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Prosthechea cochleata is valued for the unusual shape of its flowers, which can resemble an octopus (albeit a five-legged one), and is common in cultivation. The name Prosthechea is taken from the Greek for appendage (prostheke), and refers to the appendage on the back of the column of P. glauca, which is the type species for the genus. The shape of the lip, with lines across it, can be seen to resemble a cockleshell. This species can be found in bloom most of the year.

Prosthechea cochleata (cockleshell orchid)

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description
The cockleshell orchid is the National Flower of Belize, where it is known to residents as the black orchid.

Prosthechea cochleata is valued for the unusual shape of its flowers, which can resemble an octopus (albeit a five-legged one), and is common in cultivation. The name Prosthechea is taken from the Greek for appendage (prostheke), and refers to the appendage on the back of the column of P. glauca, which is the type species for the genus. The shape of the lip, with lines across it, can be seen to resemble a cockleshell. This species can be found in bloom most of the year.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

This species occurs throughout Central America, the West Indies, Colombia, Venezuela and southern Florida. Members of the genus Prosthechea are found at elevations ranging from sea level to 2600 m.

Description

The smooth pseudobulbs of Prosthechea cochleata are oblong-discoid in shape. Each pseudobulb bears one to three linear non-succulent leaves, which are clasping at the base. The flowers with their dark hood-like lip and paler dangling sepals and petals, are borne on continuously growing racemes. The flowers are unusual in that they are held the other way up in comparison with the majority of orchids. Instead of being resupinate (twisted so that the lip is borne upside down) the lip is held at the top of the flower (non-resupinate). This species commences flowering in the spring and may continue for up to six months.

Threats and conservation

This species is listed on CITES Appendix II, meaning that trade in this species is controlled to ensure its survival.

Uses

Prosthechea cochleata is the National Flower of Belize. It is frequently grown as an ornamental for its long-lasting flowers. Commercial orchid growers have produced several interspecific and intergeneric hybrids using this species.

Pseudobulbs of Prosthechea cochleata were used in Central America as a source of mucilage (a sticky substance used as an adhesive).

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Six

Cultivation

Prosthechea cochleata is commonly cultivated for its unusual and dramatic, long-lasting flowers, which are borne on continually growing racemes.

This species is cultivated in the Tropical Nursery (one of the behind-the scenes areas) at Kew. Plants are placed in pots which allow for a couple of years' growth. The Kew standard epiphytic orchid mix is used (three parts bark, two parts pumice and one part charcoal) as the substrate. Plants are watered and misted throughout the year, although less water is given when plants are not actively growing. Plants are given as much light as possible during the winter, but shaded from direct sunlight in the summer. The emerging flower buds can be prone to mealy bug infestation. Staking is necessary to obtain straight flower spikes, and to hold plants firmly after re-potting.

Where to see the cockleshell orchid at Kew

This species can sometimes be seen as part of the Tropical Extravaganza Festival at Kew. The dramatic display around the central pond in the Princess of Wales Conservatory can include cockleshell orchids with their octopus-shaped flowers.

The spirit collection, which is housed in the Herbarium (one of the behind-the-scenes areas of Kew) contains two specimens of this species. These alcohol-preserved specimens were collected by Kew staff on expeditions to Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The spirit collection can be searched using the Herbarium Catalogue.

Distribution
Venezuela
Ecology
Epiphytic on trees in moist woodland and swamps. In tropical rainforest this species is often found between 2 and 20 m high on the vertical trunks of large trees, in a micro-habitat above other more shade-tolerant orchids.
Conservation
Not currently rated by the IUCN. Listed on CITES Appendix II.
Hazards

None known.

[CPLC]

Bernal, R., Gradstein, S.R. & Celis, M. (eds.). 2015. Catálogo de plantas y líquenes de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá. http://catalogoplantasdecolombia.unal.edu.co

Distribution
Nativa en Colombia; Alt. 350 - 1200 m.; Guayana y Serranía de La Macarena, Valle del Magdalena.
Morphology General Habit
Hierba, epífita
Conservation
Preocupación Menor

Native to:

Bahamas, Belize, Cayman Is., Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Florida, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Leeward Is., Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Nicaragua, Panamá, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Venezuela, Venezuelan Antilles, Windward Is.

English
Cockleshell orchid

Prosthechea cochleata (L.) W.E.Higgins appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
Jamaica Epidendrum cochleatum 18348.000
Epidendrum cochleatum 18352.000
Mexico Epidendrum cochleatum 20153.000
Epidendrum cochleatum 20164.000
Jamaica Epidendrum cochleatum 20168.000
Mexico Epidendrum cochleatum 21501.000
Jamaica Epidendrum cochleatum 21502.000
Leppard, M.J. [847], Jamaica Epidendrum cochleatum 38158.000
Lewis, G.P. [1829], Cuba Encyclia cochleata 56650.000
Chase, M.W.C. [83065], Dominican Republic Encyclia cochleata 75803.000

First published in Phytologia 82: 377 (1997 publ. 1998)

Accepted by

  • Govaerts, R. (2003). World Checklist of Monocotyledons Database in ACCESS: 1-71827. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Hammel, B.E. & al. (2003). Manual de Plantas de Costa Rica 3: 1-884. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis.
  • Hokche, O., Berry, P.E. & Huber, O. (eds.) (2008). Nuevo Catálogo de la Flora Vascular de Venezuela: 1-859. Fundación Instituto Botánico de Venezuela.
  • Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008). Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas: 1-1576. SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
  • Noguera-Savelli, E. & Cetzal-Ix, W. (2014). Revisión e integración del conocimiento de las Orchidaceae de Tabasco, México Botanical Sciences 92: 519-540.
  • Szlachetko, D.L. (ed.) (2016). Orchids of the Guianas (Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana) 1: 1-461. Koeltz Botanical Books.

Literature

Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia

  • ColPlantA (2021). "ColPlantA. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet; http://www.colplanta.org/"

Kew Species Profiles

  • Hagsater, E. et al. (2005). Orchids of Mexico. Productos Farmaceuticos. p.89.
  • Luer, C.A. (1972). The Native Orchids of Florida. The New York Botanical Garden.
  • McLeish, I., Pearce, N.R. & Adams, B.R. (1995). Native Orchids of Belize. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam.
  • Pridgeon A.M., Cribb, P.J., Chase M.W. & Rasmussen, F.N. (Eds.) (2005). Genera Orchidacearum, Volume 4, Epidendroideae (Part one). Oxford University Press.
  • United States Botanic Garden.

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Hokche, O., Berry, P.E. & Huber, O. (eds.) (2008). Nuevo Catálogo de la Flora Vascular de Venezuela: 1-859. Fundación Instituto Botánico de Venezuela.

Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

Kew Backbone Distributions
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Science Photographs
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0