Spathoglottis plicata Blume
by Adeline Hii
Spathoglottis plicata Blume
by Adeline Hii

Spathoglottis plicata Blume is a hardy ground orchid that usually grows in the lowlands, on roadsides and other disturbed areas (Ong et al., 2011). It is a very widespread orchid distributed from India to the Pacific Islands (Seidenfaden & Wood, 1992).

It produces a few short fleshy bulb-like stems with each bearing a bunch of leaves. The leaf is about 80 cm long and fairly broad, with numerous narrow parallel pleats or folds, hence the name plicata. The slender flowering stalks which bear a few flowers can grow to 1 m tall. Before the leaves fall and the old bulb dies, new buds will start to grow near the base, producing new stems and new flowers. Hence, S. plicata is perennial; it grows and flowers throughout the year (Seidenfaden & Wood, 1992).

The flower is about 4 cm wide. It has attractive light pink-purple sepals and petals that are similar in size and shape. The lip is ‘T’-shaped and there is a cap at the tip of the column, under which masses of yellow pollen grains can be seen (Seidenfaden & Wood, 1992). Spathoglottis plicata plants can carry out self-fertilization by producing a lot of fluid in the stigma, until the fluid reaches the pollen masses, induces the pollen grains to produce pollen tubes (Forbes, 1885).

After the flower is fertilised, the seeds will take about six weeks to develop, which is unusually quick for orchids (most need 6-12 months to develop). The fruit or capsule is about 3 cm long, green and cylindrical and hangs downwards. When ripe, the capsule splits open and thousands of tiny seeds are carried away by the wind (Seidenfaden & Wood, 1992).

Spathoglottis plicata and its varieties have been cultivated and many horticultural varieties have been described. The typical S. plicata has bright purple flowers. Some have mauve or pale mauve flowers. The rare pure white form is called ‘Penang White’. Due to its hardiness and fast growth, S. plicata is popular for hybridization with other mountain Spathoglottis species that are difficult to grow in the lowlands to produce more interesting varieties. For example, Professor Eric Holttum’s first orchid hybrid, Spathoglottis Primrose is a hybrid of S. plicata and S. aurea. ‘Dwarf Legion’ is a hybrid of S. Primson and S. tomentosa, a dwarf form that produces many colours of flower, from pink to yellow, and pure cream (Holttum, 1964).

To grow S. plicata, the soil must be well-drained and well-aerated, preferably good burnt soil mixed with manure. When planting, the upper part of the ‘bulb’ must be above the soil level. After planting, the plants should be kept under shade for a week or two for the roots to grow, before exposure to full sun. When new growth starts, dilute liquid fertilizer should be applied frequently for healthy plant growth (Sanders, 1940).


  1. Holttum, R.E. (1964). Orchids of Malaya Third Edition. Government Printing Office, Singapore. pp. 759.
  2. Ong, P.T., O'Byrne, P., Yong, W.S.Y. & Saw, L.G. (2011). Wild Orchids of Peninsular Malaysia. Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Malaysia, Malaysia. pp. 196.
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