Epiphytic, rarely lithophytic, monopodial orchid up to 1m tall. Leaves up to 40cm long; dark green-grey; bi-lobed tips. Succulent (fleshy) roots dark grey, climbing up to 2m; generally attached to tree bark and occasionally rocks. Flowers star-shaped, large, fleshy; whitish-green, turning yellowish-brown with age; arranged in spikes (inflorescences) up to 30cm long; distinctive long spur up to 45cm long; sweet, spicy scent that gets stronger at night.

Facts

  • This plant was discovered in 1798 by Louis-Marie Aubert du Petit-Thouars, a keen botanist and aristocrat exiled during the French Revolution.

  • It is called Darwin's orchid because Charles Darwin predicted that, according to his newly formed theory of evolution, that this orchid could only be pollinated by a moth with a very long feeding tube (proboscis): it wasn't until several years after his death that this theory was vindicated by the discovery of such a moth.
  • The species name sesquipedale is Latin for 'one and a half feet', which refers to the length of the spur.

Where it grows

Native to east and south-east Madagascar, it is found in lowland regions from sea level up to 100m altitude. Usually found growing on tree trunks at forest edges, but occasionally found on rocks.

Common uses

This plant is mainly used to educate people about the interactions between plants and animals.

Conservation story

Pollinated by the hawkmoth, Xanthopan morganii praedicta, which uses its extremely long proboscis to drink the sweet nectar at the end of the spur.

Useful links

Glossary

  • Bi-lobed: with two distinctive lobes (lobes are incomplete divisions).
  • Epiphytic: grows on other plants.
  • Lithophytic: grows on stones.
  • Monopodial: from a single stem. 

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