Dendrobium forbesii, photo Wolfgang H. Bandisch
  • By Wolfgang H Bandisch
  • Posted July 22, 2016

PNG Orchid Exploration - Part II

If you haven't read the first part, feel free to read part one of the Papua New Guinea Orchid Exploration article first.

Korubun Creek

Flame of the Forest - (Mucuna novo-guinensis), photo by Wolfgang H. Bandisch

The next day there was more administration to be done in the morning and so we only spent the afternoon in the field. This time we headed towards the area near the Wahgi River, following a small tributary called Korubun Creek. Again we split up into two parties, one party exploring the fjord-like small valleys and the other party walking along the ridges. At that elevation of around 1,650 m the variety of orchid genera was astounding. This time we found a couple of Spathoglottis species, more Epiblastus basalis, Coelogyne asperata (one can consider this species just about a 'weed' species as it is that abundant at all elevations), Dendrobium crispilinguum, several marvellous specimens of Dendrobium forbesii, Thelasis, Phreatia and quite a range of Bulbophyllum species again. Also noteworthy were the profusely bright red flowering vines of the 'Flame of the Forest' (Mucuna novo-guinensis). The, some days typical, afternoon rains cut our exploration short and we returned to the lodge with our collections.

Administration of the collections is an important part of the daily duties, pickled specimens of any flowers are prepared, notes compared as to elevation, latitude and longitude data entered in the database. There is hardly enough time to do it all. In the afternoons the rains start to fall causing a distinct drop in the normally quite pleasant daytime temperatures and the ever present mosquitos, most active in the mornings and late afternoons, can make life a bit unpleasant.

The list of genera and species located on Korubun Creek comprised of:

Agrostophyllum, Appendicula, Bulbophyllum Sections Intervellate, Lepantanthe, Pelma, Hyalosema, Fruticicola, Calanthe triplicate, Ceratostylis, Coelogyne asperata, Dendrobium caliculimentum, Dendrobium chordiforme, Dendrobium crispilinguum, Dendrobium forbesii, Dendrobium finisterrae, Dendrobium Sections Latouria, Spathulata, Grastidium, Bilobum, Dendrochilum longifolium, Diplocaulobium, Epiblastus, Eria, Glomera, Goodyera, Malaxis, Malleola, Mediocalcar, Microtatorchis, Liparis, Oberonia, Phreatia, Spathoglottis, Taeniophyllum, Thelasis, Tropidia

Jimy Valley road

For the next day an expedition to the Jimy Valley was planned. Starting out early in the morning we had to travel quite a distance to the opposite side of the valley to climb the mountains there to get to the Sepik Wahgi Divide. The roads in the Papua New Guinea Highlands are a sight to behold. Even the so called 'Highlands Highway' is in such a bad state of repair that it is no fun to make that journey. So we decided to take another road, the 'old' Highlands Highway that the writer had first travelled more than 30 years ago. That turned out to be a bad mistake and a bone shattering and at times frightening experience. The unsealed roads were badly deteriorated with deep tracks, huge cracks and fed by the continuous drizzling rain often turned into a slippery mud bath. One particular bridge, about 8 metres across a small river, which we had to cross consisted more or less of only the steel frame and to balance the 4WD car tires on steel beams no wider than 5 cm was quite an experience. Not long after the bridge we had to climb a slight incline completely covered in mud. Even the 4WD could not get through but helpful villagers soon appeared out of nowhere and filled the deep tracks with anything they could find of any substance, rocks, grass, broken coffee tree branches etc. Still, the vehicle would not make the climb. So, a heavy duty chain was procured and a dozen or so villagers started to pull the car through the mud. We thanked them and proceeded on our journey to the Jimy Valley. That road leads over a mountain pass at 2,240 m elevation. From the turnoff in Banz the road winds through villages and hamlets. The roadsides are planted with many flowering plants such as Hippeastrum, Euphorbia pulcherrima (Christmas Star), Dahlias, Canna Lilies, many species of Cordyline, Mariegold and other flowers, a very pretty sight.

4WD and help from villagers get us out of this spot, photo by Wolfgang H. Bandisch

It is not worthwhile to look for orchids anywhere near villages as the land surrounding the villages has been turned into gardens and coffee plantations. Once we had left the villages behind us at an elevation of around 1,800 m the road at first climbs slowly up the mountain, then getting steeper and steeper and worse and worse. Landslides have torn away entire sides of the mountain but then the road has been 'rebuilt' in a fashion to cross these landslides and traversing these sections turned out to be quite chilling experiences for some members in the party. But once we had left the villages behind we got out of the car and looked for orchids along the roadside and made short excursions in the forests nearby. The roadsides here are covered with large numbers of Impatience (Impatiens walleriana), often one colour, like deep red for some sections of the road, in others we found them to be orange, others any shade of blue. These grow on the disturbed embankments of the road among the grasses and ferns. In no time at all some members of the party found two wonderful specimens of Bulbophyllum, both most certainly new to science. Species of Glomera, Cadetia, Spathoglottis, Appendicula all are found in abundance. We would walk some sections of the road, then drive a few hundred metres, get out of the car again, look for orchids and so on. The orchids are everywhere. Unfortunately the rain, at first just a drizzle, got pretty bad and while that would not normally stop us from collecting it eventually did.

The mists wafting through the valleys gave the entire mountain some eerie feeling. Driving on we eventually reached the highest point of the pass at 2,240 m. With the rain abating somewhat we had to get out and look again. This was Oxyglossum country but we just could not find them. We found several species of Phreatia, Thelasis, Erythrodes, more Bulbophyllums, Cadetia, Glomera, even Microtatorchis but no Dendrobium species in section Oxyglossum. The writer had found Dendrobium massarangense there some 20 years earlier and was determined to find them again. These Dendrobium species grow among lichen, no more than five or six centimetres high, or in moss cushions of a similar thickness. Careful searching and digging with the fingers in the lichens eventually revealed a tiny leaf here and another there. We finally found some species in the elusive Oxyglossum section species of Dendrobium. Unfortunately none of them where in flower and so it is difficult to say which species were found. It was a very successful trip with about a hundred collections over a wide range of genera.

Erythrodes species, photo by Wolfgang H. Bandisch Jimy River road, photo by Wolfgang H. Bandisch

Then the rains started again more heavily and the road turned to mud. Dangerously steep in some parts we decided give up and to return to the lodge, this time taking another route for the last part of the drive that turned out to be substantially more comfortable to drive, even with the countless potholes then the route we had taken in the morning. The surprising large number of orchids collected took several more hours to administer. So every day was full. The strenuous collecting walks followed by hours of trying to identify genera, species, numbering, data entry and accompanying notes made the days go very fast.

The list of genera and species located on the Jimy Valley Road comprised of:

Agrostophyllum, Appendicula, Bromheadia, Bulbophyllum Sections Polyblepharon, (B. plumula), Pelma and Brachypus, Cadetia, Erythrodes, Dendrobium prosthecioglossum, Dendrobium nothofagicola, Dendrobium Sections Latouria, Pedilonum and Oxyglossum, Epiblastus, Glomera, Goodyera, Malaxis, Liparis, Mediocalcar, Phreatia, Spathoglottis parviflora

Come back for the last part of Papua New Guinea Orchid Exploration, where we visit Dup Creek and Baiyer River ...

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