Stelis is one of the many interesting genus of orchids, where you can find flowers of species as large as Stelis maxima, at about 2cm in height, and blooms as minuscule as those of Stelis dapsilis, at only 6mm in height. Species in this genus can be found throughout the American tropics – southwestern Florida, the Lesser Antilles and Mexico through Central America and South America. Consequently, you can find Stelis orchids growing in diverse habitats, from lowland to high elevation cloud forests and páramo (Andean alpine tundra plateaus), at elevations ranging from sea level to as high as 4000m!
Comprising of at least 1050 species, Stelis represents an extensive orchid genus with the possibility of expanding even further, due to many other species yet to be described! Stelis is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘small pillar’, which was used to describe a type of mistletoe by Theophrastus, ‘father of botany’ and successor to Aristotle. However, for Stelis, it is thought to be in reference to its epiphytic habit of most species in this genus.
Stelis dapsilis can be found residing in Pichincha and Carchi provinces of Ecuador, and Antioquia department of Colombia at altitudes of 1000m to 2300m, as a cool to cold-growing caespitose epiphyte, meaning it grows in clumps or tufts on tree trunks and branches.
The inflorescences arise from a loose sheath at the leaf base, with more than five multi-branched inflorescences per leaf base. Thus, when flowering en masse, although the flowers are tiny, they are eye-catching because there are so many! On each inflorescence, there are at least 30 flowers. In fact, its specific epithet, dapsilis, means ‘bountiful’ or ‘plentiful’ in Greek, referring to the hundreds or even thousands of tiny flowers that a single plant can produce!
The flowers of this species are about 3mm across with a height of about 6mm, which is comparable to the size of a match head! Despite their small size, the flowers emit a strong musky scent, making it hard to miss when you walk past it. Come check out this blooming specimen when you are in Cloud Forest! It is mounted on a tree fern on the left side of the path after stepping off the bridge, on the path towards the lift lobby.
Written by: Ng Yu Qin, Horticulturist, Research and Horticulture
Yu Qin is always looking for ways to pick up new skills and put them to use. She spends most of her time with orchids and enjoys learning something new about them every day!