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.

[KSP]

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).

Description

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 Phalaenopsis by 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. amabilis subsp. rosenstromii is 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.

Uses

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.

The botanical artist Marianne North depicted Phalaenopsis amabilis in her painting Malayan Moth Orchid and an American Climber , 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 .

Distribution
Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines
Ecology
Epiphytic on tree trunks, branches and rocks in lowland tropical rain forest.
Conservation
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.
Hazards

None known.

[KSP]
Use
Ornamental.

Native to:

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

English
Moon Orchid, Moth orchid

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

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status Has image?
13741.000 No
13742.000 No
14240.000 No
14241.000 No
14243.000 No
22249.000 No
Forman, L.L. [338] 29564.000 No
New Guinea 32695.000 No
Giles, C. [796], Malaysia 37367.000 No
Lamb, A. [K64] 48475.000 No
Philippines 51513.000 No
Lamb, A. [AL120/83], Sabah 72711.000 No
Cuming [s.n.], Philippines K000395467 Unknown type material Yes
s.coll. [1148], Borneo K000891358 Yes
s.coll. [s.n.] K000891356 Yes
s.coll. [s.n.] K000891357 Yes
s.coll. [s.n.] K000891354 Yes
s.coll. [s.n.] K000891353 Yes
Burbidge, F.W.T. [s.n.] K000891352 Yes
s.coll. [s.n.] K000891355 Yes

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

Accepted by

  • Govaerts, R. (2003). World Checklist of Monocotyledons Database in ACCESS: 1-71827. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Ormerod, P. (2017). Checklist of Papuasian Orchids: 1-494. Nature & Travel Books, Australia.
  • 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.

Literature

Kew Species Profiles

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

  • Art and Illustrations in Digifolia

    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew

  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

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

  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. 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 Living Collection Database

    Common Names from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Living Collection https://www.kew.org/

  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. 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

    Copyright applied to individual images

  • Kew Species Profiles

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