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Vol. 10(1), pp. 4-6The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalJanuary 2009

Spathoglottis plicata Blume Bijdragen (p. 401). 1825.

R J Ferry

Synonyms: Bletia angustata Gagn.; Bletia angustifolia Gaud.; Paxtonia rosea Ldl.; Plaius rumphii Bl.; Spathoglottis lilicina Griff.; S. spicata Ldl.

Spath-oh-glott-is: L. spatha, a spatula; and Gr. γλοττισ, glottis, the tongue; alluding to the spatula shaped form of the "tongue" or labellum of the flower.

plee-cah-ta: L. plicatus > plicata, plicate or folded, alluding to the habit of the leaves.


Family: Orchidaceae Lindley. 1836.
  Subfamily: Epidendroideae Lindley
    Epidendroid Phylad Dressler
      Tribe: Arethuseae Lindley
        Subtribe: Bletiinae Bentham
          Genus Spathoglottis Blume 1843 in the Botanical Register (misc. p. 14)


Spathoglottis, the genus: The genus is widespread from southern China and the Himalayas, and throughout Malaysia to the Philippines, New Caledonia, and Samoa. Many species are known from New Guinea.

Fig. 1. Spathoglottis plicata Blume. Digital photo: DSC_2665a, 09 Dec 08.

Spathoglottis plicata, the species: India, S.E. Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea to the Philippines; naturalized in Hawaii, and adventive in southern Florida (Fig. 1).


About 21 genera are held within Subtribe Bletiinae, with Bletia, Bletilla, Calanthe, Calopogon, Gastrorchis, and Phaius the best known. The Subtribe is pantropical, extending into temperate areas of Asia and North America.

Blume discovered this species in the East Indies. When he described it in 1825, he included a note that it is "found in woody places."

Botanical Description and Notes

  1. This is a terrestrial orchid that may reach heights of a meter or more, although shorter ones, with a leafy pseudobulb, are more common.
  2. Leaves: numerous, linear-lanceolate, acuminate, plicate, 30 to 120 cm long, 2 to 7 cm broad, the petiole is 10 to 15 cm long, basally dilated.
  3. Inflorescence: lateral, 15 to 95 cm long, distantly several-flowered; the raceme puberulous: bracts lanceolate, acuminate, 1.5 to 2.2 cm long. Flowers: ca. 2.5 cm natural spread, lilac, rose-colored, or purple, callus yellow; dorsal sepal: elliptic, apiculate, 1.2 cm long, 0.6 cm broad; lateral sepals: similar to the dorsal sepal, but somewhat falcate, 1.3 cm long, 0.7 cm broad; petals: elliptic-ovate, obtusely acuminate, 1.5 cm long, 0.8 cm broad; labellum: 3-lobed, 1.7 cm long, 1.4 cm broad, with side lobes oblong-obovate, basal, 0.7 cm long, obtuse to subtruncate, the mid-lobe longly clawed, cuneate, 1 cm long, 0.6 cm broad, the callus on the claw of the mid-lobe is sparsely villose, cordate; column: 1.2 cm long, clavate, winged.
  4. The flowers are extremely variable in size, often self-pollinating. The labellum is sometimes magenta-spotted medially. Several horticultural variants are known, differing largely in color and flower size.
  5. The species flowers throughout the year, often almost ever-blooming.

Description Based on specimens in Collection

Plants are 20 to 24 cm height, clustered, with inflorescences reaching 10 to 15 cm higher. The flowers have no noticeable fragrance, but the inflorescences have been open for some time prior to acquisition, and any early-on fragrance may have dissipated.


  1. Temperature: If these particular species members grow and flower at their present (20 to 35 cm) height, they have promise as shade house or outdoor garden plants in the southern Texas Rio Grande Valley area, although it is decidedly an intermediate-to-warm growing species. The general rule of considering it tolerant of temperatures as low as 4°C. (40°F.) may be applied, but a frost or freeze will be severely damaging or fatal depending on the temperature of the substrate.
  2. Light: Broken sunlight; preferably open-shade conditions. Direct sun can be depended upon to seriously damage the foliage.
  3. Water: As with most terrestrial orchids, good drainage is wanted! Planted in a substrate that keeps the pseudobulbs and roots wet is a recipe for killing the plants. Conversely, they do not want a substrate that is allowed to become extremely dry.
  4. Substrate: This species will do well in a rich compost, similar to that recommended for Phaius (one-third rich loam, one-third well-rotted manure, one sixth chopped tree fern and one sixth Sphagnum moss). In this author's greenhouse plants have also done well in a mix composed of two-thirds "Pro-Mix," and one third Sphagnum moss, with frequent applications of 20-10-20 fertilizer spray-applied.

Cultural Remarks

  1. Members of Bletia, Phaius, Spathoglottis are cultured similarly in this author's greenhouse. Outdoor culture has not been attempted, although another local orchidist (M. Zeplin) has experienced some success with outdoor culture in a back yard somewhat sheltered plot.
  2. All Spathoglottis species are freely inter-fertile, but most hybrids have been known to be very nearly sterile when either selfed or crossed with a parent or other species. The fruits ripen after about six weeks after pollination, and are still green when they ripen. Hence they much be watched daily or all the seeds will be lost. Seedlings grow quickly and should be ready to be put into pots 4 to 6 months from being sown in flasks. They generally flower in about 18 months when grown from seed. Hybrids have been made with Phaius, the result known as Spathophaius. Speculation has been made that this genus may also hybridize with Calanthe and even Cymbidium.


Bechtel, H., Phillip Cribb, Edmund Launert. 1992. The Manual of Cultivated Orchid Species. Cambridge, Massachusetts; The MIT Press. 585pp.

Correll, D. S., and Marshall C. Johnston. 1970. Manual of The Vascular Plants of Texas. Renner, Texas: The Texas Research Foundation. 1881pp.

Dressler, R. L. 1981. The Orchids: Natural History and Classification. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

_______. 1993. Phylogeny and Classification of The Orchid Family. Dioscorides Press, Portland, OR.

Ferry, R. J. Sr. 1976. Plant and color transparency records, species. (unpub. pers. notes).

Hawkes, A. D. 1965. Encyclopedia of Cultivated Orchids. Faber and Faber Ltd., London.

Jaeger, E. C. 1978. A Source-Book of Biological Names and Terms. Springfield, Illinois; C. Thomas, Publisher. 323pp.

Mayr, H. 1998. Orchid Names and Their Meanings (trans. by M. Schmucker). Köegstrin, Germany: Koeltz Scientific Books (distrib.) A. R. G. Gantner Verlag K.-G. FL 9490 Vaduz. 548pp.

Williams, L. O. 1965. The Orchidaceae of Mexico. Tegucigalpa, Escuela Agricola Panamericana, Honduras, C. A.

Copyright © 2009 R J Ferry