This orchid has a real story to tell and highlights the lifelong learning that growing orchids provides. Ansellia africana, the Leopard Orchid, is found right across tropical Africa from South Africa in the South, where we have seen plants growing in coastal forest near Durban, to Uganda in the North.
The forest we found it in in South Africa was open and experienced a seasonal dry season in the winter giving a clue to the correct cultivation of the species which is to grow it in good light with a wet summer when it is in rapid growth (plenty of feed too) and then a dryer winter rest when it flowers but does not grow. In fact many of it native habitats experience long periods of drought.
The plant pictured is the clone ‘Writhlington’ which won a Cultural Certificate from the RHS in 2016 and which we grew from seed in our laboratory. The seed was sown by students in 2004 and the plant was sold at the Eden Project in-vitro in October 2006. It then spent nine happy years with its owners in Cornwall before outgrowing the available space. It was donated back to Writhlington where it was clearly delighted to be home filling Warm Americas with its lovely spotted flowers during February, March and April and winning a number of awards.
The plant last flowered in 2017 but due to the compost breaking down it lost its roots and dropped all it leaves. We split the plant up and repotted it but there was no growth for two year (it was beginning to look hopeless) but in spring 2019 new growths and roots appeared in all the divisions, in response to heavy daily watering. The growths grew very strongly and all the plants are now in full flower. We have discovered how the species survives drought by dropping leaves and sitting tight until heavy rains finally arrive.
Plants are huge, with 1m long pseudobulbs that produce 70cm branched spikes and hundreds of flowers. We have never seen a clone as good as this one which was a cross between the dark form of the species and a lighter spotted one and it may be a chance tetraploid as it refuses to set seed. We have marked it out as a plant to meristem. If you want to see it in all its glory then do come the the London Orchid Show at the RHS halls Westminster on April 7th and 8th where Ansellia africana should still be at its peak.