Despite the extensive journeys of explorers and plant hunters within
Africa during Victorian times, African orchids never achieved the
enormous popularity of those from the rainforests of the Americas
and South-East Asia. The African tropics have an orchid flora of
just 2500 species in total, and few of them are as stunning as those
from other tropical areas. In contrast, the island of Madagascar
has about 1000 different orchid species, many of them found wild
nowhere else in the world. One of the most astonishing is the comet
orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale), with its spur that reaches
over 30 cm in length.
Some of the earliest African orchids to be successfully cultivated
in Europe came from the Cape region of South Africa. These were
terrestrial species, which tend to predominate in temperate regions.
The best known of these is the red-flowered ‘Pride of Table
Mountain’, Disa uniflora, which grows in damp grassland
or on stream banks.
Kew has traditionally had a substantial number of African orchids
in cultivation, reflecting its active research programme on the
tropics of East and West Africa. As one element of Kew’s interest
in studying and conserving the flora of Madagascar, an annotated
checklist of the orchids of that island has recently been completed.
Continuing work covers in-depth surveys of selected Madagascan orchid
Europe and Afro-Madagascar >>>