TENOM is a small, quiet town in the interior of Sabah. It is about the size of Kajang in Selangor.*
Although not many tourists - both domestic and foreign - head for Tenom, this "sleepy
hollow" may yet find fame, albeit among a small band of people around the world with a special
interest - the orchidologists.
One of several centres established in Sabah for the conservation of orchids is located just
outside Tenom town. The others are at the Forest Research Centre in Sepilok (a place famous for
its Orang Utan rehabilitation centre), the Poring Hot Springs resort and the Moutain Garden in
It is at the Tenom Orchid Centre that intensive efforts are being made for the preservation,
propogation, research and documentation of the orchid species found in Borneo in general and Sabah
The Tenom Orchid Centre is also playing an important role as a key participant in The Orchid
Flora of Borneo Project, an international programme begun in 1986 to identify and describe the
orchid species found in Borneo.
With an estimated 2,000 species so far recorded from Borneo, this book project is expected to
take 20 years or more to complete. It is planned to be published in volumes of about 100 species,
and with lavish illustrations, both botanical drawings and colour photographs, it may run into
30 or more volumes.
The other major organisations involved in the project are the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew,
England, the Rijksherbarium at Leiden, Holland, and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
The Kew Gardens' Orchid Herbarium is providing the main backup since it has the largest
collection of herbarium material and literature to help with identification and nomenclature.
Others providing help in the project are Sabah Parks, the Sabah Forest Research Centre, the
Forest Department and National Parks, Sarawak, and a number of botanists in other institutions,
both local and overseas.
Preparation of the first volume has been completed recently and the Sabah Society has agreed
to publish it. A further six volumes are now being prepared by local and overseas orchidologists.
Local experts involved include Mr Chan Chew Lun working on Coelogyne and related genera and
Mr William Wong working on Dendrobium and related genera.
The Tenom Orchid Centre was established in September 1979 within the 625-hectare Tenom
Agriculture Research Station in Lagud Sebrang, 15 kilometres from Tenom town.
Mr Anthony Lamb, a Briton who has made Sabah his home since he "came out here" in 1967, is head of the
orchid centre. He is also the principal research officer of the agriculture station as well as
head of its Fruit Trees Division.
Mr Lamb, an internationally renowned botanist with expert knowledge of Sabah's orchids,
rhododendrons and pitcher plants (Nepenthaceae), is writing the volume on Sarcanthine and other
This writer, who visited the Tenom Orchid Centre recently with some members of the Malaysian
Nature Society, met both Mr Lamb and Mr Chan Chew Lun, who was then working on drawings for the
Mr Chan, better known as C.L. Chan, is a well-known botanical artist whose paintings or
orchids are collected by enthusiasts.
He stopped work and showed our group around the one-hectare orchid centre (there are more
than 450 species growing here), while Mr Lamb had to attend to matters at the agriculture station.
We did manage to talk briefly with Mr Lamb. He is deeply concerned over the "poaching" of rare
and valuable orchids from the wild as well as the destruction, through logging activities, of
species, some of which may not even have been recorded by scientists. He is one of the prime
movers of The Orchid Flora of Borneo Project.
The Tenom Orchid Centre has adopted the strategy of producing large quantities of seeds and
seedlings of rare and desirable species for distribution to other institutions and onwards to
This is intended to depress the market value of such favoured species and make it less
worthwhile for commercial collectors to smuggle them out of our forests.
As part of this undertaking, the Tenom Orchid Centre has made provisional arrangements with
the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the propogation unit of the Kew Gardens to germinate seeds
sent from Sabah.
One can get to Tenom by road or by rail from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. The
railway track from Beaufort - a small town to the south-west - to Tenom runs beside
the scenic Padas Gorge.
* While this gives an indication of Tenom's size in 1990, it may no
longer be true today as Kajang has grown very rapidly as a result of the
intensive development and population growth of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and the Klang Valley.
** Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Mr. C. L. Chan for identifying most of the
orchid species shown here.