Selected Species - by Peter Taylor
Coelogyne pandurata Lindl.
Hugh Low was one of he most
enterprising and energetic orchid collectors during a period of time when "orchid mania"
gripped England and Europe. From Sarawak especially he introduced many
distinctive orchids to the great nurseries of the time and he is generally
recognised as a pioneer of orchidology in the Malay states.
Low had a fascinating life.
Born in 1824 to a father in the nursery business (Hugh Low and Co.), he quickly
developed both a love of plants and a keen eye of observation. He first
travelled to Sarawak in 1845 and in his notes he states that "my object
(the collection of plants and seeds) led me more into the country.... than any
other Englishman who has yet visited the shores of this island
(Borneo)". He was the first European to ascend Mt. Kinabalu where he
He mixed enthusiastically with the
native peoples and became so well known as a plant collector hat the beautiful
"jewel" orchids (Haemaria and Anoectochilus) were called
by the natives, "Daun Lo" (Low's leaf). His knowledge of the empathy
towards the people of Borneo results in his appointment in 1876 as Chief
Resident of Perak. He reformed the previously tough administration, improved the
agricultural economy of this British colony and introduced high class cattle to
the area. In 1889, he retired from colonial administration in the East
Indies. He was, as Reinikka states in his A History of the Orchid
(the source of my notes above) "a rare and valuable asset" to
orchidology. He died in Italy in 1905.
As mentioned, from Sarawak Low
introduced some wonderful species, several new Nepanthes species, Coelogyne
asperata, Dendrobium lowii, Paphiopedilum lowii etc. His name is also
remembered in plants like Cymbidium lowianum.
Now to the matter of this month's
Selected Species - Coelogyne pandurata.
This wonderful coelogyne was found
in Sarawak by Low and sent to the great orchid firm of Loddiges who flowered it
in 1853 and passed it on to John Lindley. He named the species in the Gardeners'
Chronicle of 1853. Its specific epithet refers to its panduriform or
fiddle-shaped lip. It is also known as the "black orchid" (as
are so many species) because of the "black" lip markings. The
contrast between the pale green sepals and petals and the striking lip is
certainly arresting and a well-flowered plant is a joy to behold.
Coelogyne pandurata has a
wide distribution - Malaya, Sumatra, Borneo and in the Philippines. It is
generally found in the damp lowland areas, often in swamps and on trees near
rivers. Usually an epiphyte, it can be semi-terrestrial in its native
habitat. Immediately, one cultural factor is seen - the need for warmth
and high humidity.
A word of warning regarding the
purchase of this species - I have bought plants labelled "Coel.
pandurata" both from commercial nurseries and at auction which proved
on flowering to be either Coelogyne mayeriana or the hybrid Coelogyne Burfordiensis
(C. pandurata x C. asperata). The lip must be "fiddle
shaped" and have black-purple, not brown (C. Burfordiensis)
Now to a few cultural notes.
Although a warm growing (some people grow the species very successfully with
their phalaenopsis) I grow the species successfully with a winter minimum of 12oC.
Good winter light is essential: plants will be lush in shady conditions but they
are reluctant to flower. Good air movement, especially in bright
light. High humidity is required. Be careful to keep up the humidity
The trickiest factor is the watering
of the species. In their habitat, the species experiences heavy year-round
rain with the heaviest falls in winter. In my glasshouse, if I watered
heavily in winter, my plants would soon die - so I believe watering should be
decreased to a "plant medium just damp" situation with brisk air
movement and bright winter light.
Coelogyne pandurata flowers
in the summer (new growth can easily rot if too wet) with an inflorescence of
about 24-35cm and from five to 15 flowers on well-grown plants. The
flowers not only have an unusual colour combination but also a lovely
fragrance. The species is among the larger plants in the genus Coelogyne
and the rhizome between the 10 - 15cm pseudobulbs can be 10-12cm.
So, how to pot or mount such a
species (especially as C. pandurata really resents repotting and can sulk
for some months after being disturbed)? My best efforts have been to mount
plants on large horizontal pieces of soft treefern so that plants can ramble
away to their heart's content. I have had no success in deep pots, either
clay or plastic, but one plant grew well in a large shallow drip tray in which I
had made many drainage holes. One friend grows a wonderful plant in one of
the red carry baskets supplied by supermarkets (don't ask how it appeared in his
backyard!). In any case, repotting should only be done when new roots grow
on the most mature pseudobulbs; the last flowering pseudobulb.
There are some wonderful Coelogyne
species you should consider adding to your collection - Coelogyne mooreana
from the mountains of Thailand and Vietnam; Coelogyne nitidia from India
with its lovely white flowers with distinctive yellow eyes on the lip; and
perhaps my favourite, the elegant Coelogyne dayana from North
Borneo. However, if you enjoy a challenge, the beauty of Coelogyne
pandurata with its unusual colour combination of green and black is well
worth the extra little effort of cultivation. A species that deserves to
be selected for your collection.
Peter Taylor and Australian Orchid Council Inc 2003
published in "Orchids Australia" August 2003.