Elaine Yim keeps the memory of Mother’s Day alive by paying special attention to her dendrobium orchid
I HAVE an old dendrobium orchid which is not as gorgeous as those that we see in nurseries and at orchid shows but this plant is very special to me. It brings back many fond memories, especially on Mother’s Day.
I found it at my parents’ home in Ipoh a day after my dad’s funeral. It appeared dead, with only two leaves remaining so I took the plant home. I didn’t know then what type of orchid it was or what kind of flowers it would bear but I knew it was mum’s favourite.
Mum had told me about the orchid when she was alive: Its name, how she got it and why she liked it. In fact, she wanted to give it to me. That was many years ago. I asked her to take care of it for me. Then I completely forgot about it.
After mum passed away, I began to miss her very much: Her gentle presence, wise words and our heart-to-heart talks. Oh, how I missed her delicious dishes prepared with love.
I feel dreadful now that I have to spend every Mother’s Day without mum. To keep her memory alive, I have to hold on to something living that she had left behind. After her death, dad took care of the plant until his death three years later.
For another two years, I tried my best to nurture the orchid based on my general knowledge and common sense. I know mum. Whenever she gave me something, it would be useful and meaningful. So I persisted. Somehow it managed to grow into a healthier plant.
Now I have two, each with many plantlets that can be propagated into more plants. When they bloom, there are only one or two tiny flowers that don’t last long. I was disappointed because I expected orchids to have spectacular flowers.
I finally discovered more on the orchid while reading a blog post by Sunita, a blogger from India. Now I know what to expect and I have begun to appreciate the simple beauty of its flowers. When the flowers fade, I can see the lovely white doves. Mum, thank you for all your sacrifices and the wonderful memories. I miss you very much!
The Dendrobium crumenatum is a native lowland orchid that grows wild and high up on the branches of old tree trunks in Malaysia and Singapore. People used to plant it near their front doors for protection. I have seen this orchid along Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. You can also find some mature plants of D. crumentaum in the KL Orchid Garden, Penang Botanical Garden, Air Itam Dam and Penang Hill.
The plant’s most attractive feature is the pure white flowers which give out a lovely scent. Each flower is about 5cm wide and has a yellow-tinted throat. Flowering is unpredictable and depends on the weather. The flower buds remain dormant until it is triggered by a sudden drop in temperature, such as during a rainstorm.
Flowers appear in about nine days. If there are a few matured plants in the vicinity, the explosion of flowers will occur simultaneously. The flowers open only for a few hours, unlike many dendrobium flowers which can last a long time.
The stems which are tufted and cane-like can reach a length of about 1 metre. They are swollen at the base, forming “pseudo-bulbs”, which help the plant store enough water to tide over dry periods. Leaves grow in the middle section while the flowers are at the upper ends. The leaves are thick enough to store water and its small size helps prevent excessive water loss. The orchid grows rapidly. It can last more than 20 years.
HOW TO GROW
The dove orchid is an epiphyte that is happiest when hanging from the branches or trunks of an old tree e.g. mango, rambutan, coconut or palm. You can tie the orchid on an old lamp post, pole or a log of wood. You can also grow it as a potted plant using charcoal and bricks as the planting medium. Nowadays, many nurseries do not sell this orchid. Propagation is by “keikis” (plantlets) that form along the canes. You can get a keiki from someone who is growing it.
• Scientific name: Dendrobium crumenatum
• Common names: Pigeon Orchid, Dove Orchid, Sparrow Orchid
• Origin: Southeast Asia and other islands of the Malay Archipelago
• Category: Epiphytic orchid
• The genus name Dendrobium is derived from the Greek words dendro for tree and bios for life, hence “dendrobium” means “one who lives on trees”