The Palm Scribe

Orchid conservation in palm oil

Orchids are well known as elegant flowers across the world and is widely prized. There are hundreds of varieties of orchids, including many that only can be found in the wild and are rare.

Bulbophyllum tortum or the twisted flower fond at PT Permata Putera Mandiri plantation. (Photo: Rizky Pranata Dewa/PPM)

But orchids, especially the wild varieties, are victims of their own popularity. Unscrupulous traders are hunting for orchids in forests, slowly depleting their number.

Palm oil company PT Permata Putera Mandiri (PT PPM) operating in the South South Sorong district of West Papua is concerned with the conservation of these wild orchids. The subsidiary of PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya Tbk. (PT ANJ) is earmarking part of its concession as an area to conserve a number of wild forest orchids.

Papua, were PT PPM operates, is known as a heaven of orchids, from the some 3,000 orchid species in the world, it is estimated that some 5,000 of them can be found in Indonesia and no less than 1,000 of them can be found in Papua and the neighboring province of West Papua.

Acriopsis lillifolia. (Photo: Rizky Pranata Dewa/PPM)

The National Herbarium of Netherlands (NHN) notes that there are at least 2,717 species of orchids in Papua, West Papua and Papua New Guinea. The majority of the orchid species in Papua are endemic, native to the area.

The 12-hectare orchid conservation area operated by PT PPM, is located adjacent to the Hexagon, the company’s basecamp. All orchids here come from the land clearing areas,” said Muharmansyah, better known as Arman, the conservation officer of PT ANJ.

While accompanying the Palm Scribe in visiting the collection of orchids kept there, Arman explained that each time the company cleared forest for its palm oil plantation, orchids found by workers on tree s are taken and moved to the conservation area.

“The potentials of orchids as part of the biodiversity riches at the location to be cleared for plantations are indeed high,” Nunik Maharani, PT ANJ head corporate communication, said.

The company deems that it would be a pity to just throw away those high-value plants and thus the company set up a separate area where the orchids could be grown and maintained.

“Besides for the purpose of collection, the move is also to maintain the germ plasm,” Arman said. Germ plasms is the genetic substance that transmit particular traits. It can take the form of entire organ, or part of plants or animal and microorganism. Germ plasm is a natural element that is important to science.

Maharani added that there were three reasons for the company to provide a special area for the orchids. The first one was to identify and inventorize the orchid types available in the plantation area. The second reason is to conserve the orchids which live on trees around the location of land cleared for palm oil plantations. “The third one is as an educational and recreational facility,” Maharani said.

Arman said that there are some 350 orchids from 30 species that had been gathered a t the special areas made available by PT PPM in the past six months. The orchids are let to be grown on trees along the inspection road, so that they can be easily enjoyed by visitors.

Photo: Rizky Pranata Dewa/PPM

One of the orchids, that has been turned into a mascot for the company’s collection is Grammatophyllum papuanum. The orchid that is commonly known as the giant orchid or the tiger orchid is a genus that has 11 species. This genus was first announced by C.L. Blume in 1825. The term Grammatophyllum comes from the Greek wores “gramma” that means sign, and “phyllon” that means leave.

This orchid has been classified as a protected species based on Government Regulation number 7 of 1999, so this member of the Orchidaceae family is prohibited from being traded, except for its third generation form–plants that are the results of breeding that has received the authorization from the concerned authority, in this case usually the Nature Conservation Office (BKSD).

The PT ANJ conservation team keeps all data on the orchis in the collections at its headquarters in Jakarta. The data not only concern their names but also the threats they face, their conservation status and their photos.

It is hoped that the commitment of both PT PPM and PT ANJ to the conservation of orchids will remain high as such commitment is important to assure the survival of the various orchids that can be found there.

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