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Hunt continues for Cambodia’s unknown orchid species

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The environment ministry’s Neth Pheaktra visits the Kesor Kol centre. PHEAKRA VIA FB

Hunt continues for Cambodia’s unknown orchid species

Experts at the Ministry of Environment are working on identifying other unknown and unnamed varieties of Kesor Kol – a type of orchid. Many orchid species still without scientific recognition occur in Cambodia, they say.

Orchids are famously attractive flowers that grow in the wild and can be quite complex in their biology and make interesting subjects for scientific studies. There are thousands of different orchid species, but many of them are almost indistinguishable from each other when judged by outward appearances.

Orchids are rare flowers that often grow in solitary conditions deep in the forest, often with just a single orchid found growing on a tree branch. They can fetch a high price from collectors who hunt for them, but the over-harvesting of orchids is one of the factors that threaten them, particularly the rarest species.

Over the years, rangers and scientists have gone into the forests of Cambodia to find new orchid species for collection and study at Kesor Kol Sok An Phnom Kulen Research and Conservation Centre in Siem Reap.

According to experts, the process of searching out and identifying orchids is slow due to a lack of human resources in this area.

Chhin Sophea, director of the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation, said that at present the human resources for research and classification or the scientific taxonomy of the orchid species are limited so the research process has to be done slowly.

Due to the lack of resources, the centre could only classify about 10 types of orchid per year, while he and other experts believe that there are many other types of orchids in Cambodia that have not yet been identified.

“So far, we have collected 210 types, but we have just identified 119 and the remaining 91 have not been identified,” he said.

He continued that identifying orchids was complicated because some specimens could not be identified with the naked eye and needed to go through further DNA analysis, which was not yet possible in Cambodia, so the orchid samples must be sent abroad for identification.

He added that after studying an orchid, if it is determined to be a new species that has not yet been identified, then experts need to find a scientific name for it and a name in Khmer for it and there must be further study of the biological conditions of that new type.

Sophea claims that human resources in scientific research, classification or taxonomy of orchids is very limited and few universities provide training in these skills.

“As far as I know, the underlying theory in scientific taxonomy is taught at the Royal University of Phnom Penh [RUPP] and the Royal University of Agriculture [RUA], but not for any specific or particular plant,” he said.

As an expert, he encourages students to learn these skills to help conserve orchids, many of which are endangered. If Cambodia had enough experts with this skill it would then be able to build a laboratory and it would be easier and less time consuming for identification.

Sophea added that in Thailand, up to 1,000 species of orchids have now been identified. Based on its similar topography and weather, he believes that there are still many unknown orchid species present in Cambodia.

“The type of orchid named ‘Preah Trohoeng’ [Grammatophyllum speciosum] is a rare species and was believed to not exist in Cambodia, but it was found deep in the rainforest. Therefore, it is also possible that Cambodia still has many other types of orchids.

“In general, experts believe that many more species are present in Cambodia, but the problem is the lack of researchers. If the research is slow, some species may become extinct before we ever know about them due to commercial extraction,” he said.

Environment ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra said last week that the ministry is set to host the third National Kesor Kol Forum in March to promote the conservation of the Kingdom’s wild orchid varieties.

The forum will showcase Kesor Kol and bring together flower businesspeople and enthusiasts, ministry officials, and representatives of other institutions, he said.


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