called black orchid but it is not entirely black

According to the book Orchids of Sarawak, stories of a mysterious black orchid from deepest Borneo has been told for years and people ask if such a plant really exists.

So you can only see the black coloured part of the flower for a short period of time because it blooms only five to six days.

“Although the flowers are predominantly a most striking lime-green, large areas of the lip are stained with a truly black pigment as though black ink had been splashed upon it.”

If you smell it closely, the bloom emits a honey-like fragrance.

2.It is first described by John Lindley way back in 1853

The flower might be rare to see, especially in bloom, but it is not new. English botanist John Lindley (1799-1865) was the first one to have described the black orchid, publishing about it in the Gardener’s Chronicle in 1853.

He wrote, “We are indebted for this striking species to Mr Loddiges, who informs us that it was imported from Borneo by Mr Low. The lip, although really oblong, yet in consequence of the manner in which the sides are bent down, has much the form of a violin.”

However, Lindley never commented about the black markings on the orchid.

3. Its alleged medicinal purposes

In some parts of rural Kalimantan, the black orchid is boiled and used as herbal medicines.

The flower is believed to have many medicinal purposes including for heartburn, diarrhea, stomach ulcers and even tuberculosis.

However, none of these have been scientifically proven.

The mascot of East Kalimantan province.
4.The myth behind the black orchid

While some believed that it can be a cure for various diseases, it is also believed that the flower can be a curse.

Legend in Indonesia has it that anyone who is in possession of the black orchid or even attempts to culture it will obtain bad luck.

Perhaps the myth spread to prevent people from harvesting the flower and subsequently reducing its population in the wild.

5.Some of the environmental threats against the black orchid

Speaking of its population, according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia, some of the threats this orchid faces are forest burning and land clearing due to agriculture activities.

Since this plant is an epiphyte relying on large trees to grow, loss of jungle could immediately affect the population of black orchid.

Here in Sarawak, all orchids are listed as ‘protected plants’ under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998.

According to the law: “Any person who collects, cultivates, cuts, trims, removes, burns, poisons, in any way injures, sells, offers for sale, imports, exports or is in possession of any protected plant or any recognizable part or derivative thereof, except under and in accordance with the terms and conditions of a licence issued under this Ordinance, shall be guilty of an offence: Penalty, imprisonment for one year and a fine of RM10,000.”