Eulophia is a pantropical orchid genus with over 200 species distributed worldwide but predominantly in Africa and continental Asia! They are almost entirely terrestrial, rarely epiphytic or lithophytic, differing greatly from those terrestrial orchids found in the temperate zones in terms of temperature tolerance and growth habit during dormant phase.
Eulophia can be abundant in frost-free areas in the Middle East, Asia, Australia, some Pacific Islands and the Americas. This is especially so, since some of these species are adapted to the extreme climatic conditions of the desert, a rare quality in orchids adding significance to their prestige of being a hardy plant. They thrive on plenty of sun and warmth, with water and energy storage reserves that enable them to endure the severe drought to which all African plants are exposed, evolving along the lines of the Adenium and Pachypodium.
Eulophia petersii is an extremely succulent orchid that grows in the arid habitats from sub-saharan Africa all the way to the southern Arabian Peninsula. Anecdotes from plant explorers indicated that this species can grow in unusual environments i.e. on arid coral cliffs which were covered by low thorn scrubs, a few metres from the sea shores and thereby exposed to salt spray and strong winds. Nonetheless, this orchid seems to be at ease under these trying conditions.
A drought-resistant orchid, Eulophia petersii stores water in its large pseudobulbs, thick rigid leaves, and fleshy roots. It has developed a thick leathery outer cuticle to protect its fleshy interior from predation of thirsty animals. The leaves resemble those of Agave, tough, thick with serrated edges, and could easily slice a rockmelon. It even comes with a spine at the end, which may serve to deter large herbivores. When in bloom, vigorous plants with large clumps produce tall branching spikes emerging from the base of the fat pseudobulbs, often bearing hundreds of unusual musky-scented blooms with frilly lips that last for months. Some flower spikes reportedly grow up to 2.4m in height.
The name of the Eulophia genus is derived from the Greek word eu for ‘true’ or ‘good’ and lophos for ‘plume’, alluding to the hairs or crests on the lip which some species exhibit. Eulophia petersii features a three-lobed lip and narrow sepals that are longer and thinner than their striped petals.
Though Eulophia petersii is widely distributed, it is not easy to find them in the wild and they are rare in cultivation. So come down to Flower Dome’s The Baobabs area, to catch a glimpse of this uncommon orchid in rare bloom!
Written by: Ziana Yacob, Manager (Research and Horticulture)
Ziana's fascination with the many wonders of plants led her to study Horticulture. She has been involved in propagating plants and nurturing our in-house orchid collections. Keeping plants alive is a challenge and she's constantly learning about what she should or shouldn't be doing!