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The Giant Leopard Orchid
The genus Grammatophyllum is fairly small, with at most a dozen species, most of which are solid, sturdy plants of a few dozen pounds. A few of them, however, are giants which can weigh hundreds of pounds. The smaller species have pseudobulbs the size of avocados, bearing 3 foot leaves, with flower spikes up to 4 feet long showing off 70-100 spotted flowers 3 inches across or more. Large plants of this section of species can be 6 feet across. The larger species, such as G. speciosum and G. wallisii, have cylindrical, cane-like pseudobulbs up to 7 feet tall, with 6 foot leaves. The plants can have flower spikes 8 feet long, bearing hundreds of heavy-texture, spotted flowers. Individual plants can span 25 feet, sometimes more, and weigh up to 1000 pounds.
G. speciosum at the Singapore Botanical Garden
G. martae, a rich chocolate-colored species
G. Tiger Paw primary hybrid of G. elegans and G. scriptum
Growers often say that their plant is as big as a small car, leading me to quip that perhaps they own a VolksOrchid. In all instances, though, these are big plants, not for the heat or space-challenged grower. The plants are easy enough to grow with the same care as Vandas,with similar needs for heat and light. The major difference is that Grammatophyllums need far sturdier baskets in which to plant them ! Many growers have found that these species need a semi-terrestrial culture. Interestingly, some of the growers in the northern US have found that the giant Grammatophyllums grow well using the same potting medium as for Cymbidium, to which they are closely allied. With plenty of sunlight, heat, abundant watering and a nearly continuous supply of nutrients, the Leopard Orchids are both rewarding and impressive at the same time. They are, however, unforgiving of periods of long, cool weather, lack of light, or near-tropical temperatures. This plant group grows well if you have the conditions for it, but don't expect it to easily adapt to your greenhouse in Minnesota unless you wish to pay for a lot of heat and electricity. This is the right plant for the right location, and we are lucky to live in an area with the right conditions for it.