Even the Thesaurus runs out of superlatives to describe this incredible orchid!

The habitat of this spectacular Sobralia is in a distant cloud forest, located in the north-east quadrant of the Department of Huancavelica in the Province of Tayacaja, Peru (175 miles south-east of the capital, Lima).

The terrestrial species was firmly rooted in rocky, black organic soil, covered by a thick mantle of sphagnum- like moss. In open, sunny spaces the plants attained about 16½ feet in height, but when growing under the low tree canopy the slender ribbed canes did not flower until they were well above the canopy, when they reached the impressive height of 23/26 feet. One amazingly-long cane reaches an unprecedented 44 feet tall! The towering canes - which are immensely strong, but slender - bear 3 to 4 racemes of flowers near the thin tips. One 25-foot stem had a maximum diameter at the base of about 1½ inches and was then about ¾" throughout its length.

The name comes from the Latin altus in the superlative degree, meaning very tall in reference to this being the tallest recorded species in the genus. The large plant size and fleshy purple/pink flowers are similar to the other southern Andean species Sobralias - boliviensis, dichotoma and mandonii.

The ribbed, dark green leaves are elliptical in shape and measure 30-35 cm. x 8-10 cm. The inflorescences are about 20-30 cm. long and the 8-10 flowers are 12-15 cm. tall and wide. The flowers - which are fleshy and long lasting - are described as saturated rose-pink or rose-purple. The sepals and petals have white tips, and the lip has a contrasting white apex and yellowish-white mid-vein.

This remarkable orchid was discovered on 18 February 1999 at 2,800/2,900 metres on a trip (mainly on foot) described as “memorable” - not surprising as this month is the “torrential rainy season” in the Andes!

June Cheseldine, EMOS Newsletter January/February 2001


The flowers may be small, but if the plant is big enough (and of the right clone) it can still win an award!

This species was discovered - and described - by J. C. Bidwill in 1844 (in John Lindley’s Botanical Register). Bidwill sent living plants to Europe in the same year. It comes from New South Wales and Queensland in Australia. A lithophytic plant (i.e. grows on stones or rocks), it is often found growing in large masses. The flowers are 1.3-2.5 cm. across and can be white, pink or purple, with the lip veined or blotched crimson or purple.

At least 4 varieties of this very variable species are known, based mainly on flower colour differences, but var. pulcherrimum has shorter stems, shorter inflorescences and larger dark mauve flowers. Dendrobium delicatum is considered to be a naturally occurring hybrid of Dendrobium kingianum with Dendrobium speciosum.

June Cheseldine, EMOS Newsletter (special edition) May 2000