Vappodes phalaenopsis

Distribution Map
Family: Orchidaceae
Distribution: Far north Queensland
Common Name: Cooktown Orchid
Derivation of Name: Vappodes.... from Greek vappo, a moth or butterfly and the suffix -odes, similar to, a reference to the appearance of the flowers
phalaenopsis... similar to the genus Phalaenopsis.
Conservation Status: Not considered to be at risk in the wild.

General Description:

Vappodes is a small genus of about 8 species distributed through northern Australia, Indonesia, East Timor and New Guinea. There are three species that occur within Australia.

Vappodes phalaenopsis includes several varieties and forms that were formerly classified as Dendrobium bigibbum as, in fact, do the other two Australian Vappodes species (V.bigibba and V.lithocola).

Vappodes phalaenopsis
Vappodes phalaenopsis
Photo: Brian Walters

Vappodes phalaenopsis (the "Cooktown Orchid") is the floral emblem of Queensland and is probably the best known and most colourful of Australia's orchid species. V.phalaenopsis is an epiphytic orchid which means that it grows on the trunks and branches of trees and receives nutrients through the break down of leaf litter that accumulates around its root system.

V.phalaenopsis occurs in the forests of Queensland north from around Cooktown and it is common on the Cape York Peninsular. The purple or mauve flowers are borne on long, terminal racemes and there may be as many as ten flowers on each raceme. Flowers are large, being up to 65 mm in diameter. Occasionally white flowered forms are seen.

The "Cooktown Orchid" has been cultivated for many years by orchid enthusiasts and has been used in hybridisation work with other Australian and exotic "hard cane" dendrobiums. It grows fairly easily in cultivation in sub-tropical and tropical areas where cultivation in a bush house is adequate. In temperate districts the plant requires a heated glasshouse although it can be flowered (with luck!), in temperate coastal areas in a very warm bush house. Plants can usually be obtained through specialist orchid breeders.


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