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Vol. 12(2), pp. 9-12The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalFebruary 2011

Brassavola subulifolia Lindley., Gen. & Sp. Orch. Pl.: 115. 1831.

R J Ferry


Fig. 1. Part-inflorescence, Brassavola subulifolia. Digital photo DSC_1239a; Thur-04Jan07.

Brassavola cordata Lindl., Edwards's Bot. Reg. 22: t. 1913 (1836).
Bletia cordata (Lindl.) Rchb. F. in W.G.Walpers, Ann. Bot. Syst. 6: 436 (1862).
Bletia nodosa var. cordata (Lindl.) Rchb. F., Xenia Orchid. 2: 65 (1863).


Bra-sah-vo-la: The genus was named for Sr. Antonio Musa Brassavola, a Venetian nobleman and botanist, the professor of Logic, Physics, and Medicine at Ferrara, Italy.

sub-you-li fol-ia: Having leaves awl-shaped (terete)


Family: Orchidaceae Lindley. 1836.
Subfamily: Epidendroideae Lindley
Epidendroid Phylad Dressler
Tribe: Epidendreae (New World)
Subtribe: Laeliinae Bentham
Genus Brassavola R. Brown in Hort. Kew. ed. 2. 5. 216.


Jamaica, Leeward Islands. Erroneously reported as B. cordata from Brazil to Messrs. Loddiges in about 1835.


Brassavola, the genus: Sepala et petala subaequalia, libera, acuminata. Labellum cucullatum, integrum, columnam involvens. Columna marginata, clavata, stigmate, infundibulari, clinandro posticè tridentato. Pollinia 8, subaequalia, quibusdam aliis parvis interjectis. Anthera 4-locularis, septis marginatís, loculis semibipartitis. Herbae caulescentes, epiphytae, apice folium unicum v. alterum, semicylindranaceum, carnosum, suprà sulcatum, apice subulatum, gerentes. Flores terminales, magni, speciosi. Lindley, p. 114.

Brassavola subulifolia, the species: Caules teretes, graciles, 4-5-unciales, caespitosi, vaginis membranaceis cinereis arctè vestiti. Folia palmaria et ultrà, angustissima, acuminatissima. Ovarium collo gracillimo longissimo. Flores foliis breviores. Caetera haid bene vidi. Species distinctissima. Lindley, p. 115.

Botanical Notes

This species is found throughout the island of Jamaica, usually growing on guango or "Sam" trees (Samanea saman) at 150-610 m (500-2000 ft.)

There are two forms of B. subulifolia. One is from the eastern and one from the western portion of its range. The western form has 5-7 flowers per inflorescence which, when spread are ca 8.6 cm across with segments 0.5 to 1.0 cm long. The eastern variety has 10-16 smaller flowers per inflorescence. In both forms the pale green, linear lanceolate sepals tend to curve inward and petals that tend to curl backwards. The labellum is white or cream, at times with a greenish tinge. In nature, peak flowering for both forms is in mid-to-late November, and with low temperatures flowering may be delayed until December. However, flowering has been reported in all months except in June.

Description Based on living specimen in Collection (Pl#251105-14)

Fig. 2. Part-inflorescence, Brassavola subulifolia. Digital photo DSC_3867; Wed-05Jan11.

Inflorescence: The eastern form of the specimen is at hand. The raceme usually holds twelve or more (smaller) and strongly night-fragrant flowers. From a distance, the fragrance is pleasing, but close-in, it is so concentrated that it presents as a strong and disagreeable "plastic" odor reminiscent of a chemical used in the making of fiberglass. The sepals and petals are pale green, the labellum and column are white. The column is apically tridentate, holding 8 pollinia plus vestigal ones. Seed capsules are ellipsoid-fusiform and display a conspicuous apical beak.

Vegetative Data: The pseudobulb is much reduced, stem-like, slender, 3-4 cm long, clad with a light tan scarious sheathing, beyond which is held a fleshy medially-grooved terete leaf 4-8 cm long, 0.5-1.6 cm diameter. This species is an epiphytic plant in nature. Under culture, it thrives on a wide variety of substrates. It is usually grown as a potted plant in a Douglas fir bark mix or some variation. With the increased watering necessary, it does well on a tree fern raft, and in a tropical climate would flourish affixed to a tree.


New obconical growths may arise from the creeping rhizomes while the previous now-mature growths are flowering. Vegetative growth erupts as a new shoot, elongating into a single subterete sulcate leaf, at the base of which--on maturity--the new floral growth breaks, branches, and then buds.

As the rhizome continues in a generally linear fashion, it branches at one side or the other, and with time the plant can form heavily-overgrown clumps as the roots capture and hold leaf and other detritus material and new growths erupt. If maintained in a pot or similar container, the best time to divide and repot this species is just after it has finished flowering, when new growths appear to be becoming an overly tangled mass, or crowding the edge of the container.


Temperature: Although a hot growing species, B. subulifolia will tolerate temperatures as low as 4°C. (40°F.) and over 40°C. (100°F). However, if subjected to temperatures as low as 15°C. (50°F.), flowering may be affected. A more ideal temperature range for this species is 18 to 32°C. (65 to 90°F.), with temperature variance tending toward the higher end of this range. In nature (Jamaica) the temperature seldom goes below 53°F. (11°C.).

Light: In general, plants grow larger in low light levels, but tend to be smaller and bloom better in higher light. They thrive under Cattleya light conditions of approximately 3,000 foot candles or between 63% and 73% shade. In their habitat they may be found growing on the roots of mangroves in dense shade while a few hundred feet away they may be encountered flourishing on tree limbs in full sun. In nature this plant experiences light levels as high as 4,000 foot candles, but light levels of this intensity only should be approached gradually and should be accompanied by increased humidity and some air movement.

Water: The amount and frequency will depend on the media, light and temperature. If mounted or potted in porous media or subjected to higher light or temperature or strong air movement, this species will require more frequent watering. Conversely, plants in poorly drained media, little air movement, low light, or grown in low temperatures require less watering. This species is tolerant of all of the above conditions. In Jamaica, the periods of high rainfall are in May and June, lowering in July, and then increasing in August to an annual peak in October. In nature, the lowest months of rainfall are January through March.

Media: This species has flourished when potted in Douglas Fir bark. Other substrates have not been utilized by this grower, but with an increase in watering, it would probably do well as a mounted specimen on Sassafras wood, tree fern or cork or limestone.


This particular plant was purchased at Parkside Nursery, Pennsylvania which had shipped it in from H & R Nurseries in Waimalo, Hawaii. Plant number Pl#251105-14 was shipped in and sold under the synonym name of Brassavola cordata. In the early 1800's, it was quite common for individual orchid collectors working for commercial firms to grossly misstate the origin of a plant in order to "throw off" other field collectors, and so the location for this species was given as Brazil which, regrettably, has remained for individuals using the erroneous information published in 1836.

Despite having been listed in the literature for well over a hundred and fifty years, B. subulifolia continues to be cited in more than a few publications under the synonym of B. cordata (Bechtel et al, 1992; Stewart, 1995). The citations stem from a casual look at a reference or two instead of exhaustively checking the literature. Such citations may list Caribbean locations, but cite Brazil as a place of origin. Stewart (1995) not only erroneously cites B. cordata as a synonym, but lists Rolfe as the authority!


Bechtel, H., Phillip Cribb, Edmund Launert. 1992. The Manual of Cultivated Orchid Species. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. 585pp. (as B. cordata)

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

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

Ferry, R. J. Sr. 1975. Plant records, Species. (unpub. pers. notes).

Hawkes, A. D. 1965. Encyclopedia of Cultivated Orchids. Faber and Faber Ltd., London. (as B. cordata)

Lindley, J. 1830-40 (reprint 1963). Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants. A. Asher & Co., Amsterdam.

_______. 1876. The Treasury of Botany. part I. A to K. London: Ballentyne and Company, London. (remarks on the genus only)

Linnaeus, C. von. 1763. Species Plantarum. vol. 2. (p. 1350). Holmiae: Impensis Direct, LAURENTII SALVII.

Northen, R. T. 1950. Home Orchid Growing. 1st edition. D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., Princeton, NJ.

_______. 1962. Home Orchid Growing. 2nd edition. D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., Princeton, NJ.

_______. 1970. Home Orchid Growing. 3rd edition. D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., Princeton, NJ.

Sander, C. F., and F. K. Sander and L. L. Sander. 1927. Sanders' Orchid Guide. Sanders, St, Albans. (as B. subulifolia)

Stewart, J., consulting ed., and Mark Griffiths, series ed. 1995. Manual of Orchids (The New RHS Dictionary). Portland, Oregon: Timber press. 399pp.

Copyright © 2011 R J Ferry