Neofinetia falcata (now considered by most authorities to fall under the genus Vanda), is a small epiphytic orchid hailing from southeastern China, South Korea, and Japan. Throughout its range in Japan it is now considered either critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment. That includes the area I live, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Kyushu’s northwest coast. What follows is an account of my wife, Yumi, discovering a semi-wild population on the very eves of the largest city in southern Japan, Fukuoka.
A little background information first. I have hunted the woods around Fukuoka City for over 10 years now and have found out first-hand just how rare most orchid species have become over the centuries. For perspective, realize that Fukuoka itself has a population of nearly 1.5 million people, and the greater metropolitan area has many more – about 5.6 million. It ranks as Japan’s 6th largest city. Impressive.
Such large human populations have a huge impact on the environment. Virtually no lowland native plant communities yet survive, except as remnants on hills scattered here and there in and around urbanized areas and on sea islands that dot the coastline. Virtually all of these are biologically impoverished from centuries of human impact. The remaining land has been in agricultural use for centuries, and the rivers all contained within massive earthen dikes. Urban rivers and smaller streams are as a rule bound by concrete walls. The hills and mountains themselves remain mostly forested, but on average more than 50% of native forest has been replaced by either hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa) or sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) plantations – poor habitat for most orchid species. Remnant old growth forest can be found here and there, usually in the immediate vicinity of temples or shrines, occasionally along river courses or streams, and on the very topmost parts of mountain ridges. It is here that one finds Kyushu’s remaining populations of unusual plants.
Japan is famous for its “happy Monday” holidays and one falls right around my birthday every July, umi-no-hi (directly translating as “sea day” or “marine day”), a tribute to Japan’s rich seas. My wife got the idea to get up early and go to a small river in a little valley just north of the city. She had gone there the previous week on a class trip with her children (she’s a preschool teacher) and had found a really odd looking fungus that I’d not seen before. Based on her description and memory, I figured it to be some kind of stinkhorn mushroom. A quick search on the web and I found the likely candidate, Clathrus archeri, the octopus stinkhorn. I’d seen stinkhorns before, but nothing like this one. So we packed up the car with camp chairs, photo equipment, and fresh coffee and biscotti for a morning picnic.
We quickly found a nice spot in the shade along a curve of the river. Toes in the cool water, sitting comfortably in our chairs, sipping coffee and gnashing on biscotti… can life get much better? After a while I got the cameras ready to get photos and video of the fungus. I found them quickly and realized they were indeed C. archeri, a stinkhorn native to Australia and Tasmania that has now naturalized over much of the northern hemisphere. After some intense photography I returned to the river. Yumi was sitting and enjoying the river, watching an older gentleman play with his dog in the rapids. Then she went for a stroll of her own.
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