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Susi Wanggai's enchanting garden of Papuan orchids

Nethy Dharma Somba

The Jakarta Post

Jayapura  /  Tue, August 7, 2018  /  08:54 am
Susi Wanggai's enchanting garden of Papuan orchids

The collector: Susi Wanggai checks on her orchids. (JP/Nethy Dharma Somba)

To find the rare and unique orchids of Papua, people used to have to venture deep into the region’s forests. Today, this is no longer the case thanks to Susi Wanggai’s Orchid Garden in Jayapura, Papua.

Of around 3,000 orchid species in Papua, 15 percent can be seen at the garden.

The elegantly designed site has a collection of around 500 orchid species, many of which can be found in full bloom. 

“Blooming orchids are very beautiful. Those that are still flowerless look just like ordinary plant leaves,” Susi said while pointing at a Dasi (necktie) orchid.

Her orchid collection comes from various parts of New Guinea Island.

“These orchids originate from different regions of Papua, covering highland, lowland and coastal zones, from Raja Ampat to Boven Digul,” she said.

The diverse origins of the orchids mean there are different ways to cultivate them. 

“Orchids from southern Papua thrive in the sun, so we allow 70 percent sunlight, while those in highland areas need to be sheltered,” Susi explained.

Raising orchids successfully, she said, required not only fertilizing, weeding and watering, but also maintaining emotional ties. 

“We should also talk and sing to the orchids. My late father taught me to talk to orchids frequently, because close emotional ties will make the plants bloom, which I have proven,” she said.

Susi said she felt happy taking care of orchids with broken stalks.

“As the stalk begins to grow even a little bit of leaf, it means the orchid has regained its life. Happiness is felt by an orchid grower when a tiny green shoot emerges from a previously damaged stem that has received the proper treatment,” she said.

Susi is one of just a few people in Papua who grows rare orchids. 

She inherited her love of orchids from her late father Sofyan Wanggai, who cultivated orchids and other flowers as a source of income for his family.

Before the Indonesian Orchids Association (PAI) was set up in Papua, Sofyan Wanggai had introduced Papuan orchids to the global stage by presenting diverse species of orchids indigenous to Papua at orchid festivals in several countries.

Susi obtained her orchids from collectors, the public and also through her own travels. 

As head of the Papua Border and Foreign Cooperation Agency, she spends a lot of time visiting remote regions on the border of Papua New Guinea.

“It’s a pity that not many Papuans are engaged in orchid preservation so, over time, these plants might go extinct and we would be left hearing about them only through stories,” she said. 

Susi, who earned a master’s degree at Waikato University, New Zealand, has made a concerted effort to keep in close contact with orchid communities all over the world. 

“As we are always monitoring global orchid developments, when new orchid species are discovered, we notify the communities to find out whether or not the orchids have been named,” Susi said.

“It’s my dream to open a museum displaying orchid species endemic to all the lands of Papua, so as to prevent the Papuan natural treasures from extinction with the rapid progress of development.”