Gardening with Georgia

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Rockin' lips and rollin' sepals

Fri, Nov 13, 2009 at 02:00:06 PM


It’s getting to be flowering season for an enormous group of orchids: bulbophyllums. These orchids are found throughout Southeast Asia, but turn up also in Africa, tropical America, even Australia. The number of species is something like 1,000, give or take.

These Cirrohpetalum flowers
look as if they're sticking out
their tongues.

A fascinating feature of many of the flowers is the motile or rocking lip.  Cirrhopetalum is a section of the Bulbophyllum genus, but still is held by some to be a separate genus. The plants love to be wet, and can be grown on pieces of fern or cork set in saucers of water. The flowers ordinarily are tiny, but are held in umbels -- that is, the flowers’ small stems or petioles emerge from a single stalk.  For gardeners with little room, these are great orchids.

The pair of flowers of Cirrhopetalum ‘Doris Dukes’ crossed with Cirr. longissimum has petals six inches long, while a single flower of the same hybrid on another plant is 9 inches long. There is a relative from New Guinea, Bulbophyllum fletcherianum, with leaves that can reach three feet in length. The flowers are red, but smell of rotting meat.

It’s a fun group of orchids to collect, and one size does not fit all.


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