Orchidaceae belongs to one of the two largest families of flowering plants with blooms that are often colourful and fragrant. Within this family, there are species of all sizes and shapes to suit a litany of assorted aficionados. Occupying one extreme of this vast spectrum of orchid devotees are those championing not the spectacular and magnificent, but the tiny denizens sometimes so slight and Lilliputian that they can almost vanish under our noses. Their delicate features and intricate minutiae invite, even demand, close attention and fine-grained observation to adequately uncover their colours, forms, textures and anatomies.
Cumulative evolutionary forces have resulted in miniaturized phenotypes, as if Nature has precisely re-engineered them with microscopic strokes and in ultrafine details to populate the environment with diminutive replicas across the ecological landscape and the phylogenetic and phylogeographic history.
Meeting a miniature orchid specimen requires one to be patient and still, to be careful with movement and touch, to be sharp with the naked eye, even aided by the magnifying glass, as one gently descends into the botanical world of little midgets and compact dwarfs.
Scrutinizing over the miniscule dimensions, one is able to witness the genetic diversity that allows plants to inhabit micro niches and finite spaces, to examine the intricate mixture of ancestral and derived traits, and to observe structural simplification, species variability and morphological novelty.
Whether miniature orchids are collectively potted as terrarium plants or painstakingly cultivated in bottle gardens, whether they form an undersized aggregate or function as the principal focus in a small design or decor, and whether they live aloft as pint-sized epiphytes or grounded as petite terrestrials, a beholder cannot fail to be struck by their cute appearance, minute detail and space-saving potential.
In contrast to the much larger and imposing expanse of magnificent orchid specimens, miniature orchids are tiny, exotic, furtive floras whose mesmerizing features compel one to get up close and personal, to see with the naked eye or the zooming lens in proximity, and to discover the glistening texture or delicate translucence of the leaves and flowers of many species that would otherwise remain the hidden subjects of the world of orchids due to their exiguous stature.
This special post showcases some of the most beautiful and/or unusual miniature orchids ever grown or discovered, and invites you on an intimate tour of the most exemplary gems in various private collections or (in)formal settings, as well as those publicized on news or shared on social media, with the aim of revealing many seldom-seen plants and highlighting their allure and beauty.
Do you like some of your orchids to be miniature specimens? Which orchid(s) below appeal to you and why? Reply in the comment box below.
❀ Conversations about Miniature Orchids ❀
Greg Steenbeeke Your first question is somewhat answered by your second. There is no definition for what constitutes miniature. Various clubs and judging use certain limits, but nothing is standardised. I would think maybe it’s fair to say a miniature is something with flowers less than 25 mm across and therefore all of Gastrochilus would be in that category (the larger ones like G. retrocallus and japonicus probably ‘just’, but the smaller ones like rutilans are easily so. 7 August 2014 at 09:40 · Unlike · 1
K-w SoundEagle Thank you, Greg! Even in the absense of any clear standards or guidelines, one would think that when an orchid is being deemed to be a miniature or not, the whole plant would be considered rather than just the size of its flowers. Otherwise, many large orchid plants with tiny flowers would also qualified as miniatures. What do you think? 7 August 2014 at 09:57 · Like · 1
Grown by Ecuagenera in their Gualaceo, Ecuador nursery (near Cuenca).
This photo was taken by the great connoisseur of miniature orchids, Duane McDowell.
Platystele tausensis – Posada Rural Reserva Biológica El Copal, El Humo de Pejibaye, Tucurrique, Cartago, Costa Rica
This plant is reputed by some to be the smallest orchid in the world. Duane McDowell mentioned that “[t]his was only the second time this species had been found in nature.”
Coelogyne schilleriana Rchb.f. & K.Koch 1858 Very tricky to grow. Flower are Size 3″ (7.5 cm), huge for the size of the plant! Native to Thailand and Myanmar in valleys and on ridges at elevations around 600 feet- 3,600 feet (200 to 1200 meters) as a miniature to small sized, intermediate to cool growing epiphyte in partial shade. Water regularly during the summer and gradually reduce in the winter. Plant goes dormant during the winter. It is one of the few deciduous Colognes and more like its closely related Pleiones. Great Job flowering this beautiful species!
The rarest of the rare, Corysanthes himalaica, King and Pantling (Corybas himalaicus, King and Pantling (Schltr)), this flower is remarkable for the great development of the dorsal sepal, the lateral sepals being filiform, and has no petals. Probably the only Indian orchid with no petals. For more details, pl refer pg no 270 of “The orchids of the Sikkim – Himalayas” by Sir George King and Robert Pantling.
Corybas himalaicus, (King & Pantl.) Schltr. Blooms in the month of June. (This photographic evidence is part of a research program to re-document all the orchid species described by Sir. George King and Robert Pantling in their monumental work, “The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas” published in the year 1898, from their natural habitats.)
Common Name The Small Flowered Platystele
Flower Size 1/8″ [3 mm]
Found in Costa Rica and Panama at elevations of 1400 to 2000 meters as a miniature sized, warm to cool growing epiphyte with erect, slender ramicauls enveloped basally by 2 to 3 thin, ribbed, imbricating sheaths and carrying a single, apical, erect, coriaceous, narrowly-elliptical-obovate, subacute, narrowly cuneate into the petiolate base leaf that blooms in the winter and early spring on a erect, slender, .8″ [2 cm] long including the .4″ [1 cm] long peduncle, distichous, flexuous, subdense, successively several to many flowered, racemose inflorescence with only 1 to 2 flowers open at any one time arising from low on the ramicaul, and has thin floral bracts.
Common Name or Meaning The Compact Platystele [Refers to the congested inflorescence]
Flower Size 1/5″ [5mm]
Found in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia in wet montane forests at elevations of 350 to 2500 meters as a mini-miniature sized, warm to cold growing epiphyte with erect, slender, ramicauls enveloped basally by 2 to 3 thin, ribbed, imbricating sheaths carrying a single, apical, coriaceous, narrowly elliptical-obovate to linear, subacute leaf that is narrowly cuneate below into the subpetiolate base and blooms on a gradually elongating, erect, slender, 2″ [5 cm] long including the 1.6″ [4 cm] long peduncle, densely many successively flowered, racemose inflorescence arising laterally from the ramicaul with thin floral bracts and is a cluster of tiny yellowish, simultaneous flowers occuring over a long period.
Distinguished from others by the rather narrow linear-oblanceolate leaves, greenish-yellow spreading flowers and an inflorescence that extends longer than the length of the leaves.
Synonyms: Platystele bulbinella Schlechter 1910; Pleurothallis compacta [Ames] Ames & Schweinf. 1930; *Stelis compacta Ames 1908
Common Name Dona Amparo’s Pleurothallis [Costa Rican Orchid Enthusiast 1900’s]
Flower Size 3/8″ [1 cm]
This miniature sized, warm growing, epiphytic species can be found in Panama and Costa Rica in lower montane rain forests at elevations of 1200 to 1800 meters with thin ramicauls enveloped basally by several tubular sheaths and carrying a single, apical, oblong-oblanceolate, conduplicate at the base leaves and blooms with an apical, 1 1/4″ to 4″ [3 to 10 cm] long, racemose, laxly several [6 to 8] flowered inflorescence arising from a spathe at the leaf base, with triangular bracts, which is longer than the leaves and occurs in the winter and spring. An easy diagnostic characteristic of this species is the white flowers and the shallowly, saccate pilose synsepal, has a resemblance to a toilet seat.
Synonyms: Effusiella amparoana Luer 2007; Specklinia amparoana (Schltr.) Luer 2004; Stelis amparoana (Schltr.) Pridgeon & M.W.Chase 2001; Stelis pilosa Pridgeon & M.W.Chase 2002
Common Name or Meaning The Small Flowered Dendrobium
Flower Size .28 to .6″ [.7 to 1.5 cm]
Found in Sulawesi, Celebes and Papua New Guinea at elevations of 600 to 2600 meters as a mini-miniature sized, warm to cold growing epiphyte with mat-forming, globose, ellipsoid, ovoid to occasionally obovoid, yellowish green to dark reddish pseudobulbs carrying 2 erect to oblique, spreading, fleshy leathery, sometimes red flushed, terminal, succulent, ovate to elliptic to oblong-elliptic, acute to rounded, apiculate leaves that blooms in the spring on a short, terminal, simultaneously 1 to 3 flowered inflorescence arising on both leafless and leafy stems carrying long lasting flwoers.
Synonyms: Dendrobium delicatulum F.Muell. & Kraenzl. 1894; Dendrobium delicatulum subsp. huliorum T.M.Reeve & P.Woods 1981; Dendrobium delicatulum subsp. parvulum (Rolfe) T.M.Reeve & P.Woods 1981; Dendrobium minutum Schltr. 912; Dendrobium parvulum subsp. huliorum (T.M.Reeve & P.Woods) Ormerod 2003; Dendrobium parvulum subsp. minutum (Schltr.) Ormerod 2003; Katherinea parvula (Rolfe) A.D.Hawkes 1956; Pedilonum minutum (Schltr.) Rauschert 1983; Sarcopodium parvulum (Rolfe) Kraenzl. 1910
Common Name or Meaning The Eria-Like Ceratostylis
Flower Size .5 to .6″ [1.2 to 1.5 cm]
Found in penninsular Malaysia on montane ridgetops on tree trunks and branches at elevations of 1400 to 2100 meters as a mini-miniature sized, warm to cold growing epiphyte with a short rhizome giving rise to close set, stems enveloped basally by a small sheath and carrying a single, oblong to obovate leaf that blooms in the late summer and early fall on a short, successively single, few flowered inflorescence
Synonyms: Ceratostylis eriaeoides Hook.f. 1891; Eria pygmaea Hook.f. 1890; Pinalia pygmaea (Hook.f.) Kuntze 1891
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