(Photo © Dr Stephan Gale, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden)
Nervilia is a genus of orchids with an unusual life history. Plants grow from small underground tubers and produce a single inflorescence before the onset of summer rains. After flowering, a single leaf is then produced by the same tuber, but this withers with the onset of winter. This annual cycle makes them well adapted to the seasonal tropics and subtropics of Africa, Asia and Australia; the genus is especially diverse in the Indo-Burma region. Presently, there is much confusion as to how many species really exist, with the elusive habit and ephemeral growth pattern confounding attempts for improved understanding of plants in the field. Many species are known from only a very limited geographic range. The tubers of some species are prized as herbal remedies for a range of ailments, placing them unsustainable collection pressure in South China and Indochina. We are undertaking detailed taxonomic and ecological studies of this genus so as to resolve identification problems, rectify taxonomic errors and shed light on their conservation status.