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What’s Blooming In Paradise: Butterfly Orchid

By Staff | Jun 15, 2012

Plant Subject: Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis)

First impression: Petite, exotic, five petals with a sixth larger iconic orchid-lobed lip in yellows, greens and magentas. Wow, such dramatic lines and colorations adorn the frilly lipped petal. The oblong leaves are soft green and located at the base, which is in the shape of a ridged bulb. These bulbs are attached to the trunk of our Mahogany tree by silver hair like roots. I can only marvel at its tenacity to hang on its host tree! I am drawn to the many tiny dancing flowers on slender, long stalks. You can see this gorgeous native orchid fluttering in full bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Butterfly Orchid comes from the Encyclia genus of which you can easily be confused with the more than 235 species. It is a show stopper, when blooming there is no passing it by without a closer look! It has many tiny flowers suspended by thin stalks, which gives them an excuse to dance at any chance they get. The 5 buttery yellow, purplish-pink and soft green petals are small, firm and oblong. Of course the 6th petal is the preverbal orchid nectar guide for the pollinators. It is drop dead gorgeous, marked with a magenta landing pad and varying shades of stripes and irregular polka dots. Yes, it’s cupped and ruffled and orchid drama thru and thru. If you’re lucky, you can smell that faint sweet scent, which I find strongest mid morning. After blooming, remove spent blooms to be ready for the next profusion of blossoms. Its fruits or seed purses form on the ends of stalks and contain hundreds of itty bitsy seeds, which end up blowing in the wind. The dark green leaves are linear and long and really are not noticeable until the flowers emerge and start to show off. The bulbous bases of the leaves are shaped like pears and attached by the roots. A healthy strong orchid will have numerous silvery colored roots encircling and securing to its host plant. Orchids are Epiphytes which means they sit on top of their selected companion. An orchid obtains moisture and run off nutrients from their host and in no way harms them. Our star is a naturally occurring epiphyte and native to our region. Butterfly Orchid, just the name and your mind can conjure up a picture that’s imaginative and uplifting. Sadly, years of being poached and picked have left our native orchids in a dire state of depletion and extinction. For our future generations, all native orchids are protected and you will pay a steep fine for removing them. Our garden is fortunate to have many naturally occurring native orchids who have taken up residence. Explore your garden oasis, you may find a hidden treasure just hanging around that you never knew was there.

Pros: Native Plant – Likes filtered sun to shade – Easy to maintain Flowers are unique, exotic and fanciful – Salt tolerant Is great for oooh’s and ahhs Takes up no room in the garden – Everyone needs at least one Blooming brings in the bees No care needed – Lovely soft fragrance

Cons: Trim spent blooms Not noticeable when non blooming Protected cannot collect from the wild Need a host plant with lots of canopy Short lived blooming period – Blooming brings in the bees It’s hard to say no to a Butterfly Orchid!

Conclusion: No need for nets to catch a glimpse of this butterfly. They are waiting for you to admire, photograph, and leave them for your grandkids to enjoy many generations away!

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!