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If it wasn’t for eagle-eyed researchers, we would easily have missed the critically endangered orchids lining the “trail.”

The National Parks Council (NParks) took each person gently from the flower litter and put them in a plastic box in order to prevent us – and the growing number of hikers going into the Clementi Forest – from literally stamping out the two orchid species in Singapore.Last Wednesday we joined NParks in the forest on an Orchid Rescue Mission. The goal was to collect people and nourish them in the Singapore Botanical Gards to ensure their survival, of two rare orchid species, Dienia ophrydis and Zeuxine clandestina.

Greater Number Clementi Forest
Image Source: Sqfeed Journal

After a flux of hikers to Clementi Forest, the numbers of the two orchid species decreased sharply, after footage showing it spread on social medias last October in the early morning.Forest Clementi sits on residential land. In January, the government said that the site is still designated for this purpose, although it did not need to be developed immediately.

Nature lovers hope that the plot will be reconstructed as a nature park, but residents of Singapore might love the forest to the detriment of their residents.

“People enjoy Singapore’s nature areas for their ambience,” acknowledged Mr Lua Hock Keong, deputy director of NParks’ National Biodiversity Centre, and one of the researchers on the trip.

“But many are often not aware that these green spaces have biodiversity too.”

Greater Number Clementi Forest
Image Source: The Straits Times

SENSITIVE PLANTS

The common snot orchid (Dienia ophrydis) was once supposed to have been nationally extinct until an NParks team, which included Mr Lua, rediscovered it in Clementi Forest in 2011.

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The only places that this orchid is known to persist are the forest and the Nee Soon Swamp Forest today.But the impact of humans is serious.

Mr Lua had counted about 50 plants at one point before walkers turned up in rivers. He returned later, found less than twenty. Only one was left by March.Staff at NParks such as Mr Ang Wee Foong, Seed Bank Center Director, often visit forests and natural areas in Singapore to obtain such materials as seeds or plant cuttings that will help feed future generations of indigenous plants.

Parent plants are left behind on these journeys. But the visit was different last Wednesday. It was a rescue task to rescue as many orchids as possible.

The plainness of both species of orchids makes them natural wallflowers.The senses are assaulted by tropical rainforests – birds call on them, moisture clings to the skin, plants with wide showy leaves outdoors, and streams gleam with oily shining. This sheen, which we learned from Lim Liang Jim, the conservation group’s leader in NParks, is the kombucha forest.

Microbes in the water break up organic matter like dead leaves and provide the rest of the forest with these nutrients again. The oil on the surface is a by-product, he explained.The orchids, in contrast to their showier cousins, are epiphytes that grow on branches above ground and receive moisture through the air, or the water that runs along the branches and trees during rain.

These terrestrial orchids develop a rhizomatous stem with short roots that flow through the upper layer of plant waste, Mr Ang explained. Before it reaches the soil.But this layer of the top soil can compact the constant pushing of feet with disastrous consequences for plants such as these orchids that depend on this forest layer to gain ground.

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Ground orchids also use mycorrhiza – a kind of fungus invisible to the naked eye – to help them thrive in the woods, said Mr. Lua.

Greater Number Clementi Forest
Image Source: The Straits Times

ENSURING SURVIVAL

Mr Ang or Mr Lua were not the first rescue mission last week. NParks employees made safe trips because Mr. Lua noticed a decrease in the number of orchids. Some of the ones earlier collected now contain seed pods. Ivan Kwan Nature Guide recommends keeping trails.

“Even within Clementi Forest and other unofficial hiking areas, paths have already been created (due to) trampling. If people keep to these paths, the impact from high visitorship can be lessened,” he said, adding that people should also not litter, or feed or harass wildlife.

“It’s great that more people are taking the time to enjoy nature in Singapore, but we need to be careful and make sure we don’t love our green spaces to death.”

Source: The Straits Times

 

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