Species Orchid Society of

Western Australia (Inc



Reflections on Orchid Nomenclature

by Ken Jones

Knowing my penchant for unusual orchids, Tony sent me the following post from a Mr Geoff Hands (a UK orchid grower).

Re-reading this post caused me to reflect on orchid nomenclature, including those where the epithet can be used to describe the species' resemblance to another plant (including orchids). I thought it might be interesting to do a little research to see what I could find. I found that there are many interesting examples and thought that it might be fun to write some of them up. It would be fair to say that the most frequent examples are found in less common, but more diverse genera such as Pleurothallidinae.

Under the heading Phymatidium tillandsioides, Barb.Rodr (1881) Geoff's post said "just as a change from talking about bee orchids, I would like to share this plant with you. I count 18 spikes, and guess 60 or so flowers. They need a hand lens to see them ( almost) but using my macro lens with the camera on a tripod, so as to use f45 and an exposure of 4 seconds produced these results.

The orchid species encyclopaedia has it under the name Phymatidium falcifolium and an interesting picture - which fails to show the long spur or the fringed lip, or at least not very well."


His flowering plant is in a 2" pot, so it is very much a miniature.

As you an see, this species looks very much like a Tillandsia (air plant) - clearly the reason that it was named. However, as Geoff Hands observed, this name has been found to be synonymous with Phymatidium falcifolium (a botanical species that I imported some years ago, but no longer have).





Staying with the epithet of Tillandsia-like, Elleanthus tillandsioides Barringer (1985) from Costa Rica is another botanical specimen that resembles a Tillandsia and has been named accordingly. Unfortunately, I was not able to find a photo of this species.




Searching a little further, another orchid named after a genus that its flower resembles is flower is Bulbophyllum masdevalliaceum Kraenzl. (1902) from New Guinea and Queensland. As the next photo shows, this species has a flower that is very similar to many of the Masdevallia genus.







Pholidota is an Asian genus of about 40 species, most of them with two-ranked, closely-spaced arching flower racemes. Coelogyne pholidotoides JJ Sim(1903) is a species where the epithet was chosen due to its resemblance to the genus Pholidota. This somewhat insignificant species is found in Borneo and has a short creeping rhizome, and a two-ranked flower raceme (when in bud), much like plants in the genus Pholidota.







The sub-tribe Pleurothallidinae is one where several examples can be found. The genus Restrepia is South American and its diminutive flowers have an exaggerated labellum with thin, occasionally wire-like petals and sepals. Pleurothallis restrepioides Lindl.(1836), the Restrepia-like Pleurothallis is a small species from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in wet montane forests . As the photo shows, this species looks much like plants in the genus Restrepia.

Another species in the Pleurothallidinae subtribe is Brachionidium restrepioides (Hoehne) Pabst, (1975). I was also unable to find a photo of this botanical from Brazil, but note that it is has been described as the Restrepia-like Brachionidium

These nomenclature oddities don't end there however. While my research indicates that some of the epithets based on the genus of another flowering plant have subsequently been ruled invalid, they are nevertheless interesting.


Angraceum chilochistae (now correctly described as Microcoelia exilis) Lindl. (1830) from Natal South Africa, Swaziland, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia was initially given this epithet because it resembled the leafless Chilochista from Asia. This curious species is found on trees in riverine forests and coastal forests, often in the smallest branches almost hanging free at elevations around 500 to 2000 m.










Closer to home again, Liparis coelogynoides Meull (1860) is the smallest of the Australian Liparis species. It was originally described as Sturmia coelogynoides, or the Coelogyne-like Sturmia, but more correctly it is Liparis coelogynoides. This botanically interesting orchid is found in New South Wales and South East Queensland. As can be seen from the above in-situ photo, it closely resembles the vegetative habit of Coelogyne species.




For my final example, I found Dendrobium bulbophylloides Schltr (1912). Found in New Guinea, this species was named for its vegetative and floral resemblance to plants in the genus Bulbophyllum.

I also found Pleurothallis bulbophylloides, Dendrochilum bulbophylloides, Eria bulbophylloides, and Polystachya bulbophylloides (although the latter is an invalid name)