A project undertaken at the National Herbarium of the Netherlands, Leiden, The Netherlands, co-ordinated by E de Vogel, implemented by A Schuiteman
The orchid flora of New Guinea is extraordinary because of the very high number of species, probably about 3000, and the unusually high percentage of endemic species, around 95 %. Most of the known species were described in the first decades of the Twentieth Century by two botanists, the German Rudolf Schlechter and the Dutchman J. J. Smith. Today, their publications can only be found in very few institutional libraries. Most species have never been described in English. As a result, it is currently quite difficult to identify orchids from New Guinea. Even common and widespread species may be hard to name. Indeed, some of the common species are still undescribed.
Since the days of Schlechter and Smith vast numbers of orchid specimens have been collected for herbaria. Living plants have been photographed, and, in a still very limited way, have been studied and photographed in the wild. In short, a considerable amount of information has been added to the pioneering work of Schlechter and Smith, but much of this is at present inaccessible to the general public.
The Leiden University branch of the National Herbarium of the Netherlands houses almost one thousand type specimens of New Guinea orchids, as well as the archive of J. J. Smith, with thousands of exquisite pencil drawings. Leiden orchid specialists Ed de Vogel and André Schuiteman took the initiative to assemble the current expertise on New Guinea orchids on CD-ROM, using the Linnaeus II multimedia database software developed by the Expert Centre for Taxonomic Identification, Amsterdam. They established a close collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who provided access to their vast resources and allowed the free use of their publications as far as they were relevant for the project. Publication on CD-ROM makes it feasible to include a virtually unlimited number of coloured illustrations, while the interactive nature of the Linnaeus II software makes it possible to provide user friendly identification tools. The authors have been and will be doing fieldwork in New Guinea to obtain pictures of as many species as possible. In the process several new species have been and will be encountered, and these will be scientifically described for inclusion in the CD-ROM series.
Already two volumes in the projected series of six have been published (see below). Just before the appearance of the second volume, the board of the Foundation Flora Malesiana decided that this CD-ROM project will be the official publication of the treatment of the Orchidaceae for Flora Malesiana. A first volume on orchids of the Philippines has recently appeared. A third CD-ROM on New Guinea orchids, treating the orchid genera Acanthephippium to Hymenorchis, but excluding the Dendrobiinae and Bulbophyllinae, is scheduled for early 2004. The two published New Guinea CD-ROMs have been highly praised by reviewers, both in scientific as well as in amateur journals. Without the sponsorship of the Pacific Biological Foundation, together with the Cheng Kim Loke Foundation, this project would have remained a dream.