In mid-2021, Nyika National Park’s Counter-Poaching Coordinator, Norman English and his team uncovered a huge number of rare orchid tubers that had been confiscated from poachers. After going through the lengthy process of burying the tubers in sand to keep them safe until the rains arrived to watching them successfully sprout, Norman’s persistence was rewarded upon seeing these breathtakingly beautiful Disa robustas bloom.

The Disa Robusta

As its name suggests, the Disa robusta is a tall, hardy disa species – part of the orchid family – that is native to south-central Africa. It is easily identifiable by its long, elegant-looking leaves and fascinating orange flowers. Thriving in moist montane grassland and often found growing near streams, these flowers are perfectly suited to Nyika’s high-lying cloud-covered plateau.

While it isn’t widely cultivated for commercial purposes, it is often found growing wild within nature reserves and protected areas such as Nyika National Park. Due to these edible orchids being used to produce a local delicacy called Chikanda, which has become increasingly popular in places like Malawi and Zambia, their population is at risk of being overharvested.

A Hand-Pollinating Orchid Experiment

To try and boost their numbers within Nyika, Norman has been on a mission to harvest the seeds from the orchids. As they are native to the higher reaches of the park, the team does not have a clear idea of what its natural pollinators might be down at base camp and have adopted what might seem like an unconventional approach to the process; hand-pollination using a cutip.

It is their hope that the wind will take the seeds to new parts of the terrain and ensure that these rare flowers are enjoyed for generations to come.

This story is a testament to nature’s power and resilience, as well as an example of how nature can bounce back if we lend a helping hand and then let it take its natural course.