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Angraecum sesquipedale
ENCYCLOPÆDIA
ANGRÆCORUM
Angraecum sesquipedale
Angraecum sesquipedale

Genus Angraecum

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Photo courtesy Serge Prouteau    
Angraecum sesquipedale

Kingdom

Plantae

Division

Magnoliophyta

Class

Liliopsida

Order

Asparagales

Family

Orchidaceae

Subfamily

Vandoïdeae Endlicher

Tribe

Vandaeae Lindley

Subtribe

Angraecinae Summerhayes

Alliance

Angraecum

Genus

Angraecum

Genus Abreviation

Angcm

Section

Angraecum

Species

Angraecum sesquipedale

Common Name

Star of Bethlehem Orchid
Christmas Star Orchid
Comet Orchid
Rocket Orchid

Authority

Thou. 1822

Source

Orch. Afr. tt. 66 et 67

Synonyms

Aeranthes sesquipedalis (Thou.) Lindl. (1824)
Macroplectrum sequipedale (Thou.) Pfitzrer (1889)
Angorchis sesquipedalis (Thou.) Kuntze (1891)
Mystacidium sesquipedale (Thou.) Rolfe (1904)

Etymology

lat. sesquipedale = 1 1/2 foot

Distribution

E. Madagascar lowland forests

Altitude

0 to 100 m

Life Form

Epiphytic chamaephyte, lithophyte, sometimes semi-terrestrial

Flowers

 

Flowering time

Madagascar: June to November

Fragrance

The fresh-floral scent develops over 3-4 nights

Culture

Strong light, Hothouse

When studying Angraecum sesquipedale, Charles Darwin theorised that, since the nectar was at the bottom of the spur, a pollinator must exist with a tongue at least as long as the spur. Otherwise the orchid could never be pollinated. At the time, he was not believed. However, long after Darwin's death, the predicted pollinator was discovered, a hawk moth now named Xanthopan morganii praedicta (praedicta meaning predicted). It had an appropriately long proboscis. This was a perfect example of mutual dependence of an orchid and a specific pollinator.

Angraecum sesquipedale has a nectar tube of 25-30 cm (10-12 in.) in length with only the distal end filled with nectar. Charles Darwin postulated that there must be an as yet undiscovered moth with a proboscis cabable of extending to 11 in.(28 cm) that visits this flower. This moth (Xanthopan morgani praedicta) was 'discovered' over 41 years later in 1903 even though its existence had been postulated earlier.

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Angraecum sesquipedale
Angraecum sesquipedale in terrestrial position
Photo courtesy Dominique Karadjoff
 
Xanthopan morgani pradicta pollicating Angraecum sesquipedale
Xanthopan morgani praedicta
pollinating A. sesquipedale
 
 
Angraecum sesquipedale watercolour from the John Day scrapbook

A man with a passion, John Day painted hundreds of exquisite watercolours of the newly discovered orchids that were entrancing Victorian society. These flowers, ranging from the elegant to the curious, were given added appeal by tales of exotic lands, eventful plant hunting missions and resourceful collectors. The result is a stunning archive of orchid illustrations, 280 of which have been selected for reproduction in a superb book, A Very Victorian Passion: The Orchid Paintings of John Day. The history, background, and botany of the orchids depicted is introduced and thoroughly explored by leading authorities, Philip Cribb and Michael Tibbs.

Page 39 of the John Day scrapbook
Angraecum sesquipedale watercolour from the John Day scrapbook  
Page 40 of the John Day scrapbook