SA Orchids:Bonatea

B. speciosaBonatea is a small African genus, distributed from Arabia to eastern and southern Africa. In the southern African region it is represented by ten species. The genus is very similar to Habenaria, differing merely in details of the flower structure. Flowers are frequently fairly large. The species grow mainly in scrub-forest, dune forest and savanna. Most species occur only in the summer-rainfall region and only B. speciosa (illustrated on this page) ranges as far west as Cape Town.


Most species of Bonatea are rarely seen in living collections, as plants are seldom available. A notable exception is B. speciosa which is more easily obtainable, and is also easy to cultivate both in pots or planted out directly into the garden. It is also attractive, with its large green and white flowers. Plants are best grown in a deep pots, (e.g. 20 cm depth, place tubers at 10 cm depth) in a well drained medium consisting of 50 % river sand, 40 % leaf mulch and 10 % vermiculite. Plants are best grown in a temperate environment with 50-70 % shading and excellent ventilation.

Bonatea speciosaRegular watering should be given during the growth season, i.e., from spring to autumn. As soon as autumn cooling sets in, reduce watering to once every two weeks. During cold winter months do not water. It is however vital to watch that the medium does not dehydrate completely. To prevent this, drench the pot occasionally and allow to dry. Do not keep the medium damp. Only once the new shoots emerge at the end of winter commence with watering once every two weeks for the spring season and once or twice a week as required for the summer season.

A slow release fertiliser such as Osmocote can be applied during spring. Pests to watch for are aphids.

Selected species and their main distribution
Summer-rainfall area: B. porrecta, B. cassidea, B. polypodantha
Both areas: B. speciosa ('green wood orchid', 'groenmoederkappie')

Description and images: Hubert Kurzweil
Cultivation: Hildegard Crous
October 2000

SANBI Home © S A National Biodiversity Institute