Spathoglottis plicata

ground orchid


Spathoglottis plicata

Blume 1825

pronounced: spath-oh-GLOT-iss plik-AH-tuh

(Orchidaceae — the orchid family)


common name: ground orchid


native 4Spathoglottis comes from two Greek words, σπαθη (spathé), a flat blade used by weavers, and γλωττα (glotta), the tongue, referring to the shape of the lower lip of the flower; plicata is from the Latin plicatus, folded or pleated, referring to the leaf surface.

This is a species of terrestrial orchid that occurs from tropical and subtropical Asia as far as the western Pacific, including Hawaii, Tonga and Samoa. It also occurs in Australia in Cape York Peninsula from Cooktown to the Jardine River. It grows in seasonally inundated and other moist areas, as well as in sunny areas near swamps and small streams. In Australia it is listed as ‘vulnerable’, being under threat especially from over-collecting and from damage by feral pigs. In some other environments, however, it has the potential to become an invasive species.

The plants are erect, terrestrial, perennial herbs usually growing from 30-50 cm tall, pseudobulbs crowded along and obscuring the rhizomes, ovoid, and up to 4 cm in diameter. The leaves are lanceolate to broadly lanceolate, acuminate, the bases attenuate and tapered into petioles, about 50 - 90 cm long by 2 - 6 cm broad. The veins are conspicuously raised on the lower surface, and the margins are entire.

The scape is 60 - 100 cm tall, 1 - 4 mm in diameter in the middle, hairy, with a few 3 cm-long sheaths along its length. The inflorescence is 3-38 flowered; the bracts are persistent, oblong-ovate, acuminate, and slightly keeled. The flowers are dark purple to pale pink or, rarely, white. The dorsal sepal is narrowly ovate to ovate, and hairy; the lateral sepals are obliquely ovate, pointed at the apex and slightly keeled, also hairy. The petals are ovate. The lip is T-shaped when flattened, each side-lobe making a right angle with the axis of the mid-lobe; the side-lobes are oblong, the mid-lobe fiddle-shaped, much longer than the side-lobes, with a long narrow claw and an apical lamina. There is a deflected auricle at the base of the claw of the mid-lobe, on either side of the callus; the callus is slightly hairy, bipartite, triangular-ovate and attenuate in front, and terminating in a small wart in the middle of the claw of the mid-lobe.

The fruits are cylindrical capsules, 6-ribbed, about 2.5 cm long by 7 mm broad, on a stalk about 1.5 cm long. Like those of many other species of orchid, the fruits produce thousands of minute dust-like seeds that are mainly wind-dispersed. In addition, the species is dispersed by division of the rhizomes. In the garden, to limit the spread of the plant, many gardeners remove the fruits before they ripen.

In some areas where the species has been introduced, there has been an adverse effect on populations of native orchids. It has been listed as an environmental weed in Cuba, St Lucia, Puerto Rico and on several islands in the Pacific. It is very fast-growing, with a wide environmental tolerance, the flowers are self-pollinating, and each plant can produce an enormous number of seeds. In Puerto Rico a correlation has been established between the density of the imported Spathoglottis plicata orchids and the numbers of the florivorous weevils Stethobaris politaI on the native orchid Bletia patula, which has suffered extensive damage from the weevils.

These orchids are widely cultivated outside of their natural habitats, and many cultivars have been developed.


Photographed in Picnic Bay 2013
Page last updated 6th April 2019