365 days of orchids – day 70 – Gongora leucochila

Gongora leucochila is the white lipped Gongora although a few other species have white lips too. It is a striking flower with its heavy red spotting and as usual for Gongora a great smell. Our Gongoras are really excelling them selves at the moment and a count this week found that we have eight different species all in flower. This plant in common with many others has produced several flower spikes but they are staggered so that they flower independently over a period of about six weeks. This clearly makes good sense to the plant that can attract pollinators over a long period and is great in the greenhouse as we always have Gongoras in flower to admire and sniff.

This year we are adding to the displays we have set up at the Bristol Aquarium by adding a permanent Gongora display that can raise the profile of these great orchids with the public and give a scented experience for all those who come close.

Gongora leucochila is a Central American species found from Southern Mexico to Panama.



365 days of orchids – day 69 – Ansellia africana

Easily one of our most spectacular plants is Ansellia africana – the Leopard Orchid. We have seen this species growing in costal rainforest near Durban in South Africa and it is found right across the tropical part of the continent.

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.

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 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 is clearly delighted to be home and it fills Warm Americas with its lovely spotted flowers during February, March and April.

The plant is huge with 1m long pseudobulbs which 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 March 29th and 30th. Ansellia africana should then be at its peak.


365 days of orchids – day 68 – Dendrobium mohlianum

This dramatic Dendrobium is native to the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu (A real South Sea Islander). It is found in wet forests from 450 to 3000m altitude which indicates it is cool growing although we grow our plant very successfully in Warm Asia. It may be that our plant is propagated from plants found at the lower altitude range or that it is just not very fussy about temperature.

It is likely to be sun bird pollinated and the unusual folded up lip is adapted for the beak of a hovering bird rather than being a landing platform for an insect.

An unusual characteristic of the plant is to flower from old pseudobulbs – soma as old as seven years old on our plant. This produces a great display over time but remember not to cut off old leafless pseudobulbs or you will have no flowers.

We grow the plant mounted but to reflect its natural habitat we water it freely and are happy to let moss grow naturally on the cork mount.