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Vol. 11(6), pp. 13-15The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalJune 2010

Renanthera Tom Thumb, An Old Hybrid

R J Ferry

The Genus

Renanthera Loureiro 1790 in Fl. Cochinchinensis (p. 521).

Rey-nan-thera: The name is derived from the L. renis (kidney) and Gr. anthos (flower). Mayr (1998) notes it as "a badly fitting name; no similarity with flower shapes," however if one considers L. renatus (pp. of renascor) to be born again; spring up, and the Gr. τηεροσ, theros, summer, it may be that Loureiro had in mind a plant that flowered faithfully each summer. It is more likely, however, that Bechtel et al (1992) are correct in noting that the L. renis and Greek αντηοσ, anthos, allude to the kidney-shaped pollinia of the type species.


Family: Orchidaceae Lindley 1836.
Subfamily: Epidendroideae Lindley
Epidendroid Phylad Dressler
Dendrobioid Subclade Dressler
Tribe: Vandeae Lindley
Subtribe: Aeridinae Pfitzer
Series IV-A: Senghas (in Schlecter 1970-)
Genus: Renanthera Loureiro 1790.

Area of Distribution

About fifteen species in southern China, the Himalayas, throughout southeast Asia, extending across to the Philippines, Indonesia, and New Guinea.

Close Affinities

Aerides, Vanda, Vandopsis, etc.

The Hybrid

Fig. 1. Pl#130808-29. Renanthera Tom Thumb. (Close-in photo of flower) Digital photo DSC_3584 Thur-03Jun10.

Renanthera Tom Thumb 'Flicker' (Fig. 1) (= Renanthera monachicaRenanthera imschootiana. It was registered by Iwanaga in 1957, but the originator of the cross was W. W. G. Moir (also of Hawaii).


Renanthera Tom Thumb is the primary cross of two species: R. monachica Ames, Orchidaceae 5: 224 (1915), its capsule parent, known from the Philippines (Luzon), and R. imschootiana, its pollen parent.

R. monachica is a short herb, usually not much more than 50 cm in height. It is monopodial, but in jungle growth will climb by branching with roots erupting from higher up on the parent plant. Its flowers are generally red-blotched or spotted on a yellow or yellow-orange base.

A search was made of your editor's colored slides from the Lager & Hurrell collection. This was a cross originally done by Goodale Moir who was in the habit of sending colored slides of hybrids he made to Lager & Hurrell. Alas, there are slides of Renanthera coccinea, R. matutina and crosses of other combinations, in the archives, but not this one of this cross. Nor is there even a slide or digital of Renanthera imschootiana. Obviously your editor's photographic files--extensive though they may be--could still use some enhancing!

More about parents

Fig. 2. Pp. 224 & 225 of original description by Ames, O., 1915. Digital photo DSC_3594 Mon-07Jun10.

R. monachica was described by Ames (1915), and those pages are reproduced here (Fig. 2).

The pollen parent

The pollen parent of R. Tom Thumb was Renanthera imschootiana Rolfe, Bull. Misc. Inform. Kew 1891: 200 (1891). It's the larger of the two species. It's also monopodial, but in the natural habitat this can reach to nearly a meter and become a somewhat vine-like with its climbing and branching. It's known from the eastern Himalayan area to China (S. Yunnan) and Vietnam, and its flowers are normally solid red or a red-orange. The plant was originally imported by Messrs Sander and Company of St. Albans. One of these was flowered by M. A. van Imschoot of Gand (Ghent) in Belgium and was described by Rolfe in the Kew Bulletin (p. 200).


With both ancestors from warm, humid tropical regions, the culture of this hybrid should be a "no brainer!" It's thrived in a warm-to-hot area of the greenhouse, and with somewhat reduced lighting (not as high as cattleyas, but certainly more light than most phals prefer). Give it a good-sized pot so it can develop a substantial root system to anchor it as it grows. Don't fall for the old "it likes to be crowded" cliché! As well, be prepared to give it some room when it flowers (here in Victoria, Texas: late May into June). The inflorescences will easily reach close to a meter in length, and may need some support.

Water: keep in mind the old standard: the hotter the temperature, the more you'll want higher humidity and some air movement, but if it's going to have to endure a cold snap it's best to not let it get below 40° F! If it's going to endure the cold, it should do so on the dry side rather than so heavily watered it's turgid. Simply put: "dried off" plants weather the cold better than wet ones! If it's grown outdoors, as in the McAllen, Texas area, watch out for those hot dry summer winds. Keep in mind to mist it early in the morning and as needed during the day to keep its leaf temperatures from reaching the drying-out-and-burning point! Don't let it be exposed to direct sunlight much beyond 0930 or so in the hot summer months. Remember, this is a tropical plant with one parent from Luzon in the Philippines, and the other parent equally at home in a similar warm, tropical ambience. This plant has tolerated winter temperatures down to 40° F. or so, but it's still no cool-cold growing hybrid!

Renantheras are not difficult to grow, and when in flower are quite colorful. If you have had some success with growing vandaceous orchids, Renanthera species and hybrids will be attractive additions to your collection!

By the way, although this hybrid came into the collection with the clonal name 'Flicker,' no award(s) can be found to that clonal name in databases.


Ames, O. 1915. Illustrations and Studies of the Family Orchidaceae. Fascicle V. Boston: The Merrymount Press. 271pp. (specifically pp. 224-5)

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

Dressler, R.L. 1981. The Orchids: Natural History and Classification. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 332pp.

_______. 1993. Phylogeny and Classification of The Orchid Family. Portland OR: Dioscorides Press. 314 pp.

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.

Copyright © 2010 R J Ferry