The 'other' fire orchid



Renanthera- those orchids that know only yellows, oranges, and, more prominently, megawatt reds. Among the red-flowered species, the one that is most often discussed is R. storiei; rightfully so, because this species bear some of the most saturated reds anyone can ever see on any orchid, whether natural or man-made. However, less often given credit for is R. philippinensis- a smaller species, but equally capable of producing the most incandescent reds. 


Renanthera philippinensis was originally described as a variety of R. storiei by both Oakes Ames and Eduardo Quisumbing in 1932. Five years later, Louis O. Williams elevated the taxon to species rank, saying "There is no doubt but that Renanthera philippinensis is quite distinct from Renanthera storiei Reichb.f. Ames and Quisumbing pointed out in the original description of R. storiei var. philippinensis that the type of their varietal concept differs radically from the species in its small stature, small leaves and flowers, and the narrower broadly truncated lateral lobes of the labellum." Williams interpreted these differences as enough warrant to consider R. philippinensis as a species of its own, a status that is still followed to this day. While most beginners- who have not yet seen both R. philippinensis and R. storiei in flower- may confuse the two, a simple way to tell these apart is by the coloration of the lateral sepals: those on R. storiei are tessellated or spotted with darker red while it is a uniform red in R. philippinensis. The species is endemic to the Philippines and is usually found at low elevations, not rarely in mangrove forests where humidity is high. Plants can grow either in full sun or slightly shaded by overhanging trees. These renantheras bloom just once a year, between March to April. 

This species, perhaps like all truly tropical orchids with rigid stems of considerable lengths, can only be reliably cultivated in the lowland tropics, or within large, public greenhouses outside of it. As one can imagine, the resources needed would not exactly be economical for most private growers. However, one can cut the stems for propagation purposes once the plants have finished blooming and/or has attained unmanageable heights. Be warned though: doing so will mean that it can take from 4 to 5 years before such propagations are stable enough to flower, and I am speaking purely from a tropical gardener's perspective. I reckon that the wait would be longer in temperate climates, even in a greenhouse. Growers from the lowland tropics should have no problem with this species but I do not recommend these to beginners. Light and water requirements are considerable, much more so than most orchids whether natural or man-made, and acclimation of cuttings can be difficult. Do burn a few years with species orchids before immersing yourself in, well, this fire.



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