1. Family: Orchidaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Phalaenopsis Blume
      1. Phalaenopsis amabilis (L.) Blume

        Orchids (Orchidaceae) are the largest family of flowering plants, and there are over 50 species of Phalaenopsis alone. The genus name is derived from the Greek phalaino (moth), and opsis (appearance), referring to the moth-like flowers of some species.


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    The moth orchid was one of the first orchids to be described from the Far East and its hybrids are now popular as houseplants.

    Orchids (Orchidaceae) are the largest family of flowering plants, and there are over 50 species of Phalaenopsis alone. The genus name is derived from the Greek phalaino (moth), and opsis (appearance), referring to the moth-like flowers of some species.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Phalaenopsis amabilis can be found from the Philippines, Borneo, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea into Australia (Queensland).


    There are usually 3–5 broad dark green leaves, which are thick and leathery, measuring up to 50 cm long and 10 cm wide, and set in opposite rows. Thick fleshy roots arise from the basal (lower) part of the often pendulous stem. Flowering stems grow from the base of the leaves and are branched, up to 1 m long, with many white flowers, each lasting several weeks or until pollinated. The dorsal sepal is elliptic and blunt, whereas lateral sepals are ovate and pointed. Petals are rounded, narrow at the base, and up to 4.5 cm long. The lip has three lobes. The side lobes are rounded like the petals and the basal lobe is cross-shaped with two long whip-like tails or tendrils curling up from the tip.

    Name changes

    During the 250 years or more that this orchid has been in cultivation, it has undergone several name changes and was not called Phalaenopsis amabilis until the 19th century.

    It was originally described (as Angraecum albus majus) from the island of Amboina in Indonesia by the German-Dutch botanist Georg Eberhard Rumphius in 1750. A herbarium specimen, collected in Java by the Swedish explorer Pehr Osbeck in 1752, was renamed Epidendrum amabile by Linnaeus in 1753, and the species was finally transferred to the new genus Phalaenopsisby the botanist Carl Ludwig Blume in 1825.

    Threats and conservation

    Although Phalaenopsis amabilis has yet to be evaluated according to recent IUCN Red List criteria, one of its subspecies, P. amabilissubsp. rosenstromiiis classified Endangered in Queensland and is listed as such by the Queensland Government in the Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation 2006. This subspecies occurs in several National Parks within the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site but is potentially threatened by illegal collecting.

    All orchids are listed on Appendix I or II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which makes it an offence to trade this species between countries without a permit.


    Phalaenopsis amabilis is cultivated as an ornamental and has been used by breeders to produce many hybrids and cultivars. It is officially recognised as one the national flowers of Indonesia.

    This species at Kew

    A moth orchid can be seen in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

    Pressed and dried, and alcohol-preserved specimens of Phalaenopsis amabilis are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these, including images, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

    View details and images of specimens

    The botanical artist Marianne North depicted Phalaenopsis amabilis in her painting Malayan Moth Orchid and an American Climber (see image, above), which can be seen in the Marianne North Gallery.

    John Day’s orchid paintings

    John Day (1824-1888) was an English orchid grower who also painted hundreds of exquisite watercolours of the newly discovered orchids that were introduced to Victorian society. These watercolours were presented to Kew after his death and are now in the Kew archives.

    A selection of paintings, including one of Phalaenopsis amabilis, was published in A Very Victorian Passion: The Orchid Paintings of John Day 1863-1888.

    Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines
    Epiphytic on tree trunks, branches and rocks in lowland tropical rain forest.
    Species as a whole has not been evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria, but P. amabilis subsp. rosenstromii is Endangered in Queensland. Listed in Appendix II of CITES.

    None known.



    Found In:

    Bismarck Archipelago, Borneo, Jawa, Lesser Sunda Is., Maluku, New Guinea, Philippines, Queensland, Sulawesi, Sumatera, Vietnam

    Common Names

    Moth orchid

    Phalaenopsis amabilis (L.) Blume appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    New Guinea 32695.000
    Cuming [s.n.], Philippines K000395467 Unknown type material
    Lamb, A. [K64] 48475.000
    Lamb, A. [AL120/83], Sabah 72711.000
    Giles, C. [796], Malaysia 37367.000
    Philippines 51513.000
    Burbidge, F.W.T. [s.n.] K000891352
    s.coll. [s.n.] K000891353
    s.coll. [s.n.] K000891354
    s.coll. [s.n.] K000891355
    s.coll. [s.n.] K000891356
    Forman, L.L. [338] 29564.000
    s.coll. [s.n.] K000891357
    s.coll. [1148], Borneo K000891358

    First published in Bijdr. Fl. Ned. Ind.: 294 (1825)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] Wood, J.J., Beaman, T.E., Lamb, A., Lun, C.C. & Beaman, J.H. (2011) The Orchids of Mount Kinabalu 2: 1-726. Natural history publications (Borneo), Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
    • [4] Govaerts, R. (2003) World Checklist of Monocotyledons Database in ACCESS . The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


    • [2] World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). Phalaenopsis amabilis. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [3] Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • [5] Christenson, E. A. (2001). Phalaenopsis: a Monograph. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
    • [6] Radcliffe-Smith, A. (1998). Three-language List of Botanical Name Components. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [7] Briggs, J. D. & Leigh, J. H. (1996). Rare or Threatened Australian Plants. 4th edition. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.
    • [8] Brummitt, R. K. & Powell, C. E. (1996). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [9] Bechtel, H., Cribb, P. & Launert, E. (1992). The Manual of Cultivated Orchid Species. 3rd edition. Blandford Press, Poole.


    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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