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orchids & butterflies

Rainbows of Color:
Orchids and Butterflies

There are perhaps no two features of nature more beautifully suited to each other than orchids and butterflies, and perhaps this is why we so often see the two together. There are more than 1,000 species of both in Thailand and many of these are in the North. It used to be that orchids grew only in the wild, and of course the butterflies found them there too; but now so many orchids are cultivated in nurseries and on open hillside plantations that one need not venture into jungle areas to see, to smell, and to appreciate orchids and the equally stunning butterflies lights on them. Fortunately for all of us, Thailand's orchid season is with us this month and all of the many varieties grown in Thailand, both wild and hybrid, can be seen in their regal splendor.

Orchids were first made known to us through the explorations of Charles Darwin and other scientists through the Brazilian jungles of the Amazon in the early 19th century. Much has changed since then. Many of the original wild orchid varieties discovered have become extinct or are quickly becoming extinct, and hundreds of new varieties have become available to us through hybridization. Hybridization has led to somewhat less voluptuous flowers on the orchid plant, but it has also led to a much greater variety of rich and striking colors. Among the many species of orchids to be seen in northern Thailand, many will be of the hybrid type, but some will also be quite rare and from the original wild plants of centuries ago.

One of the most beautiful orchids of the North is the White Orchid. This species of wild orchid is also one of Thailand's rarest, for less than six types of White Orchid have been found growing in the wild. Most White Orchids grown in Thailand now are cultivated in nurseries where special greenhouses have been designed and built for the preservation of this flower. Two other orchid species that can be classed with the White Orchid, in terms of beauty and also found in the North, are the Brick Red Orchid and the Bright Yellow Oncidium Orchid. When you visit Chiangmai's orchid nurseries, you may ask attendants to point out these three special varieties.

Many visitors to Thailand are surprised to find that the orchid blooming season here is January. The reason for this is the orchid's need for moisture before flowering and the orchid plant's ability to retain moisture over a long period of time. Orchids in Thailand also blossom in August, halfway through the country's rainy season. The rain continues on through September and then the drier, cooler season begins. By January the orchid plants have again been able to retain and store enough moisture to provide for blossoming. In the event that rains are light in Thailand from September to November, orchid plants automatically begin to drop their leaves in order to conserve moisture for the flowers in January. The cooler January weather adds to this and results in this month being the country's major orchid blooming season.

Thailand's orchid nurseries are today what the jungles were to orchids one hundred years ago. As a tropical flower that requires strong sunlight for photosynthesis and heavy rains for the basic elements of nutrition, wild jungle orchids have found it more and more difficult to survive in an environment where the jungles worldwide have been encroached upon by human development. In the nurseries, many species of orchid that might otherwise have gone extinct can be protected and nurtured and the line can be carried on. Another function of the nurseries, however, is to scientifically create and nurture new species of hybrid orchids, and this is done regularly for both scientific and commercial purposes. Those interested in the scientific process of creation of and nurturing of orchid species can view and discuss the basic process and required elements with people working at Thailand's orchid nurseries. For the nonspecialist or the person who just enjoys looking at these beautiful flowers the nurseries offer you a panorama of colors in the hundreds of orchid species grown in northern Thailand, and while you're at it, you'll have a opportunity to view many of the country's butterfly species too.

It is only natural that this beautiful insect that seem to reproduce itself in more colors than even the orchids themselves hover over the orchid flowers and help with the pollination. The orchid is highly sensitive to what type of insect lights on it and often discourages such insects as wasps and sometimes bees because they irritate the flower's peaceful composure. The butterfly is also a jungle creature and can be seen is as many varieties as the orchids.

There are ten families of butterflies in Thailand, constituting approximately 1,000 species. These ten families are part of the two worldwide scientific groupings of butterflies the Papilionoidea that are known as True Butterflies, and the Hesperoidea that are known as Skippers. Nine of Thailand's ten families of butterflies are of the True Butterfly type. These include Birdwings and Swallowtails, Whites and Yellow, Tigers and Crows. and Browns, Amathusiids, Brush Footed Butterflies, Snout Butterflies, Judies and Metalmarks, and Hairstreaks and Blues.

One of the most outstanding of Thailand's butterflies is called the Golden Birdwing. It has one of the longest wingspans of all butterflies in the country, measuring 120 mm to 190 mm. The Golden Birdwing is golden yellow in color with black on the wings. It is, of course, a member of the Birdwing and Swallowtail family, and it is related to the Common Birdwing Butterfly. The Common Birdwing is less striking in color, having more black area and the females having some dusty areas on their wings. Both the Golden Birdwing and the Common Birdwing are True Butterflies.

The members of the Birdwing and Swallowtail family are among the largest and most beautiful in the country. They account for more than 70 of the species of butterfly found in Thailand. These species can be seen in many colors and are some of the swiftest in the butterfly community. When you visit the orchid nurseries of northern Thailand you'll most likely see some of the butterflies of this family side-by-side with the smaller Yellows and tigers, two other distinctive families.

We've related most of the content of this article to the nurseries of the North because they are the most likely spots for you to view both the orchids and butterflies of Thailand The nurseries are also. as we have said. today's centers of the cultivation and development of both precious and new orchid flowers. In the Chiangmai area, there are a number of nurseries within easy distance. Some of these: Maesa Butterfly and Orchid Farm.

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