Eulophia (2009)

By Eric Driskill (July 2009)

The genus Eulopha, which also constitutes the monogeneric alliance Eulophia, includes around 200 species of orchids. It was first described by John Lindley in 1821. The name Eulophia is derived from the Greek words “eu” (well) and “lophos” (plume), referring to the crested ridges of the labellum (lip) in most species.

Members of this genus are usually terrestrial orchids, although some are epiphytes and, rarely, lithophytes. They are distributed in shady rainforests, open scrub or woodland in the tropics and subtropics of Africa; India; Asia; Queensland, Australia; and the Americas, although most are found in Africa. Many can survive the dry season through their large bulbous “corms.”

Some species, such as Eulopha petersii, have adapted to very arid environments and are among the few orchids to have truly evolved into desert species. In a frost-free, semiarid area, Eulophia species such as E. macra, E. petersii and E. plantaginea can be grown outdoors year-round in well-drained pots with cactus/succulent potting mix, as long as they are given ample light through the winter and a drier winter resting period. Warmer growers, such as E. pulchra, E. keithii and possibly even the rare and difficult E. cucullata, the foxglove orchid, can probably be grown outdoors in the warmer areas of Florida and Hawaii.

The deciduous leaves are usually pleated with longitudinal veins. They are green and sheathed at the base. In some species, the leaves may be reduced or have become brown scales. Some are leafless myco-heterotrophs.

The generally large, fleshy underground rhizome indicates a sympodial growth habit, and this makes eulophias fairly easy to divide and propagate, provided the grower is gentle.

The inflorescence arises from the base and grows into a raceme. It is sometimes branched, as in the cases of E. macra and E. petersii. The inflorescences on the species with non-branching spikes can support as many as 50 flowers, but in species with branching inflorescences, up to 150 blooms can occur per spike.

While most Eulophia flowers rarely exceed 2 inches in width, this is often made up for by the sheer abundance of interesting blooms they produce. The sepals and the petals are alike. The lip usually has three lobes. As for all orchids, there are two pollinia for each flower. Eulophias when blooming can reach a height of 6 feet.

In any case, the ease of cultivation and reliability of blooming that many Eulophia species and hybrids demonstrate in captivity, in addition to their unique growth habits, make them generally excellent orchids for amateur orchid collectors and people who like to grow plants with interesting flowers.