Geography and distribution
Cymbidium hookerianum occurs in the Himalaya of eastern Nepal, Sikkim and Assam in north-eastern India, in Myanmar, and in south-western China, where it occurs in northern Yunnan, south-western Sichuan and south-eastern Xizang (Tibet). It is found between 1,500 and 2,600 m above sea level.
Overview: Cymbidium hookerianum is a perennial, epiphytic or lithophytic herb. It has somewhat bilaterally-flattened, ovoid pseudobulbs, 3-6 cm long and 1.5-3.5 cm wide. Each pseudobulb has 4-8 strap-like leaves with pointed tips, which are up to 80 x 1.4-2.1 cm.
Cymbidium hookerianum in cultivation
Leaves: The leaf bases (which extend 4-10 cm from the pseudobulb) are yellow with clearly defined green stripes.
Flowers: The scape (inflorescence stalk) is up to 70 cm long, and each inflorescence bears 6-15 flowers. The flowers are up to 14 cm in diameter and have a strong, fresh scent. The sepals and petals are uniform apple-green, occasionally lightly shaded with red-brown, with some deep red spots towards the base. The lip of the flower is cream-coloured, becoming greenish at the margin, flushing strong purplish-pink after pollination. The side-lobes have deep maroon spots, and the mid-lobe has a sub-marginal ring of red-brown blotches and spots, and a broken central line of red blotches. The base of the lip is bright yellow with maroon spots.
Fruits: The fruit is a stalked capsule 13 cm long and 4 cm in diameter, with a 2.5 cm long apical beak.
Threats and conservation
Cymbidium hookerianum is vulnerable due to its continued collection for horticultural use, both locally and for export abroad.
Cymbidium hookerianum is one of the large-flowered species that were used in the production of modern Cymbidium hybrids, which are such an important feature of the orchid nursery trade today. The buds of this species, and of the allied C. elegans, are used by the Bhutanese as an ingredient in curries, giving the food a slightly bitter flavour. In India, the seeds are applied to cuts and injuries as a haemostatic.
Grown in an intermediate greenhouse with the temperate maintained at a minimum of 18-20˚C during the day and allowed to drop to a minimum of about 10-12˚C at night.
Cultivated specimens have a tendency to drop their flower buds, or even to fail to form flower spikes, if the growing conditions are too warm. This reflects the cooler climatic conditions in which Cymbidium hookerianum is found in nature. Flowering January to March.
This species at Kew
Cymbidium hookerianum has been cultivated periodically at Kew for over a century. Two alcohol-preserved specimens of this species are held in the Spirit Collection of the Herbarium, one of the behind-the-scenes areas of Kew. The details of these specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.