Bulbophyllum or Bulb is an amazing orchid genus. The first thing to know about that it is not only the biggest genus of orchids (more than 2000 species), but it’s also one of the biggest genera of flowering plants, so Bulbophyllum is an extremely diverse genus and a real collector item. There are a lot of orchid enthusiasts, collecting specifically Bulbophyllum species. The second thing to know about these bizarre orchids is that they are extremely variable and diverse – there are some large species with canelike pseudobulbs to miniature species without any leaves (Bulbophyllum minutissimum considered to be the smallest known orchid in the world). The flowers are also diverse in shape and colors – except blue (there are no blue-colored Bulbophyllums), and flowers of Bulbophyllum could be of any shape we could imagine. The third bizarre thing is that Bulbs’ flowers are not always beautiful or fairly scented (to be true, many Bulbophyllum species have flowers with filthy odor and considered Carrion Flowers or Carrion Orchids, some of them even called Cadaver Orchids for their foul smell), the flowers are exceptionally interesting, especially within group of Carrion Bulbophyllums. Some parts of a flower are movable, and mimic rotting flesh texture with some maggots within, and this fake “maggots” even move with the wind, so the flowers of these Bulbophyllums are spectacular. And some of them possess movable lips which act like a flytrap, guaranteeing the pollen to glue to the fly back. So, Bulbophyllums are real botanical curiosities and they are not only beautiful but also have extremely interesting biology.
Bulbophyllums are sympodial orchids. The main homeland of the evolution of this genus is mountain forests of Papua New Guinea, but it is actually pantropical – Bulbophyllum species thrive in tropical forests of Asia, India, Africa, Madagascar, Australia and South America. Bulbophyllum species’ natural habitat includes tropical rainforests and montane rainforests and cloud forests, where they grow epiphytically or occasionally lithophytically. Given the fact that Bulbophyllum is one of the biggest genera of entire flowering plants, it is not surprising that their morphology is quite diverse. There are species with discoid large pseudobulbs such as Bulbophyllum hamelin, there are some incredible species with giant leaves such as Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis (hence the name for this species, because it closely resembles Phalaenopsis gigantea leaves), large to giant Bulbophyllum macraei with elliptic egg-shaped pseudobulbs, tiny Bulbophyllum carnosisepalum has spherical pseudobulbs and needle-shaped leaves, Bulbophyllum lichenophylax resembles moss in shape of its miniature leaves and pseudobulbs. Bulbophyllum echinolabium is famous for it extremely large, 16 inch wide pink flowers with a foul smell. There are also some other famous species such as Bulbophyllum fletcherianum with tongue-like flowers (hence the name Tongue orchid), Bulbophyllum barbigerum has hairy flowers, resembling beard and called Bearded Bulbophyllum, Bulbophyllum beccarii has giant bowl-shaped leaves, shaped to catch any debris, Bulbophyllum pecten-veneris has beautiful and unscented (which is actually good feature as for Bulbophyllum) flowers and it is called Golden Comb Orchid, Bulbophyllum globuliforme consists only of round tiny pseudobulbs, Bulbophyllum medusa is famous for its white inflorescences, resembling Medusas head and therefore called Medusa Orchid. Bulbophyllum lepidum and Bulbophyllum putidum are ones of the most common cultivated species in this genus. Pseudobulbs could be either one- or two, three-leaved (or more) or completely leafless, also there are some species with profound leaves and reduced pseudobulbs. Some species have succulent leaves which are part of their adaptation to epiphytic or lithophytic habitats.
Growing and care
Bulbophyllum orchid care is not so simple. In nature, all Bulbophyllums, including ones with succulent features grow in extremely wet rainforests. So indoor cultivation may be rather difficult – they demand high air humidity (70% and higher), on the other hand, they are extremely prone to rotting, especially in wet conditions. So there is a problem – dry air represses orchid development and makes it weaker, wet air can kill the plant and provoke rotting. So the best way to solve the problem is actually to use the combination of high air humidity with very strong air movement – fan with high speed is a good choice. So it is good to grow Bulb orchid not on the windowsill but at florarium or greenhouse with fans to provide strong air movement with high air humidity, simple wardian case is not enough. Besides air humidity and movement, everything else in Bulbophyllum orchid care is quite simple – they are all prefer warm to hot temperatures, moderate to bright light without direct sun at midday. Ample watering and fertilizers are preferred, and some species such as Bulbophyllum echinolabium and Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis are ones of few orchids who actually will tolerate “wet legs” for some periods of time. Given the fact that Bulbophyllums rhizomes have creeping nature and they do not have long roots it is best to pot them into squat baskets or pots into a substrate, containing medium bark, sphagnum moss, cocoa chips. Miniature and medium-sized species with creeping rhizomes better grow mounted on slabs made from tree fern or epic web.
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