Phalaenopsis species for the home

Phalaenopsis species for the home Francis Quesada Pallares

This is the lecture that should have been delivered last year, but due to a mix up of memory sticks Francis was unable to deliver.

We all grow Phals, and for many of us these would have been our first plants from Garden Centres, DIY stores and/or supermarkets. Almost all of these are hybrids bred especially for the home, but fewer of us actually grow the species. This tends to be down to lower availability, less glamorous, and need a bit more specialist care. This last point isn’t necessarily true as with a bit of diligence they can easily grow in the home. This was illustrated in Francis’s last lecture where placement, heat & light were instrumental in filling up a 2 bed flat.


1753, Linnaeus described Epidendrum amabilis. At this point almost all tropical epiphytic orchids were classed as Epidendrum.

1825, Blume established the genus of Phalaenopsis and relocated several species into it.

1858, after great consideration Lindley described the first natural hybrid, which was x intermedia.

1886, Rolfe carries out the first formal review of the genus for an article in the Orchid Review.

1980, Herman Sweet publishes ‘The Genus Phalaenopsis’ for the Orchid Digest.

2001, Christenson publishes ‘Phalaenopsis, a Monograph. A full revision of the species, and is probably the best publication on the subject.

2012, Renziana, volume 2 covers the genus. This is more of an overall review of the species, and how to grow them. It isn’t a revision, so nothing really new.

Despite the fact that Phals are one of the worlds most common and popular pot plant there isn’t really as many publications about them as there are for some less common genuses such as Paphs.


They are all from SE Asia, from the east of India and the Himalayas, across to the southern part of China, and down to the Indonesian Islands, and just the northern tip of Queensland in Australia (a single species). They range from sea level up to 2200m, and this creates a varied temperature range with 3 species being warm growing, 1 cool growing (wilsonii up to 2200m) and the remainder being intermediate.

There are generally considered to be 60 species plus varieties and colour forms, although as usual it depends on which taxonomist you adhere to.

There are many ways to consider species if you wish to grow them at home (or even in a greenhouse). Francis feels it best to look at them in 5 groups. These are Classic, Interesting Foliage, Scented, Colourful or Patterned, and Miniatures.

Classics – These are the species that have led to all the initial hybrids – generally of a plain colour.

amabilis produces a metre long spike which is often branched. As the flowers are smallish there can be up to 100 blooms on a really good flowering. The flowers are generally white with some yellow in the centre. It hasn’t been affected too much by line breeding so the commercially available plants are very similar to the wild ones. It is widespread across from Java to Sumatra, and the variety rosenstromii appears in Australia.

buyssoniana (formerly in Doritis) is actually a terrestrial that grows in high sun areas and has spiky leaves. It frequently forms a lot of basal clusters. It comes from Thailand, and has small deep pink flowers, although alba forms exist. It is a natural tetraploid, and was once a variety of the also common pulcherrima.

equestris is a small species, both in foliage and flower size (but a little bit too large for the miniature section). Well grown plants will produce hundreds of flowers over a period of many months. The species is mainly pink, but different colour forms range from orange to white. It is noted for producing keikis at the end of the flower spike. These will grow quickly and can flower on a small size, but it is better to remove these as small plants to avoid draining the mother plant. There are peloric floral forms that actually look decent. There are 4 accepted varieties – alba, aurea, cyanochila, and rosea.

sanderiana is one of the nicest of the species, although some authorities treat it as a natural hybrid. It is a medium sized plant with leaves that tend towards purple in colour depending on the degree of light. It produces an arching spike with 10cm flowers of a purplish colour. It is a summer season flowerer. It is common in cultivation, especially the alba form.

Foliage – all of these species are endemic to the Philippines.

lindenii has olive green leaves with some attractive silver spotting. It has a pendant arch holding medium sized flowers of white with pink lips. It is endemic to the Philippines where it grows at high elevation in a coolish climate. It grows better on a mount, hence why it isn’t seen too much in cultivation.

philippinensisis a medium to large species with mottled & striped (more of a banding) leaves that are purple underneath. The flowers are large and heavy causing the spike to arch a lot at 1m long. The flowers are pure white with some red & yellow in the centre.

schilleriana is a well known species in cultivation and has foliage as for philippinensis. The leaf span can be huge at 45cm. It has a slender spike that arches with many medium sized pink flowers that are said to be fragrant although Francis has never detected it. The roots of this species are flat and warty, and if broken can reproduce vegetatively.

stuartiana has a 35cm leaf span of marbled leaves. The arching spike frequently branches and holds many 2″ flowers that are generally white, but with a gold speckled triangle at the lower section of the flower. It is scented with a citrus flavour. There are 2 accepted varieties – nobilis & punctatissima.

Fragrance – though not always pleasant.

bellina is the queen of the species with 25cm plain green leaf span. The flower spike is quite short with small waxy flowers produced sequentially. These can be yellowish with red or purple mask (line breeding has led to almost red or purple flowers). It has a strong scent. It comes from Malaysia and Sarawak. Botanists have argued over the species for a long time and it was formerly a variety of violacea.

corningiana is an unusual species that always ‘looks ill’ with discoloured leaves. This may be down to DNA. Consequently it is rare in cultivation. It is medium sized with a 25cm leaf span. The short spike arches with 5-7 flowers at a time which are spiky shaped with a creamy base and red/brown barring. It has a hairy centre part to the lip, and comes from Borneo.

mannii is a large plant with a 40cm span. It has long narrow leaves with purple & brown spotting that have a tendency to break. The spice scented flowers are of a yellow base with heavy overlays of brown spots, blotches and stripes. It is widespread across indo-china from 500-1400m which leads to a large variation in floral forms including almost black or chocolate colours.

sumatrana has a debatable fragrance on a medium sized plant. It produces a long arching spike with usually only 2 flowers open at a time. These are a base yellow with red/brown bars of varying intensity. Consequently there are a lot of varieties and colour forms. It ranges from Burma across to the Philippines.

violacea is the king of the Phals, and is heavily scented, and almost indistinguishable from bellina – it is the scent that is the more obvious distinction. The short spikes hold usually 2 smallish white flowers at a time that are overlaid with purple or rose. The petals tend to have a green tip to them. It is warm growing from Malaysia, and if it gets a sudden chill will drop the leaves overnight and die – beware! Notable varieties include coerulea and indigo.

Crazy Patterns

amboinensis has flowers of a yellow gold background with red brown barring – almost tiger stripes. The spike is weak, so starts flat and arches downwards with usually 2 irregular flowers at a time. It has a soapy type of scent. Found across Indonesia it is variable with var. flavida being mainly yellow with deeper bars and a yellow staminode.

bastianii has a 25cm green leaf span with a branched spike holding usually 7 flowers. These are green white with rich deep brown bars. The lip is quite hairy.

mariae is very similar to bastianii, but with slightly more cupped flowers on a drooping spike. There is a yellow form. Both are from the Philippines.

fasciata is a stunning species with flat spiky flower of ’rounded’ petals that are slightly reflexed. The drooping spike holds rich yellow flowers with small red bars and the lip apex is pink. It is from the Philippines, and is closely related to reichenbachiana (now considered extinct in the wild). Just the scent is different.

hieroglyphica is interestingly named as it has whitish flowers with unusual shaped blotches, spots and barring that resemble the ancient Egyptian writings. It is a poor looking plant with long narrow leaves prone to damage and a floppy spike. There is an alba form that is at attractive yellow and white.

lueddemanniana is one og the largest species with large drooping leaves. It is a sequential flowerer over a long period with heavy flowers causing the spike to arch. It produces 2 types of spikes with the short ones holding flowers, whilst the longer ones produce keikis that soon produce their own spikes creating large plants overall. The smallish flowers are white and heavily overlaid with purple – sometimes they can be a solid purple. This Philippines endemic has a large number of varieties and colour forms.

Miniatures – are those species that will grow in a maximum size of a 3½” pot.

appendiculata has a 5cm leaf span, so is quite tiny. It is hot growing, so is more difficult to cultivate. Francis grows it in moss inside a closed ice cream pot in a terrarium. The media is grit at the bottom totally immersed in water. This is topped with moss and the plant. The lid is opened now and then to refresh the air. The moss tends to stop the water becoming stagnant. Cultivation is further constricted by the species producing downward growing spikes holding 2cm white flowers with pink and purple bars. The name comes from the teeth on the lip. Alternate growing methods include baskets or mounted on cork. This Malayan endemic may be extinct in the wild (but being so small then who knows).

chibae (formerly a Doritis) is a bit larger at a 12cm leaf spread. It produces an erect spike with tiny 1cm yellow flowers suffused with chestnut that can be produced simultaneously. The flower spike can resemble an Oncidium. It is endemic to Vietnam between 400-600m, and has only been in cultivation for 20 years.

deliciosa has been around since 1854, and has been in a variety of genera since then – mainly Kingidium. It has a span of 15cm, and forms basal clusters. It is highly variable, mainly with 1cm white flowers with a pink mask. These tend to last for just a few days and are produced sequentially. It is widespread in the Philippines from sea level to 300m. Subspecies hookeriana has a yellow base and tends to produce more flowers.

finleyi is a species with a 10cm spread, and Francis calls it a marmite plant with flowers that you either love or hate. The spike grows downwards, so is best grown on a mount, and has flowers resembling the antelope type Dendrobiums. The flowers are basically white or cream with purple striping. The leaves are hooked at the tips. This Thai species was formerly known as Kingidium minus.

lobbii is a well known and commonly grown species found from the eastern Himalayas through to Vietnam. It has a 13cm spread and is often deciduous – so don’t throw it away when they drop! It has a short spike with several 1-2cm flowers open at once which are white with an almost chestnut lip. There is an alba form which has a yellow lip (not a real alba), and a flava form which has yellow as well as chestnut on the lip.

parishii is very similar to lobbii, with the only real visible difference being a purple lip and spotted stigma. If you look carefully you will notice 4 ‘hairs’ on the coloured lip. The range is identical. It also has ‘alba’ and ‘flava’ forms, together with coerulea.

Several questions were asked at the end, especially about growing appendiculata in a pot, as well as on pollinators which Francis thinks are a variety of insects, mainly beetles. This was prompted by a query that you almost never seem to see a fruit pot on any Phals in the UK, and why should that be. Hearty applause followed.