Bulbophyllums Revisited

Bernard McDonald

It is some years now since Bernard first regaled us with an overview of this fascinating genus, and he now has many more species and slides in his lecture.

Bulbophyllums are probably the oldest genus of orchids around. They are found on all of the continents within the tropical areas, meaning that they were around at the time of the supercontinent Gondwana, and amber fossils of bees and pollen puts them at least 80million years old. Their age and subsequent distribution has enabled them to go on a long evolutionary journey, and this has allowed them to develop some unique features in separate areas.

Most Bulbophyllums are recognised without too much trouble. They have a rhizome with a psuedobulbs with 1 or 2 small leaves. The flowers vary in size and count, with a mobile lip. There are more than 2000 species in 86 sections. Pollination is by various insects, often attracted by a scent of rotting flesh eg. graveolens. There are 5 main areas where Bulbophyllums thrive.

South America has 78 species from Brazil to Central America.

ipamensis is a small plant with an inflorescense 12” long and 1” flowers of mottled yellow.

wedellii grows in dry areas, and has 4cm flowers on a small plant.

steyrmarkii has a long pendant bract with ting flowers embedded within the rachis that have papery bracts.

bohnkeanum is a twig epiphyte discovered in 2008. It has a 30cm spike of 15 flowers 7mm wide.

pachyrachis grows at 3000m, and has cylindrical bulbs. The flowers are embedded in a pendant rachis.

Tropical Africa has 68 species and 24 subspecies. Most fit in either the Megaclimum or Calamarium sections. Megaclimum normally have 2 leaves and has a flat or swollen rachis. Calamarium can have 1-2 leaves and a terete rachis.

acutebracteatum is a miniature with 3mm orange flowers. There are other varieties with colour variations from brown to yellow.

sandersonii is a hill species with 1cm flowers of green/yellow.

maximum is variable with 13mm flowers that open in succession.

imbricatrum is from lowland forests with a long inflorescence of 60 cm containing up to 30 small flowers of creamy yellow/green flowers with purple blotches.

scaberulum grows over 2000m and has a thick wide rachis and flowers of 12mm.

falcatum is widespread and variable from sea level to 2000m.

saltatorium grows in low forests, and has short spikes with 1cm flowers that have a highly mobile lip covered in maroon hairs. Var. albociliatum has white hairs.

lizae is endemic to Sao Tome island, and has the largest flowers of this group at 2”, which are mainly cream to green and scented.

Madagascar is separated from Africa by 200 miles, and has evolved many endemic species amongst the 209 found here. Many are in the Henrici Ploiarium complex such as humbertii and clavatum.

occulatum has unusual square bulbs, and a swollen rachis that produces 3 rows of small flowers usually hidden by the bracts.

longivaginans grows in cloudy woodlands on mosses and lichens, and has a creeping habit.

callosum grows up on the plateau in moss forest around 1000m.

masoalanum grows on the wet east in lowland forest. The flowers are tiny and contain a jelly like substance that seems to attract slugs.

edentatum has a 10” spike with flowers that contain filaments at the base of the lip.

Reunion is a more distant island than Madagascar, and has 14 species. macrocarpum is endemic with 15mm flowers. It is difficult to reproduce the correct environment for this, and many of the specialised Madagascar species.

Indo-China contains a lot of species from section Careyanum.

fimbriatum grows at 4000’, and is a deciduous species. It is a cool growing miniature with medium sized flowers.

muscarirubrum is another deciduous species from northern Thailand. It grows on stones, and has a musky scented red flower.

dhannivatii is cool growing around 1000m, and has a short spike packed with tiny hairy flowers.

polliculosum grows on cliff faces and windy trees. It is from section Cirrhopetalum, is deciduous, and in certain conditions shows the flower colour as silver.

averyanovii comes from a narrow area in North Vietnam. It has clusters of flowers.

wendlandianum is similar to rothschildianum, but smaller, and distinct through flowering 6 months apart.

repens has very tight psuedobulbs with a very short leaf, and has 5mm flowers in a tight red conical mass.

scaphiforme has squashed bulbs, with a single tall leaf. Flowers are 6mm, red, very hairy, and has a mobile lip.

morphologorum has a tight mass of red/orange flowers that attract fruit flies with the reward of the chemical zingerone (an attractant).

pectin-veneris has 4-5 delicate flowers from yellow to orange/red with fimbriations.

fascinator is a widespread species with a large single flower of various colours, mainly red/green.

flabellum-veneris is also widespread, and has short conical bulbs, and an umbel of up to 10 pink flowers.

frostii is from Vietnam, and has short bulbs and leathery leaves. The flower is an interesting shape, and is sometimes called the clog orchid – hence the syn. bootanoides.

xylophyllum forms a mat of bulbs and leaves upwards on a tree trunk. The scape is tiny with 3mm flowers. It is usually green, but has a red variant.

protractum is a miniature, cool growing species with 6mm yellow flowers.

alcicorne is a rambling species from the Malay Peninsula. It has 1” flowers of a translucent nature.

incisilabrum has medium sized flower that doesn’t open fully.

jolandae grows close to the forest floor on mossy branches, and has flowers along a central line on the rachis.

PNG, Borneo, Jave, Indonesian islands & N. Australia. This is a large area, in which Bulbophyllums spread during various ice ages when the shallow sea was forested land.

longiflorum is widespread from sea level to 1000m, and has umbels of long flowers from yellow to almost purple.

lobbii is a commonly grown species, and is widespread with at least 43 varieties. Flowers are quite large and starry shaped, mainly orange-brown.

kubahense is a recent discovery, apparently from a street vendor. It grows near the forest floor with 1” flowers.

saurocephalon is grown intermediate at 1000m in the mountains of Luzon. Flowers are tiny, and embedded around a rachis. It is similar to pachyrachis from South America.

beccarii is endemic to Borneo, and grows low down, climbing tree trunks, so is easy to spot. It has large leaves up to 14” and nearly as wide to gather nutrients towards the roots. The inflorescence is quite long and packed with pinkish flowers of an unpleasant odour.

fletcherianum is endemic to PNG, and the bulbs can grow to the size of a grapefruit with leaves up to 5’ long. It creates its own microclimate, and is a heavy feeder. The umbels of flesh coloured flowers create a stink across a wide area.

phalaenopsis is another huge plant with leaves over 1m long of a blue/green hue. It has an umbel of red flowers with white hairs that from a distance looks like maggots.

minutissimum is from Australia, and as the name suggests it is a tiny species with 2mm bulbs. It is called the Squat moss orchid. The flowers are just as small, and need a magnifying glass to see.

globuliforme isn’t much bigger, but does have slightly larger flowers at 3mm of a pale yellow. Both these 2 lose their leaves at flowering time, and will photosynthesize through the bulbs which will turn red in full sun.

tentaculiferum is named for the shape of the petals. It looks narrowly triangular, and has a very hairy lip.

linearilabium is endemic to PNG and has dark red flowers with a 2cm long lip that resembles a pipe cleaner.

pyroglossum (fire tongue) is in section Coelochilus, and have lips that grow from the base of the column via a ligament, and is very mobile. The flowers are bright orange.

haniffii is in section Epicrianthes – which are all endemic to New Guinea. All of them have smallish short lived flowers with an unusual morphology with a hanging rhizome. It has a series of intricate appendages that easily waft in the slightest breeze.

psilorhopalon also has appendages of differing colours, as well as a keeled lip.

tarantula has warty hairy appendages that look like a suspended active spider.

nocturnum is very recently discovered, and unusually flowers only at night (for a single night), and is the only known night flowering orchid. The rhizome can be 15cm long. The flower is unusual in that seems to mimic fruiting slime mould.

dracunculus has a very open flower with a lip that looks like an insect (earwig)

macrorhopalon has various green appendages on whitish flowers.

cimicinum is bizarre with 4 appendages on both petals that resemble fruiting mould. Overall the petals and lip look not unlike a spider.

Such a wide number of species in differing sections is hard to do justice to with just the written words, and close up images of the flowers are required in many cases to appreciate the intricacies of evolution that this genus has undertaken. This collection has taken many tears to assemble, and was very well presented. After just a few questions, a good round of applause was fully deserved.


Bernard McDonald

Bernard started by saying that this was just an overview of the genus as there are about 1,800 good species that would really take a book to cover. A history lesson was required to begin the talk as bulbo’s are found across the tropics of the world. Fossilised remains show that orchids evolved 76-84 million years ago when the world land masses were still joined together. Most genera have evolved within the separated continents, but bulbo’s must have been around early enough to drift along with the continents. Five main groups exist with about 85 species in S. America, 92 in Africa, 209 in Madagascar, 23 in Australia. Those found in Indo-China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo etc. totalling over 1500, with PNG having over 600 endemic species alone.

Bulbophyllum comes from the greek – bolbos meaning bulb, and phyllum meaning leaf. Most adhere to this format, although a few African ones do have 2 leaves. The bulbs are separated by a sympodial rhizome. The inflorescence always come from the base of the bulb. The floral lip is generally mobile, and the 2 pollinia don’t have stalks. The smallest species is globuliforme from Queensland with bulbs 1-1.5mm across, and yellow flowers of 3mm. The largest, however, is fletcherianum from PNG with leaves over 4’ long and 4” red flowers that smell of rotting fish.

Plants are best grown mounted as they mainly grow on tree trunks. As with most mounted plants they benefit from a daily misting.

There are many subgenera, but it is often easier to split them down into regional groups.

Central & South America.

pachyrhachis grows hot around 1,000m, and has a swollen mottled pink rhachis (flower spike) of 18” that holds the ¼” flowers.

exultatum has a long rhachis with barred redish flowers over 1” across from both sides.

laciniatum grows around 1,200m and produces slender yellow flowers from a single side of the 9” rhachis.

campos-portoi is a tree top species with small bulbs & leaves. The flowers look hooded, are pale with brown blotches.


saltatorium var albociliatum has strange yellowish flowers with what looks like a pale chick’s feather for a lip that wafts in the breeze (see back cover). Other varieties have shorter, different coloured ‘feathers’.

barbigerum is a reddish flower that has a bottlebrush type end to the lip that is bright red. The slightest air movement will have the lip rocking.

renkanianum has a flat, blade like rhachis that produces a row of tiny yellow flowers that are excentric (just off-centre). With its mobile white blotched lip it can produce a strobing effect in sunlight.

purpureorhachis has a twisting bladelike purple long rhachis with tiny hairy, purple flowers 3mm wide. This is a large plant with 2 leaves up to 12” long on up to 5” bulbs.

longiflorum is a cirrhopetalum sub-species that has a cluster of long (2”) flowers as the name suggests. The pale bottom sepals fuse together as the flower develops, whilst the petals & lip develop to be maroon.


coriophorum has 4 cornered bulbs that produce a cone shaped purple rhachis about 9” long with a lot of embedded flowers that only the dorsal protrudes.

masoalanum is another bizarre plant with small flowers very close to the rhachis. Once the 2mm flowers open there is a jelly like substance in the middle that is usually eaten by bush snails.

bicoloratum comes from the hot north up to 1,000m where it produces a 6cm yellowish rhachis with 3 rows of triangular bracts that shield the tiny 3mm flowers of red/yellow.


rothschildianum is a familiar flower in the cirrhopetalum sub-species with purple flowers up to 6” long from the tips of the setals to the top of the feathery dorsal.

reichenbachii is a deciduous species subjected to a dry period where it shrivels greatly and looks like the bark on the tree making it hard to spot. The inflorescence is about 2cm long with 3mm red flowers.

dayanum from Burma has sinister looking 1½” red hairy flowers that resemble hazelnuts prior to opening.

leopardianum is reasonably similar to dayanum, but grows at elevations more cool to intermediate. It has spotted cupped flowers that are produced in pairs.

ankylorhinum is a new species from Laos. It has 1” white flowers and a red lip.

frostii has mottled brown flowers shaped like clogs, usually produced in pairs, and is very hairy.

macranthum is widespread and has variable colour forms – but often pinkish 3”.

blumei from a distance could resemble a Pleuro. with triangular red flowers with yellow points.

makoyanum is in the cirrhopetalum sub-species and produces a round umbel of up to a dozen flowers 2” long. It is a very rambling plant.

moniliforme has ting bulbs of 4mm across and is leafless after a few days. It has very nice striped flowers of orange & white 4-5 mm across. The bulbs are clustered rather than rambling.

pustulatum has short lasting flowers, with a lip that looks like a red boxing glove on pink/yellow flowers.

ecornutum is characterised by a saddle shaped column with a triangular ‘rotating’ lip.

pectenveneris is a salmon coloured cirrhopetalum sub-species with fimbriated edges to the upper petals & sepals. It can also be yellow or orange.

membranifolium has very thin leaves, spotty flowers and a warty lip.

arachniodium has small purple flowers with a hairy lip. It is from Sec. Polyblepheron. Blepheri is Greek, relating to eye-lashes or eye-lids.

The next few species are all from PNG and become ever more strange….

ustusfortiter (meaning heavily burnt) has very globular hairy dark brown flowers. The flowers don’t fully open, having a small gap at the end for the pollinators to use.

lemniscatiodes has a hanging rhachis with many small purple flowers that have a long appendage at the end of the petals that waft in the breeze.

olivanum has very green flowers with a spade like lip. It has a creeping habit.

maxillaroides has big glossy flowers of yellow red.

erinaceum is from high altitude, producing flowers sequentially and the ends of the sepals produce pseudo-pollen.

nephropetalum and toranum are similar to erinaceum with pseudo-pollen, but to a lesser effect.

facetum from Indonesia resembles lobbii, but is a bit smaller at 2”, and the stripy orange flowers last 5 days.

pardolatum has very cuppy red marked yellow flowers. The flowers only last for a few hours from dawn.

alticola has an almost oblong shaped flower with a fixed column & lip. The petals reflex during the day, but close up at night.

decurvulum is similar to alticola, but has yellow brown flowers with a lip over 1cm long.

pyroglossum (fire tongue) has fully reflexed sepals during the day (closed at night) with a bright orange elongated ovoid hairy lip.


schillerianum is from NSW. It is a rambling plant with small almost succulent leaves. One of the few species in this genus where the flowers appear all along the rhizome and at first glance looks like rust but under a magnifying glass the 3mm flowers show themselves off.

The most bizarre – generally from PNG

haniffii is a drooping plant that is attached to branches from the start of the rhizome. The flowers are roughly triangular of varying colour – mainly brown, and it has several black protrusions from the sides of the lip that resemble a spider.

cheiropetalum is a yellow flower where the petals split into fingers.

psilorthopalum has a pendulous rhizome up to 2’ long with a brown flower with mobile green appendages.

tinekeae unusually is hooded with odd appendages attached by a thread. The lip is unusually round and red on white. The flowers only last a day.

trirophalon comes from 2400m, and has 3 hairy conical appendages on each side of the petals.

cimicinon has fairly ordinary pale sepals, but the petals and lip resemble the type of hairy spider that you don’t want to meet on a jungle trek. It is unlikely that spiders are the pollinators, more that their predators are! That’s far more advanced science than most other ‘normal’ orchids, and probably sums up this amazingly old group of orchids.

We were all too bemused by these bizarre plants to ask many questions, and Bernard was congratulated for mentioning lobbii only once, and was widely applauded. Hopefully the write up can conjour an image of the flowers that are hard to simply put into words. JG