AS expected, in September in Manila and suburbs, the queen of Philippine orchids, whose official name is Vanda sanderiana but whose native name is waling-waling, bloomed in my garden.

Waling-waling is conceded to be one of the most beautiful orchids in the world. Note that the family Orchidaceae has many beautiful orchids, but the waling-waling stands out for its spectacular form, color and size. It has played a major role in orchid hybridization, which makes it a recognized and acclaimed orchid.

Waling-waling was discovered in Mindanao forests in 1882 and that is its original home though Zamboanga has contributed its share of waling-walings.

The Philippines has about a thousand species and varieties of orchids. Orchids are named usually for plant breeders or collectors rather than botanists because they seem to be the ones who bring them to the public eye. So far, I have not come across any information on who discovered waling-waling in Mindanao in 1882. Orchids are also commonly named for the places from where they come, be they countries, islands, mountains, towns or provinces (as in our case).

The waling-waling is endemic to the Philippines. It is epiphytic, which means it grows on trees though it can also be made to grow in pots. It takes full sun and in gardens (unlike in forests which have some kind of fungus that makes the orchids grow), it needs complete and regular fertilizer.

The original and foremost Philippine orchidologist was Eduardo Quisumbing. He started out as a biologist for avians but became interested in orchids as he went on field trips. Before World War 2 he worked with a Harvard University botanist, Oakes Ames, who came to the Philippines. Together they classified numerous orchids as they traveled for years through Philippine forests. They were to publish a catalogue of 780 species collected from living materials, presumably to be published by Harvard University. The manuscript with 100 colored plates, black and white drawings and photographs was lost in the Battle for Manila. Eventually, Dr. Helen Valmayor, another younger orchidologist who was presumably mentored by Quisumbing gathered what she could of what was left, did her own prodigious research, and came up with a two-volume masterpiece, Orchidiana Philipiniana, published by the Lopez Museum in 1984. Quisumbing and Valmayor were both based in the University of the Philippines at Los Baños.

But back to waling-waling which means "moth in flight," the name given by the ethnic tribes of its home in Mindanao. Its official name is Vanda sanderiana, after Henry Frederick Conrad Sander, an Englishman, who, I am guessing, was a breeder who must have propagated it. Waling-waling was first used for hybridization in foreign countries. Eventually, it was also done here. I could not find much information about Henry Frederick Sander except for his name and nationality and connection to waling-waling. Along with who discovered it and who brought it to England, I still have to find out.

In botany, the waling-waling was first recorded by a Vienna botanist, Heirich Gustav Reichenbach, in a book titled Reichenbachia. That is why Vanda sanderiana has the additive term, Reichl, as in Vanda sanderiana Reichl.

As the largest of Philippine orchids, waling-waling blooms can be as large as 30 centimeters. Its leaves (I'm not using the scientific terms here) can range between 60 to120 cm. It has three varieties, the most famous one has a bright rose tint, marbled rose lines with a lover half of brownish purple. It is stunning for its size and beauty. This variety of waling-waling is called froebeliana. There are two others — viridi and albata (also called alba). The alba has yellowish green flowers and is rarer than the froebeliana, but the froebeliana is the most prized because of its color and larger flowers.

As an epiphyte, the waling-waling grows on the upper trunks of dipterocarp trees in forests 500 meters above sea level. But it can be grown in urban areas in gardens in pots or trees. Their preferred trees are the palm or coconut. My waling -walings cling to a palm tree and a kalachuchi (frangipani) tree. Blooms can last six weeks. This year one lasted for a month due to the heavy rains we have been having which pelted the flowers. Alas, there are no more waling-walings to be found in our dwindling forests because of over- collection since the late 19th century.

The Philippine Orchid Society valiantly carries on for Philippine orchids. Its first publication (pre-World War 2) Volume 1 No.1 fittingly had the waling-waling on its cover. Until the pandemic put a temporary stop to it, the Philippine Orchid Society shows in September were much anticipated as they displayed waling-walings in their bloom month. The Philippine Orchid Society honors our endemic orchids among others by spreading information and propagation. We look forward to the return of their exhibits.

Next week, October 15, I will write about Dr. Arturo B. Rotor, UP medical graduate, UP Conservatory of Music graduate (simultaneously with his medical studies), acclaimed Filipino writer and much more, who introduced me to orchids and gave me my waling- waling.