Cymbidiella pardalina

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 sphagnum-moss bogs.

Cultural Needs

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. humblotti.

Taxonomy of Cymbidiella

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. humblotti.

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.

The Species
Cymbidiella pardalina (Rchb.f.) Garay (1976)

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 species.

Syn: Cymbidiella rhodochila (Rolfe, 1918), Cymbidium rhodochila (Rolfe, 1904), Grammangis pardalina (Reichenbach, 1885).

Description Cymbidiella 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.

Habitat 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.

Cymbidiella 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 Madagascan orchids.

Syn: Cymbidiella humblotti (Rolfe, 1918), Caloglossum humblotti (Schlechter, 1918), Cymbidium humblotti (Rolfe, 1892), Grammangis falcigera (Reichenbach, 1885).

Cymbidiella falcigera
is an epiphyte in its native habitat, where it grows on the palm Raphia ruffia.

Description Cymbidiella 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.

Habitat This 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 striking lip.

Cymbidiella flabellata (Thou.) Rolfe (1918)

Nomenclature: The species nomen fiabellata "fan-shaped" refers to the widely fan-shaped midlobe of the labellum.

Syn: Cymbidiella 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. fiabellata.

Cymbidiella 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 others.

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.

Cymbidiella contains 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 Digest 40:192-193.

Graf, Alfred B. 3rd Edition. 1986. Tropica. Roehrs Company, East Rutherford.

Hawkes, A. D. 1965. Encyclopedia of Cultivated Orchids. Faber and Faber, London.

Hillerman, Fred E., and A. W. Holst. 1986. An Introduction to the Cultivated Angraecoid Orchids of Madagascar. Timber Press, Portland.

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, California 92131.

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