There are around 30 species in the genus Stanhopea, and they are spectacular epiphytic orchids native to South America. Their most unusual feature is that the flowers actually grow downward, and they are also highly prized for their very strong, distinctive fragrance. Funny as it might seem, years ago when the first stanhopea was grown at Kew the gardeners wondered why it never flowered, then one day the pot was accidently smashed open, and they noticed the flower buds at the bottom.
Common name: Stanhopea orchid
Botanic name: Stanhopea sp.
Description: Epiphytic orchids with glossy evergreen leaves, and highly fragrant flowers which are produced in summer. Flowers come in white, yellow and orange, and the spikes are pendulous.
Best climate: Tropics, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Worth a try in Adelaide, Hobart, the Mountains and Inland, but may need some protection from cold.
unusual flowering habit (upside down) beautiful perfume abundant flowers
Stanhopeas require a well drained and open mix, and do particularly well in a hanging basket lined with sphagnum moss or coconut fibre, which allows the flowers to burst through. Don’t grow them in ordinary pots or you’ll never see the flowers! A shady position is best, with plenty of air movement around the plant. Don’t allow the plant to dry out in hot weather, but do cut back watering in the winter months. During the active growing months apply a weak foliar fertilizer every few weeks, and you could also add rotted manure to the potting mix.
Stanhopeas are not easy to come by, so you might have to order one through your local nursery. Small plants normally cost under $10, while plants of flowering size would cost from $25 upwards. Stanhopeas are available by mail order from Warrnambool Orchids, 32 Riverview Terrace, Warrnambool, VIC, 3280. Telephone (03) 5562 3753. Fax (03) 5561 2433. Catalogue available. Contact your local Orchid Society, they have plants for sale or to swap, and they will help with advice on cultivation.
Barney Greer has written a book called The Astonishing Stanhopea. It’s available by mail order from the Australian Orchid Foundation, 107 Roberts Street, Essendon, VIC, 3040. The cost is $25, plus $3 postage.