BBG’s Tiger Orchid Springs into Its Biggest Blooming Ever

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BBG’s Tiger Orchid Springs into Its Biggest Blooming Ever
BBG's tiger orchid is in bloom for the 3rd time in 13 years (photo by Elizabeth Peters/BBG).

Release Date: November 17, 2011

A tiger orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum), the world’s largest orchid species, is now in bloom at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG). Uncommon in nature and rarely found in cultivation, a blooming on the scale of BBG’s—17 spikes, each with several dozen flowers—is extraordinary, particularly for a specimen in cultivation in a temperate zone, where the short days often don’t provide enough light to ensure a bloom. The plant’s two previous bloomings in 2003 and 2008 produced one and two spikes, respectively.

The tiger orchid is usually found growing in the branch bark ridges of large trees in the hot, humid tropical forests of Southeast Asia. The stems can reach 15 feet in length; the largest single plant on record had a weight of about two tons. BBG’s specimen can be seen in the Robert W. Wilson Aquatic House in the Steinhardt Conservatory, where it is suspended over a shallow pool in a large wooden basket. The orchid itself is 12 feet in diameter and weighs approximately 300 pounds, with flower stems approximately seven feet long.

Whether in its natural habitat or in cultivation, the tiger orchid blooms only once every two to five years. In 2010, Aquatic House curator David Horak and other horticulture staff repotted the orchid, wrangling the 300-pound plant into a new wooden basket created by a BBG volunteer out of a rot-resistant tropical wood; the specimen’s new vessel is one of many factors that likely contributed to this unprecedented bloom.

The flowers of the tiger orchid are long lasting, and the plant will likely bear blooms through mid- to late December. The blossoms are yellow or cream colored with chocolate-brown or dark red spots, and may reach six inches across.

BBG has a long history of cultivating orchids, and its collection now consists of approximately 6,000 plants, distributed through over 350 genera and representing more than 1800 species from around the world.
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