Reprinted from the April
1996 issue of Orchids -- The magazine of the
American Orchid Society
FEW ORCHID FLOWERS ARE
AS STRIKING AS THOSE of Cymbidiella, which
has three species endemic to Madagascar. They are
noteworthy for being endowed with a stunning
labellum. The scarlet lips of Cymbidiella
pardalina (syn. Cymla. rhodochila) and
Cymbidiella fiabellata and the
black-marked lip of Cymbidiellafalcigera (syn.
Cymla. humblotti) contrast vividly with
light green sepals and petals. Interestingly, two
of the species in this genus are quite
host-specific, while the third is restricted to
The cultural requirements of Cymbidiella
are relatively simple. Cymbidiella
pardalina and Cymla. falcigera require
different cultural treatment from Cymla.
fiabellata, as they differ significantly in
their respective natural environments. All three
cymbidiellas need high humidity and high heat
throughout the year. Cymbidiellas do not have a
distinct cooling off or dry period and should not
be exposed to temperatures below about 59 F (15
C). The light requirements differ slightly
between species. Cymbidiella pardalina and
Cymla. falcigera do best in medium light
(1,000 to 2,000 foot-candles); moderate shade
should be given as the leaves seem fairly prone
to scorching. Cymbidiella fiabellata, which
naturally inhabits shady bogs, requires slightly
more shade than the other two cymbidiellas.
Feed and water all cymbidiellas
copiously as they are robust and vigorous
growers. Cymbidiella pardalina and Cymla.
falcigera, both large epiphytes, need to be
potted in large wooden slat baskets (preferably 6
to 10 inches) using a porous potting medium such
as osmunda or tree-fern fiber. Cymbidiella
fiabellata does not require a well-draining
medium; actually, it prefers a moist medium.
Sphagnum moss is an excellent potting medium for Cymla.
fiabellata because sphagnum retains moisture.
A little humus might be added to the sphagnum.
Grow Cymla. fiabellata in a large pot.
Allow substantial pot room for all three species
as they can be rampant growers.
The cultural requirements of
cymbidiellas are not demanding and are
comparatively easy with a single exception:
repotting. Cymbidiellas are extremely intolerant
of root disturbance, perhaps more so than most
orchids a grower might ever encounter. All three
cymbidiellas have a notorious habit of refusing
to bloom for several years if hastily or
carelessly repotted. It is best to minimize root
disturbance as much as possible. Success can only
be obtained through diligent, careful repotting.
When early growers of cymbidiellas expressed
dismay after their orchids refused to bloom year
after year, it was probably not because of the
growers' poor cultivation techniques but rather
because they unknowingly had failed to repot
carefully. The problem of root disturbance should
not deter an orchid grower from at least
attempting to cultivate these orchids.
It is important to note that
cymbidiellas are not grown with the same
conditions as afforded to cymbidiums. Just
because they carry their name, do not assume
similar cultural requirements. However, treat
cymbidiellas as cymbidiums with respect to
treatment of disease. Watch out for fungal
disease, especially on imported plants of Cyrnla.
falcigera and Cymla. fiabellata. Dip
cut rhizomes into an anti-fungicide powder
immediately after importation. Watch for thrips
and mealybugs on the buds and the blossoms of Cymla.
The taxonomy of Cymbidiella is
confusing and not fully resolved. Some orchid
taxonomists place Cymbidiella in the
Cymbidiinae subtribe; others place Cymbidiella
in the Cyrtopodiinae. The most recent
placement of Cymbidiella is in the
Cyrtopodiinae subtribe as Cyrnbidiella is
much more closely allied to Cyrtopodiinae genera Eulophiella
and Grammangis than to Cymbidium. In
1976, Leslie Garay, PhD, wrote a revision of Cymbidiella
species in the Orchid Digest, in which
he maintained there are three species. However,
Garay changed the species nomenclature of two
species, pointing out Cymla. pardalina is
the correct name for Cymla. rhodochila and
Cymla. falcigera is the correct name for Cymla.
In 1885, Reichenbach described
two species of Grammangis, another related
Madagascan genus, as Grammangis pardalina and
Grammangis falcigera. Upon examinations of
dried specimens, Garay revealed that G.
pardalina and G. falcigera are
actually cospecific with Cymla. rhodochila and
Cymla. humblotti, respectively, which were
described by Rolfe in 1918. It is orchid
taxonomists' etiquette that the earlier described
species nomen -- pardalina and falcigera --take
precedence over the later described nomen -- rhodochila
and humblotti. Confusion arises
because almost throughout their entire
cultivation and in literature, these two
cymbidiellas have been known as Cymla.
rhodochila and Cymla. humblotti and
not Cymla. pardalina and Cymla.
falcigera, respectively. Hybrids continue to
be registered in the old nomenclature of Rolfe.
As of the present, there are three species: Cymla.
falcigera, Cymla. fiabellata and Cymla.
pardalina. The etymology of Cymbidiella is
a diminutive of Cymbidium because of the
superficial resemblance of their flowers to the
flowers of Cymbidium species.
Cymbidiella pardalina (Rchb.f.)
Nomenclature: The correct
name of this species is Cymbidiella
pardalina; however, the species nomen rhodochila
is better known in horticulture. The
species nomen rhodochila "red-lipped"
refers to the prominent red labellum of this
rhodochila (Rolfe, 1918), Cymbidium
rhodochila (Rolfe, 1904), Grammangis
pardalina (Reichenbach, 1885).
pardalina is a medium-large epiphyte.
Pseudobulbs are 7.5 to 12 cm tall,
oblong-conical, green, turning a dark
purplish-brown color as they mature. A mature
growth bears five to 10 dark green arching
flexible, distichous, linear loriform leaves,
which range from 65 to 100 cm long and from 1.5
to 2 cm wide. The green inflorescence, 40 to 100
cm tall and 5 to 9 mm in diameter, arises from
the base of the mature pseudobulbs. A mature
growth typically bears two inflorescences. The
raceme carries up to 20 or more large flowers,
though usually much less. Floral pedicels, formed
around the inflores-cences over a period of a
month, are 7 to 8 cm long. Bracts are green,
lanceolate acute and reflexed. Flowers are 8 to
10 cm in diameter, although many specimens have
slightly smaller flowers. Flowers are long
lasting, showy and open over a period of a month.
Sepals are 1.2 to 1.4 cm in width and 3.7 to 4.5
cm in length. Sepals are light green, oblong
lanceolate, and narrowed basally, thick, fleshy
and of substance. Petals are obovate elliptic,
erect, concave, larger basally than apically, but
thinner than the sepals. Petals are light green
and are covered with purplish-black spots. Petals
are 3.5 to 4.0 cm in length, 1.7 to 1.9 cm in
diameter. The lip is trilobed, 3 cm in width and
3 cm in length. The mid lobe is flabellate,
large, prominent, bright crimson with a yellow
stripe running through the median, spotted with
black. Margins are usually undulate. The mid lobe
is variable in both size and color. Lateral lobes
are sub-erect, light green spotted with
purplish-black. Column is .8 cm in width, 1 cm
tall, and the foot is .3 to .4 cm in width and .4
to .5 cm in length.
Endemic to Madagascar, Cymla. pardalina is
a highly specialized epiphyte, living exclusively
on the stag-horn fern Platycerium
madagascariense. Platycerium madagascariense itself
is a peculiar staghorn fern because its basal
fronds are modified to become rounded and deeply
furrowed with elevated ridges, hence its nickname
"waffle staghorn." It is on these
modified basal fronds that Cymla. pardalina resides.
Interestingly, Platycerium madagascariense is
also a host-specific epiphyte, living exclusively
on the tall tree Albizzia fastigata.
Cymbidiella pardalina lives in the eastern
forests of Madagascar in the region of Perinet,
at an elevation of 1,970 to 2,625 feet (600 to
800 m). Cymbidiella pardalina is of
considerable rarity in its native habitat.
Special Cultivation Cymbidiella
pardalina is actually a surprisingly easy
plant to grow. It does not need to be mounted on
the Platycerium to achieve successful
cultivation, especially if the orchid has been
raised artificially from seed. Some growers,
however, report that this orchid thrives even
better when grown together with the Platycerium.
If you have the opportunity to obtain the
rare Platycerium madagascariense, then you
should probably consider growing them together. Platycerium
madaga-scariense is in its own right a
particularly handsome staghorn fern. One benefit
of mounting Cymla. pardalina on the Platycerium
is that repotting is minimized. Cymbidiella
pardalina does better in an acidic medium.
Germination of this cymbidiella is difficult, and
removal of the plantlets from flask is tricky,
since the brittle roots of the plantlets are
usually greatly tangled among each other in the
flask. One reminder: the pseudobulbs of Cymla.
pardalina turn purplish-black as they mature.
Do not remove them thinking they are dead; they
are alive and functioning. In Madagascar, this
orchid blooms from November to December, and in
the Northern Hemisphere it blooms from May to
June, occasionally into July.
General Comments Although
the so-called "scarlet cymbidium" is
quite rare in cultivation, it is not entirely
unfamiliar to many orchid growers. It has been
sporadically cultivated through the years. A
blooming-size plant is difficult to obtain in the
United States, although it is possible to obtain
seedlings. This orchid is in serious threat of
extinction because of its rarity in its habitat,
its popularity in its own native Madagascar, and
its popularity among orchid growers throughout
the world. Fortunately, growers have recently
produced many flasks of Cymla. pardalina. For
those growers looking for a possible
award-winning species, this is the one. A
specimen of Cymla. pardalina in full bloom
is a magnificent sight, commanding attention with
its bold and strikingly beautiful flowers. This
orchid, after becoming more readily obtainable,
will undoubtedly assume immense popularity with
the orchid enthusiast. Not only is Cymla.
pardalina the loveliest cymbidiella, it is
the easiest to grow.
Conservation One of the
most interesting aspects of this fascinating
genus is the fact that each species has such a
specific, but different, host. Cymbidiella
pardalina, for example, lives exclusively on
a very rare staghorn fern, Platycerium
madagascariense, which itself resides on only
one particular species of tree, Albizzia
fastigata. Not only is this particular
staghorn fern rare, but not every fern carries
the orchid. Many orchid collectors who have
collected in Madagascar report that Cymla.
pardalina is one of the rarer orchid species
on the island.
falcigera (Rchb.f.) Garay (1976)
Nomenclature: The correct
name is Cymbidiellafalcigera, but it
has been known throughout its entire
cultivation as Cymla. humblotti. Named
after H. Humblot, a French collector of
humblotti (Rolfe, 1918), Caloglossum
humblotti (Schlechter, 1918), Cymbidium
humblotti (Rolfe, 1892), Grammangis
falcigera (Reichenbach, 1885).
is an epiphyte in its native habitat,
where it grows on the palm Raphia
falcigera is a large epiphyte. Pseudobulbs,
up to 30.0 cm tall, are cylindrical and closely
set. Leaves, from seven to 40, cover the
pseudobulbs and are arranged in a graceful fan.
Leaves are loriform, lanceolate, 25 to 60 cm long
and 2.5 to 3 cm broad. The inflorescence, usually
80 cm long, is paniculate, erect and emerges from
bases of the pseudobulbs. Peduncles covered by
seven to nine brownish sheaths. Floral bracts are
brown and lanceolate. Flowers are large, showy,
waxy, 8 cm in diameter and very long lasting.
Sepals, 4.5 cm long and 1 cm wide, are
lanceolate-acute, thick and keeled near the
median. Petals, 4 cm long and 1.5 cm wide, are
oval lanceolate, acute, and are thinner than the
sepals. Sepals and petals are pale green, but are
not spotted. Labellum is triblobed, 3 cm in
width, 4 cm long. Mid lobe is 1.6 cm wide, thick,
fleshy, and its margins are undulately crisped.
Mid lobe is pale green with a yellow stripe
running through the median. The mid lobe is
margined and maculate with blackish-purple and
has one bilamellate callus. The lateral lobes are
ovate, erect and obtuse. Column is 1 cm long and
the foot is .4 cm long.
species is endemic to Madagascar. It is a
specialized epiphyte, growing almost exclusively
on the palm Raphia ruffia, which is the
source of raffia twine. Cymbidiella falcigera is
only occasionally seen inhabiting the other
common raphia palms of Madagascar. It resides
only on the trunk of the palm. Cymbidiella
falcigera grows to become a substantially
sized plant, the long rhi-zomes winding down and
around the trunk of the palm. Although it is a
host-specific orchid, like Cymla. pardalina, it
is relatively common. Cymbidiella falcigera lives
at an elevation of sea level to 1,310 feet (0 to
400 m) widespread in the forests of eastern
Madagascar and the adjacent small islands.
Specific Cultivation Fortunately,
Cymla. falcigera does not need to be
mounted on the large raphia palm to survive in
cultivation. Nevertheless, Cymla. falcigera has
shown a remarkable tendency to resent
transplantation from the wild into cultivation
for two main reasons. One is that cut rhizomes
often get infected with fungal disease. Another
is that the roots of Cymla. falcigera dry
out quickly once cut, and as a consequence the
whole plant desiccates and dies. It is difficult
to successfully collect a plant from the wild and
establish it in cultivation. The most feasible
way to cultivate Cymla. falcigera is
through seed-grown plants. Otherwise, the
cultural treatment of this cymbidiella is similar
to that of Cymla. pardalina. Cymbidiella
falcigera can take more light than the other
two Cymbidiella species. Cymbidiella
falcigera, a rampant grower with large
leaves, is not an orchid for the small or crowded
greenhouse. This cymbidiella blooms from December
to January in Madagascar and from June to July in
the Northern Hemisphere.
General Comments Cymbidiella
falcigera, the black orchid of Madagascar, is
a lovely orchid with a splendid black-marked lip.
This orchid is virtually absent from cultivation,
however, and is the most difficult cymbidiella to
obtain. The foliage of Cymla. falcigera is
superb, forming large arching, graceful fans. Cymbidiella
falcigera produces a wealth of flowers, as
the number of flowers on a mature specimen can
easily reach more than 50, sometimes as much as a
hundred blooms on a branched inflorescence. It
deserves substantially more interest and
cultivation, as its flowers possess a truly
flabellata (Thou.) Rolfe (1918)
Nomenclature: The species
nomen fiabellata "fan-shaped"
refers to the widely fan-shaped midlobe of
perrieri (Schlechter, 1925), Caloglossum
flabellatum (Schlechter, 1918), Cymbidium
flabellatum (Sprenger, 1826), Limodorum
fiabellatum (du Petit Thouars, 1822). Cymbidiella
perrieri is considered by some
taxonomists to be a separate species because
of several distinct floral differences (more
red spots, wider labellum, thicker column,
shorter foot), but it is most likely one
variation of the widespread and variable Cymla.
flabellata bears several
flowers to an inflorescence.
Description A tall
terrestrial, this species ranges from I to 1.5 m
in height. The leaves are narrow,
lingulate-loriform and are acute. The leaves are
20 to 50 cm long and 1.7 to 2 cm in width. The
pseudobulbs, 8 to 10 cm high, are covered by five
to 98 of these leaves, and are spread out on a
thin wiry rhizome 6 to 8 mm in diameter. The
inflorescence, usually longer than the leaves, is
up to 1.5 m tall, usually less. A raceme, 10 to
15 cm long, contains from 10 to 30 flowers,
though usually about 15. Floral bracts are
lanceDlate-acute. Flowers are fragrant, long
lasting, with heavy substance and 5 to 5.5 cm
long. The sepals are oblong, sub-acute, 1.5 to 2
cm. Petals are similar to sepals, but are shorter
and more obtuse. Sepals and petals are both
yellowish green with the petals spotted with red
in varying degrees. The lip is trilobed, obovate,
1.4 to 1.8 cm wide and 1.5 to 2 cm long,
yellowish-green, heavily spotted and bordered in
bright red. The lateral lobes are erect, obtuse
and small. The median lobe is greatly
obovate-flabelliform, excised to the point of
being nearly bilobed. The median lobe is
undulate-plicate marginally and has a bilamellate
callus. Column is .8 to 1 cm long and the short
foot is only I to 3 mm long.
Habitat Endemic to Madagascar, Cymla.
fiabellata is a specialized terrestrial,
growing normally in sphagnum moss, and usually in
the shade of a species of Phillipa, a
heatherlike shrub. Cymbidiella fiabellata is
occasionally found growing in humus without the
company of sphagnum. A widespread and variable
species, Cymla. fiabellata inhabits the
wet rocks and sand of shady bogs, frequently near
the edges of brackish lagoons near the coast, and
also on the edges of inland streams. Notably, Cymla.
fiabellata grows in places where the soil is
continually moist. Cymbidiella fiabellata lives
at an elevation of sea level to 3,940 feet (0 to
1,200 m), but usually is found near sea level. It
is widespread in range, but occurs sporadically,
growing more abundantly in some areas than
Specific Cultivation Cymbidiella
fiabellata, although looking very much like a
terrestrial, lives in sphagnum moss, either on
sand or on wet rocks. This orchid has different
cultural requirements than the other two
cymbidiellas. Important cultural tips are:
· Grow in moist sphagnum (with
some humus), preferably in a pot.
· Repot carefully and give substantial room in a
pot for its growth.
· Provide medium light with more shade given
than for the other two cymbidiellas.
Like Cymla. falcigera,
Cymla. flabellata has been shown to resent
transplantation from the wild. This orchid blooms
from September to February in Madagascar and from
March to August in the Northern Hemisphere.
General Comments Although
the flowers of Cymla. fiabellata are quite
charming and closely resemble those of Cymla.
pardalina, their smaller size makes them less
desirable. The orchid is well worth cultivating,
considering its floriferous habit, sometimes
containing as many as 35 flowers on a 5-foot
spike. The flowers of Cymla. fiabellata have
a frilled red lip. This species has the
distinction of being fragrant, possessing a
strong fragrance of sweet vanilla. Cymbidiella
fiabellata has been sporadically cultivated,
unlike Cymla. falcigera, which is
virtually uncultivated, but is difficult to
obtain in the United States.
Hybrid Potential Cymbidiella
species offer many desirable qualities for
hybridizing, especially for indirect hybridizing
with cymbidiums. As yet, however, cymbidiella is
a genetically isolated genus, since it cannot
hybridize with the cymbidiums. Alex Hawkes
suggested that some Madagascan genera, such as Eulophiella,
may be a connecting link between Cymbidiella
and Cymbidium. Interspecific
hybridization offers much potential and, to my
knowledge, only one hybrid has been registered,
this being Cymbidiella Kori Dingeman (pardalina
[rhodochila] x fiabellata). It was registered
by Dr. Martin Orenstein in 1982. A hybrid between
Cymla. pardalina and Cymla. falcigera has
been made, although it has not been yet
registered. It bears a multitude of many light
green flowers with dark red lips. Cymbidiella
pardalina has been used in two intergeneric
crosses. Eulophiella roempleriana crossed
with Cymla. pardalina yielded Eulocymbidiella
Susan Orenstein, registered by Dr. Martin
Orenstein in 1981. Graphorkis scripta was
crossed with Cymla. pardalina to produce Graphiella
Martialine and was registered in 1988 by J.
B. Castilion. Both interspecific and intergeneric
hybridization have not been fully explored.
Cymbidiella has only
occasionally been brought to the judges' table. Cymbidiella
pardalina is an award winner. Cymbidiella
fiabellata has won a couple of awards but Cymla.
falcigera has never, to my knowledge, been
brought for judging.
without a doubt some of the most beautiful orchid
species in the world. When orchid growers become
better aware of this fascinating genus, further
attempts will be made to cultivate these lovely
orchids. Few orchids have such striking and
beautiful flowers as those of the Cymbidiella species.
Bechtel,H., P. Cribb, and E.
Launert. 1981. The Manual of Cultivated Orchid
Species. MIT Press, Cambridge.
Garay, Leslie A. 1976. The
Cultivated Species of Cymbidiella. Orchid
Graf, Alfred B. 3rd Edition.
1986. Tropica. Roehrs Company, East
Hawkes, A. D. 1965. Encyclopedia
of Cultivated Orchids. Faber and Faber,
Hillerman, Fred E., and A. W.
Holst. 1986. An Introduction to the Cultivated
Angraecoid Orchids of Madagascar. Timber
Kennedy, George C. 1972. Notes
on the Genera Cymbidiella and Eulophiella
of Madagascar. Orchid Digest 36:120-122.
Lecoufle, Marcel. 1966. Orchids
of Madagascar. Proceedings of the 5th World
Orchid Conference. Pg. 233-237.
Perrier de La Bathie, H., and
H. Humbert, ed. 1981. Flora of Madagascar. English
Edition. Beckman, Lodi.
Porringer, Mollie. 1982.
African Orchids-Cyrtorchis and Cymbidiella.
Orchid Review 90:228-229.
Stewart, J., and B. Campbell.
1970. Orchids of Tropical Africa. A. S.
Barnes and Company, New York.
I am indebted to Marcel
Lecoufle for not only his excellent photographs
but also for the information he provided me
regarding the Cymbidiella species.
Christopher N. Herndon last
wrote about Eulophiella in the February Orchids.
He is a member of the San Diego Orchid
Society. · 11044 Red Rock Drive, San Diego,