PHOTOS AND TEXT BY DR SS SURESH
The Arabian Peninsula is consists of an arid plateau and is mostly devoid of orchids. Most of the areas in the Sultanate of Oman has only sparse scrub of thorny trees that can tolerate its harsh summers, unlike the Dhofar Governorate which benefits due to the monsoon.
Falaj al Sudairieen village in the Governorate of Al Dhahirah is known for it’s agricultural villages that are scattered over a vast area of long valleys and mountains. The village is well-known for its cultivation of various agricultural crops comprising garlic, onion, wheat in addition to date palms, and bananas.
The village derived its name from falaj, which supplies water to the farms throughout the year. The unique greeneries of the village attract tourists from far and near to have the first-hand experience of its natural beauty. A recent trip to this village recently yielded a surprise. In Oman, wadis are places of biodiversity with rocky falaj and damp walls, they become ideal conditions for plants to thrive. A rare stream orchid, Epipactis veratrifolia, commonly known as Eastern Marsh helleborine was spotted in one of the chalky cliffs in the moist wadis in Falaj Al Sudairieen.
Epipactis veratrifolia thrives in Europe particularly in Cyprus but can also be found in Asia. Among Eastern Mediterranean countries, they were found in places like Anatolia, Israel, Lebanon and Sinai.
This orchid as of late was also found in various parts of Abu Dhabi. There were also some discoveries made in Sharjah. As for the Sultanate, some reports noted that it was discovered growing in Jabal al Awaid and some spotted in Northern Oman.
This moist environment of the wadi perhaps perfectly suited for the growth of this orchid. These ground orchids are also espoused to withstand the drought. They are terrestrial herbs with hairy stem that grow up to 40 cm tall. Its leaves are solely green, oval-shaped and 15 cm long. Its flowering season begins from early January to March, but the specimen found in the third week of
December had bloomed. The flowers have 3 petals and 3 sepals. This orchid is special in that the pollination is done by Aphidophagous hoverflies, which describes the low abundance of this species due to its pollination strategy. The Environment and Protected Areas Authority( EPAA) of UAE has listed this plant as rare and endangered species in the Arabian Peninsula. It is named Marsh helleborine due to its presence in marshy habitat. This is the only orchid species from the six recorded in the Sultanate of Oman that grows outside the Dhofar Governorate.