Orchid Extravaganza: “Big Lip” is Big News

By Greg Griffis and Lee Alyanakian, on

The diversity of the orchid family is in full bloom during Orchid Extravaganza as we celebrate the legacy of our extraordinary orchid collection and present our ever-growing orchid display palette. Every winter, our Conservatory is transformed into a lush oasis of thousands of orchids … and this year brings a new addition to our celebration of the orchid. We’re excited to showcase a beautiful representation of the new and exciting Phalaenopsis “big lip” breeding lines, displayed for the first time here at Longwood.

Nestled into containers in our Silver Garden, Phalaenopsis Yu Pin Easter Island, of a new Phalaenopsis “big lip” breeding line, will be on display throughout the entire Orchid Extravaganza season. While most Phalaenopsis breeding is focused on improving the size, number, color, and pattern of the flowers, it’s rarely focused on trying to change the shape of the flower’s parts. In contrast, this new big lip breeding is in fact focused on changing the shape of the flower’s parts in accordance with the concept of reverse peloricism, in which the orchid lip tries to become a petal.

While peloricism, in which the petals try to become lips, is not an uncommon mutation in the mass production of Phalaenopsis, reverse peloricism is a new, complex mutation that first showed up about 10 years ago in Taiwan. It has taken that long for the market to reliably breed big lip plants, given the complexity of the mutation. A common characteristic of orchids in general is the basic form of the flower, which consists of three petals, one of which has developed into a lip, surrounded by three sepals. In big lip Phalaenopsis, the petal that would normally be the lip is not as differentiated, which can make the flower look much larger and almost iris- or lily-like. Therefore, the lack of development into a lip is significant for these orchids. Come see for yourself!

A close look at Phalaenopsis Yu Pin Easter Island shows its "big lip" charateristic. Photo by Carol Gross. 

While you’re in our Silver Garden to see Phalaenopsis Yu Pin Easter Island, take note of our Silver Garden containers of × Schunkeara orchids, a new en masse addition to our seasonal Conservatory display. Dozens of these intergeneric hybrids of the orchid genera Brassia, Oncidium, Miltonia, and Miltoniopsis are placed in containers in the Silver Garden, alongside those of Phalaenopsis Yu Pin Easter Island and Cattleya.

Intergeneric Oncidium x Schunkeara Big Shot 'Hilo Sparkle', displayed for the first time en masse at Longwood in our Silver Garden, with Cattleya on the right. Photo by Carol Gross.

Popular as corsage flowers in the 20th century, Cattleya serve as the heart of our orchid collection, as well as some of the oldest plants in our orchid collection. The display of Cattleya alongside our new × Schunkeara en masse is not only a beautiful venture, but an exciting one spanning the past, present, and future of our collection.

Of course, our Phalaenopsis Yu Pin Easter Island, × Schunkeara, and Cattleya are only a few of the stunning features that make up our Orchid Extravaganza display. A stroll through our Conservatory will take you past baskets of vibrant purple Phalaenopsis in our East Conservatory to swirls of mauve Phalaenopsis Taida Momoko and yellow-green Phalaenopsis Taida Smile ‘Taida Little Green’ in our Exhibition Hall.

Phalaenopsis Taida Momoko and Phalaenopsis Taida Smile 'Taida Little Green' hug the columns in our Exhibition Hall. Photo by Hank Davis.

You’ll also find yourself beneath cascading Cymbidium Edith McDade ‘New Horizon’ in our Acacia Passage, orbs of mauve Phalaenopsis Taida Momoko overhead our Center Walk, and countless other beauties throughout the Conservatory.

Come explore Orchid Extravaganza, and see the beauty of orchids from every angle, now through March 22.

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