There are 54 orchid genera in our southern African region. On this page we have divided them into terrestrial orchids (grow in the ground), epiphytic orchids (grow on trees) and epilithic orchids ( grow on rocks). Terrestrial orchids are further divided according to the rainfall region where they occur (summer-rainfall region, winter-rainfall region, both regions). In important genera we provide links to a more detailed and well-illustrated description.
Mainly summer-rainfall area orchids (eastern and north-eastern provinces)
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Brachycorythis, small genus in the African and Asian tropics and subtropics; a few species in grassland in our region; up to 60 cm tall, with leafy stems and medium-sized flowers.
Brownleea, small African genus with six species in our region; in forest or grassland; flowers with median sepal spur; lip minute and shorter than column.
Calanthe, large Asian genus, one species widespread in forests in Africa; small pseudobulbs, large plicate leaves; medium-sized white or pink flowers on tall inflorescences.
Centrostigma, small genus in the eastern half of Africa, a single species in Mpumalanga and Northern Province; flowers large and greenish yellow; similar to Habenaria and previously included in this genus.
Cheirostylis, small genus in Africa, Asia and Australia; a single species with rosette-like leaves and tiny flowers in dune forest in southern Africa (KwaZulu-Natal coast).
Corymborkis, small pantropical genus of tall plants with reed-like stems; a single very localised species in subtropical forests in southern Africa (Swaziland, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape coast).
Cynorkis, large genus in Madagascar and the Mascarene islands, a few species on the African continent and two in our region; leaves mostly basal, flowers often pink or mauve.
Didymoplexis, small genus of brown, leafless orchids in tropical Asia and Africa; one species in dune forest near Mtuzini; rare (KwaZulu-Natal coast).
Dracomonticola, monotypic genus in the Drakensberg mountains of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal; in wet moss on cliffs; previously included in the genus Neobolusia.
Habenaria, very large pantropical genus, in forest, scrub or grassland, many species in our region; flowers small to large, usually green, white, yellow and green, or white and green.
Huttonaea, small genus in forest and grassland in southern Africa; medium-sized flowers with deeply-lacerate lips, the similarly lacerate petals are stalked and saccate.
Neobolusia, small genus in montane grassland in central and south-central Africa; a single species in the eastern half of southern Africa.
Nervilia, large genus in tropical Africa, Asia and Australia with five species ranging into southern Africa; in forest, savanna or grassland; with a single ovate to heart-shaped leaf which is sometimes borne on a long stalk
Oeceoclades, small pantropical genus, a few species also in KwaZulu-Natal; mostly in forest or scrubland; sometimes also epiphytic; similar to Eulophia.
Platycoryne, small African genus, similar to Habenaria; widespread in tropical Africa and only very recently recorded in Mpumalanga; flowers with entire or weakly lobed lips and petals, often orange or yellow.
Platylepis, small African genus; a single species in swamp forest in southern Africa (coast of KwaZulu-Natal).
Schizochilus, about 12 species in montane and subalpine grasslands in southern and south-central Africa; grass-like leaves and nodding spikes of small flowers.
Vanilla, large genus of pantropical lianas; one species from East Africa and Mozambique was recently discovered in Zululand (KwaZulu-Natal); it is leafless and has succulent stems.
Zeuxine, tropics and subtropics of the Old World; our single species has a curious distribution, being known from Nigeria, Angola, Botswana and Durban (South Africa); it has tiny flowers which are nearly hidden by bracts; possibly self-pollinating.
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Bartholina ('spider orchids'), two species in the Western Cape, ranging into the Eastern and Northern Cape; prominent is the deeply dissected, spider-like lip.
Ceratandra, small genus mainly in the Western Cape mountains, often in marshes; leafy stems, flowers often yellow; flowering mainly after fire; some species rare.
Evotella, monotypic (only one species) genus in the south-western corner of the Western Cape; stems leafy, flowers with purple petals and a white, triangular lip; rare, flowering after fire.
Gastrodia, small genus of yellow-brown, leafless orchids from tropical Asia and Australia; our single species was accidentally introduced and is found on Table Mountain, Cape Town.
Pachites, small genus of two rare species, endemic to the Western Cape; one of the very few exceptions of orchids with a regular perianth; flowering only after fire.
Both summer- and winter-rainfall area orchids (widespread)
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Acrolophia (one species is known as the 'black orchid'), small South African genus, centred in the Cape Floristic Region but ranging into KwaZulu-Natal; in fynbos or scrub-land; thick-leathery leaves with a terminal simple or branched inflorescence.
Corycium, small genus in southern and south-central Africa; flowers small, globose or subglobose, resupinate or non-resupinate, with very complicated column; pollinated by oil-collecting bees.
Disa, large African genus, also the largest genus in our region (with the recent inclusion of Schizodium totalling 144 species in southern Africa), in fynbos and grassland; plants vary from slender with minute flowers to robust with large flowers.
Disperis, large African genus ranging into South-east Asia; remarkable with short spurs on the lateral sepals; column extremely complicated; pollinated by oil-collecting bees.
Eulophia, very large pantropical genus, well represented in southern Africa; mainly in grassland, savanna and scrub; plants mostly with corms.
Holothrix, fairly large African genus with two basal leaves and minute often green or yellow flowers; plants often very hairy; well represented in southern Africa, frequently in rather arid areas.
Liparis, large cosmopolitan genus, with a few species represented in our region, sometimes also epiphytic or epilithic; plants with pseudobulbs.
Pterygodium, small genus in southern and eastern Africa, flowers cup-like, resupinate or non-resupinate, with very complicated column; pollinated by oil-collecting bees.
Satyrium, large mainly African genus, ranging into Asia, well represented in southern Africa.
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Acampe, small Asian genus, one species in the lowveld in northern South Africa; monopodial growth, with medium-sized yellow, red and white flowers.
Aerangis, African and Madagascan genus, a few species in forest and woodland in the eastern parts of southern Africa; monopodial, white flowers with a long spur.
Angraecum, large genus in Africa and Madagascar, a few species in the northern and eastern parts of our region; monopodial with small to large flowers, often white and with long spur.
Ansellia ('tiger orchid', 'leopard orchid'), monotypic African genus; in savanna and scrub-forest; with elongate pseudobulbs and large yellow flowers with (occasionally without) brown blotches; rare because of over-collecting.
Bolusiella, small African genus, a single species in forest in KwaZulu-Natal; monopodial with a fan of succulent leaves; flowers white, small.
Bulbophyllum, one of the largest orchid genera of the world, pantropical, with four species in forests in the eastern and northern parts of southern Africa; pseudobulbs fairly large, flowers medium-sized or small, usually with reddish or brownish colours.
Cyrtorchis, small African genus with two species in forest in the eastern and northern parts of our region; monopodial with medium-sized white, star-like flowers; common and widespread.
Diaphananthe, African genus with one species in coastal bush in the eastern and part of our region (northern KwaZulu-Natal); monopodial, flowers somewhat translucent, yellowish or greenish.
Jumellea, mainly Madagascan genus, one species in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo; monopodial with white flowers and a long spur.
Margelliantha, small African genus with one species in forest in the eastern and northern parts of our region; monopodial with rounded white flowers and long spur.
Microcoelia, small African and Madagascan genus, two species in bush and forest in KwaZulu-Natal; leafless with prominent roots and small white flowers.
Mystacidium, small African genus with a few species in forest and bush in the eastern and northern parts of our region; monopodial, flowers small, white, yellowish-green or green, with a long spur.
Oberonia, large mainly Asian genus, ranging with one species into South Africa; succulent, pendent leaves and terminal spikes with numerous minute flowers.
Polystachya, large mainly African genus, well represented in our region; mainly in forest and bushland; with or without pseudobulbs; medium-sized, non-resupinate flowers.
Rangaeris, small African genus with one species in forest or on rocks in the Eastern Cape and southern KwaZulu-Natal; monopodial, flowers medium-sized, star-like, with a long spur.
Rhipidoglossum, small African genus with one species reaching forests in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal; monopodial, flowers small, beige to greenish-yellow with fairly short curved spur.
Solenangis, small African and Madagascan genus of monopodial orchids, one species has recently been collected in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Tridactyle, small African genus with a few species in forest in the eastern and northern parts of our region, sometimes also on rocks; monopodial, flowers small, whitish or yellowish-green, lip three-lobed.
Ypsilopus, small African genus with one species in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal; monopodial, flowers small, star-like.
Stenoglottis, small genus ranging from the Eastern Cape to Tanzania; plants with leaf rosettes and white or pink flowers with a deeply three- or five-lobed lip, normally in forests, occasionally also terrestrial or epiphytic; easy to cultivate.
Description and images : Hubert Kurzweil
|© S A National Biodiversity Institute|