Acanthophippium mantinianum L.Linden & Cogn.

Acanthophippium mantinianum L.Linden & Cogn.

At first glance the flowers of this genus hardly look like orchids but take one apart and you'll find all the familiar features. Closely related to Calanthe and Phaius, there are, at present count, some 13 species in this genus widely spread throughout tropical and subtropical Asia and the southwestern Pacific islands. Only two or three species, Acanthophippium mantinianum and Acanthophippium sylhetense are encountered in cultivation and then not that often. Acanthephippium mantinianum is endemic to the Philippines while the other species is widely dispersed from the Philippines eastward to India.

The genus Acanthophippium was first described by Carl Blume in 1825, deriving the name from two Greek words akantha meaning thorn and ephippion which means saddle and makes reference to the rather saddle-shaped lip. Acanthophippium mantinianum are moderately sized plants with conical pseudobulbs that reach about 15cm (6 inches) tall carrying several leaves thin-textured leaves up to 60cm (2 feet) long. The inflorescences (there may often be more than one) are produced from near the base of the newly developing summer growths before the leaves have begun to unfurl and, while only about 15cm (6 inches) long, display the fleshy flowers well. Each inflorescence can produce up to 7, strikingly colored flowers that are about 3cm (1.2 inches) wide and about 4cm (1.6 inches) long and rather strongly fragrant. Fragrant - not odiferous!

Acanthophippium mantinianum comes from low to moderate elevations (500-1500 meters, 1650-5000 feet) and should be grown under intermediate conditions in pots or pans of well-drained terrestrial orchid mix. Any medium suitable for cymbidiums will work just fine for these plants. The thin-textured foliage is easily sunburned so bright shade suitable for Phaius should be provided (up to about 2500 foot candles). While in active growth they should be watered and fertilized regularly. Once growths are completed, they should be allowed to become nearly dry between waterings. Like their Phaius cousins, leaf tip die back is almost always a sign of insufficient water. A word of caution - these plants dislike disturbance so they should be repotted only when absolutely necessary and then only when you see signs of new root growth. This flush of new root growth comes much later than the flush of new vegetative growth (remember they flower from the newly developing growth) and failure to repot at the correct time is the most common reason for demise of the plant. If an old pseudobulb becomes infected with a fungal rot, it must be removed from the plant. If the rotten portions of the old bulb are carefully removed and the cut surface allowed to dry, it is possible to get dormant eyes along the remaining bulb section to sprout by placing the severed bulb horizontally on moist potting medium and keeping it humid. Often this is a route to saving a plant that has been severely traumatized by incorrect repotting.

Ron McHatton, June 2009