The huge and, in many ways, mysterious island of New Guinea (NG_MAP.JPG) is a naturalists' wonderland. Some of the most beautiful creatures in the world, most notably birds-of-paradise and birdwing butterflies, inhabit the dense forests that still cover large tracts of the plains and the rugged mountain ranges. New Guinea also harbours a tremendous collection of orchids, certainly in excess of 2000 species. They can be found almost anywhere, from the hot mangrove swamps and beach forests to the chilly grasslands above the timberline on the highest mountains. In the misty upland forests their abundance and diversity can be staggering.
Even today our knowledge of most of these orchids is very poor. On the one hand most genera have never been revised. When this will be done many synonyms will undoubtedly come to light. On the other hand it is equally certain that a great number, many hundreds of species, still await discovery, or at least await description in case they are lying unrecognised in some herbarium. Field experience learns that when visiting a mountain area during a week the total number of discovered undescribed species exceeds 25, regardless of wheter that area has earlier been visited by a botanist or not. For lowland forests the number of discovered new species in general lies around 10. And searches in Herbaria yield dozens of undescribed species, even in groups that have been revised some decades ago. It is therefore impossible at this stage to give an accurate estimate of the number of species occurring in New Guinea. A safe, conservative guess would be somewhere between 2500 and 3000 species, or to put it differently: ten to fifteen percent of the world's orchids are to be found in New Guinea. But far less than half of the surface of New Guinea has been visited by a botanist, so this makes this number very uncertain, some botanists guess that the number may be nearer to 4000. Only some areas in the Andes may probably richer in orchid species than New Guinea.