Phalaenopsis pulcherrima (Lindl.) J.J. Sm. (Orchidaceae)
by Mrs. Sarah Nabila Binti Rosli
Phalaenopsis pulcherrima (Lindl.) J.J. Sm. (Orchidaceae)
by Mrs. Sarah Nabila Binti Rosli

Phalaenopsis pulcherrima (Lindl.) J.J. Sm. (formerly known as Doritis pulcherrima Lindl.) is a terrestrial or lithophytic orchid. The genus name, Phalaenopsis, derived from two Greek words meaning ‘resembling a moth’, refers to the moth-like flowers while the specific epithet, pulcherrima derived from Latin adjectives, means ‘most beautiful’. Hence its common name, Beautiful Moth Orchid. It is native in India, throughout Indo-China to China and in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo in Malesia. This orchid is rare in Peninsular Malaysia and is only found in the northern part of Kedah and in Terengganu. Phalaenopsis pulcherrima is a sun-loving species and has been recorded to grow on sandy soil along river banks and also inland or on rocks which are sometimes covered by mosses.

The inflorescence can grow to 60 cm in length with many flowers arranged spirally around the flower stalk (rachis). The flowers are rather showy, wide-open, about 3.3 × 2.5 cm, with reflexed sepals and petals. Usually only 4-7 flowers open at one time. Sepals and petals are white to purplish-pink. Plants from Terengganu have flowers that vary in colour even among individuals within the same population. The lip mid-lobe can be entirely white with purple on the tip or entirely purple whereas the side lobes are white, orange or purple while the base of the lip is white, golden yellow or purple. The column is white to lightly flushed purple and yellow or entirely flushed purple.

The Beautiful Moth Orchid is an attractive and easy-to-grow orchid which is popular with gardeners. Many orchid enthusiasts cultivate it under full sunlight. Although this species is naturally lithophytic, it can also be treated like an epiphyte in cultivation. It can be planted in pots filled with charcoal or wood bark or mounted onto a wooden slab. Spraying foliar fertiliser regularly will ensure that the plants are healthy and free flowering. Since Phalaeonopsis (including P. pulcherrima) is a highly sought after plant group, it is at risk of over-collection. Besides that, habitat destruction is also one of the major causes contributing to its rarity. Therefore, it is important to ensure that its taxonomy is correct and its conservation status assessed so that proper conservation measures can be formulated to prevent its extinction in the wild.

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