In this video, Marc Hachadourian, curator of the orchid collection at the New York Botanical Garden, gives a brief history of the world’s most esoteric orchids.
Being a botanical garden, we have access to hundreds of orchids of very unusual types, sizes, and shapes. Some of them are miniatures with flowers no bigger than the head of a pin; others are fantastic plants like the one known to our visitors as the Darwin’s Star Orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale), which is native to Madagascar.
This orchid has a fascinating history not only for its biology but also for its relationship to Charles Darwin. When Darwin was first presented with a flower of this plant, he was fascinated by the unusual, large, waxy bloom with a long tail that actually has a nectar spur and a tiny bit of nectar at its base. The nectar spur of this flower is over 12 inches long. He theorized that since it was a white flower and only fragrant at night, there was a moth with a tongue long enough to pollinate this bloom.
Of course, when Darwin told the world that there was a moth with a 12-inch-long tongue flying around Madagascar, it raised a few eyebrows. Some 40 years later, biologists discovered that the moth was indeed real and had the 12-inch tongue necessary to drink from the base of that long nectar spur. The moth was later named Xanthopan morganii praedicta, the “predicted moth.” Only in the past five to ten years have wildlife photographers captured this moth performing the act of pollination in which it flies up to the bloom, unrolls this enormously long tongue, and sips the nectar. It is truly one of the most interesting and somewhat bizarre orchids we have on display this year here at the Orchid Show.