Assamese are saving orchids through Social Media.
In India, there are 1331 species of orchids, found in the Eastern Himalayas including Northeast region, Western Ghats, and eastern part of western Himalayas. But the Northeast remains an orchid hotspot (all the seven states) with 72 per cent of total orchids found in India. However, simultaneously, as these flowers bloom, they are fast wilting and disappearing too. The reasons are many: deforestation, soil erosion, over grazing. In 2015, Assam inaugurated the three-hectare Kaziranga National Orchid and Biodiversity Park. Today, it has 500 varieties of wild orchids, and is a tourist attraction.
A social app called the ‘Orchid Group of Assam’ now has 53 members. They formed The Orchid Society of Assam, now a formally registered society, with the singular aim of conservation of orchid species in the state. The kopou phool is the state flower. “If we can protect the rhino, our state animal, why can’t we protect the kopou phool too?” says Mithu Gogi, a tea planter who is a member of the group and has about 7,000 kopou phools growing in his backyard.
Khyanjeet Gogoi was looking for a rare species of orchid at the park. Since 1994, he had been travelling only in search of orchids. Over the years, he has recorded 395 species in Assam alone, discovered 35 new ones, named three by himself and cultivated several more in his backyard in the small town of Rupai in Upper Assam, where he teaches biology at a local high school.
He has many monikers in Assam: the orchid expert, the orchid whisperer, the orchid man, and is often called by the government to identify rare species. In Assam, the kopou phool, or the foxtail orchid, the pinkish-white flower that blooms in April and resembles a fox’s tail, was accorded the status of state flower in 2003. It has been linked to Assamese culture (as a symbol of fertility, merriment, love and affection) and is most conspicuous during Magh Bihu (the festival that heralds spring in Assam) neatly tied to the head of a Bihu dancer.