Repotting the Tiger Orchid - Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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Repotting the Tiger Orchid

On June 28, Aquatic House curator Dave Horak and members of the Horticulture staff repotted BBG’s Grammatophyllum speciosum, commonly known as the tiger orchid. Considered to be the world’s largest orchid species, the plant on display at BBG is a beautiful specimen weighing approximately 300 pounds.

The orchid was purchased for BBG’s orchid collection in 1998 from the estate of Don Richardson, a prominent orchid specialist and head grower for Greentree, the 400-acre estate of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney in Manhasset, Long Island.

BBG’s Grammatophyllum speciosum has only blossomed twice since coming to the Garden; blooming requires a tremendous amount of light and heat that isn’t always easy to provide given Brooklyn’s winters, even in a glasshouse. The short day length and lower light intensity of this latitude makes blooming an uncommon event here; the last time it flowered was in 2008.

In its natural habitat in tropical Asia, the tiger orchid grows as an epiphyte in crotches of sturdy trees, where its roots intertwine to capture leaf litter and other sources of nutrients. In BBG’s Aquatic House it is planted in a wooden basket and fertilized frequently. Over the past five years the basket had begun to deteriorate, threatening to drop this heavy plant into the pool below.

The new basket was constructed by David Mueller, a BBG volunteer, and is made of ipê (Tabebuia species), a heavy, neotropical wood very resistant to insects and rot. The repotting of the orchid was a long process taking seven hours.

Rebecca Bullene is a former editor at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She is the proprietor of Greenery NYC, a creative floral and garden design company that specializes in botanical works of art including terrariums, urban oasis gardens, and whimsical floral arrangements.

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Image, top of page: Rebecca Bullene