I was given a division of Orchidantha siamensis by a fellow collector a while ago who knew I was interested in plants that are classified in the order Zingiberales. There is only one genus, that is, Orchidantha, in the Lowiaceae family. This genus consists of about five to eight species of plants that grow in the wet understorey of the lowland forest and are native to Southeast Asia and some Pacific Islands.
The genus name is given due to the orchid-like appearance of the flowers produced by these plants. Flowers are usually produced via a subterranean inflorescence and are often hidden away. One of the petals in each flower is enlarged to give a large lip-like structure similar to what is seen in a true orchid. Flowers of one species, Orchidantha inouei of Borneo emits the smell of dung in order to attract small dung beetles as their pollinators! The plant I have freely flowers and thankfully, the smell of its flowers can only be detected when one really goes upclose to them!
I particularly like the Orchidantha as it is perhaps the most shade-tolerant group of plants I have come across so far. Many foliage plants introduced in many houseplant and indoor plant books cannot match it in terms of the ability to grow and thrive in deep shade often encountered in the indoor living environment. It seems to be also able to tolerate dry air rather well too. From this, I reasoned that they also make good candidates for planting in very dim areas in an outdoor garden.
Best grown and appreciated as foliage houseplants that confer a lush tropical feel, Orchidantha species are herbaceous perennial plants with a clumping growth habit. New growth rise from a rhizomatous underground stem. Leaves are lanceoate in shape andhas several pairs of longitudinal veins parallel to the distinct midrib.
I noticed Orchidantha is best grown in a very shaded area as even rays from filtered sunshine can bleach the leaves, giving them a sickly yellow colour. Intense sunshine will burn them. They prefer to be grown in soil that is rich in organic matter, open and kept moist at all times. Avoid growing them in a windy area as constant air movement can dry plants out. Propagation is easy via division of large clumps.
Orchidantha, apparently, have medicinal and folk uses. The scorched leaves of Orchidantha fimbriatum (syn. O. longiflora) are pasted on the back and chest to relieve chest and back pains. Leaves are sometimes used to wrap food in cooking.
At present, Orchidantha is still difficult to find in local nurseries but I believe its usefulness as a foliage plant for growing in very shady areas, once discovered, will greatly call for a demand for plants to be made available to the nursery trade.