Sobralia macrantha alba photo by Nina Rach

Sobralia macrantha

Lindley 1839

Native to Mexico (Oaxaca area), Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica

Edited 19 August 2008
© Nina Rach

Above left, Sob. macrantha alba 'Angelique' flowering in August 2008 (photo by Nina Rach).

This species was discovered in 1841 by Count Karwinsky near Oaxaca, Mexico and later near the Hacienda de la Laguna by C.J. Schiede. Described by Lindley in 1846. First flowered in cultivation in May 1841. It is said to be allied to Sob. leucoxantha Rchb.f. 1866.

Sobralia macrantha photo by Dale Miyasaki Sobralia macrantha is the most widely available of the genus and one of the easiest to grow in cultivation. The plants grow to 4-ft tall and the long, narrow stems are reminiscent of bamboo. The flowers are large, usually with light substance, arising from terminal inflorescences and lasting 1-2 days. The color is commonly rose to lavender-purple with a yellow-white center. However, the flowers open successively, so plants can remain in bloom for a long period.

Photo at right taken on 4 May 1998 at the Manoa Orchid Show, Hawaii, by Dale Miyasaki (plant won best of show, other genera).


According to a Central American flora, Sobralia macrantha is known as "St. Anthony's Lily." (Mary's Gardens 1965, 1996).


Sobralia macrantha photo by Nina Rach

Sobralia macrantha is one of the few "immortal" orchids in the glass flower collection [The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants] at the Harvard Museum of Natural History [Peabody Museum], in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The photo at left shows a life-size flower and leaf, crafted in glass in 1888 by Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolph, artisans from Dresden.

In 1982, D.H. Benzing, D.W. Ott, and W.E. Friedman published a study:
"Roots of Sobralia macrantha (Orchidaceae): structure and function of the velamen-exodermis complex," in: American Journal of Botany 69: 608-614.

Abstract: "Roots of Sobralia macrantha, a largely terrestrial orchid, bear a typical multilayered velamen underlaid by a cortical exodermis. The latter consists of densely cytoplasmic passage cells regularly interspersed among much larger, elongate, vacuolate cells. A structure which may be peculiar to Sobralia, or at least unusually well developed there -- the fibrous body -- consists of numerous intermeshed and divided wall outgrowths arising from two or three velamen cells positioned directly over the passage cell. This body is well designed to retard root transpiration. Should the fibrillar components be appropriately hygroscopic, it may act as a valve, promoting movements of water into the cortex while the velamen is engorged. The general mode of moisture and mineral procurement proposed for the Sobralia macrantha root probably applies to many other soil-and canopy-dwelling orchids with a velamen-exodermis complex."

AOS awards to this Sobralia species:

Sobralia macrantha 'Arbor View' CHM/83 pts, awarded at Northeast Center Monthly Judging, Boyleston, Mass., 6 July 2002 [AQ 35 (1), p. 65, B&W photo by Teck H. Hia].
"Four striking pastel flowers and six buds on 10 inflorescences carried on an exceptionally well-grown and unblemished plant 94 cm tall; sepals white, overlaid with pale, rose blush; petals white, blushed pale yellow centrally and blushed rose on margins and distal ends; pleasingly ruffled lip light rose, throat bright yellow, lamellae on a lighter yellow background; recognized for an unusual color form of an uncommonly seen plant with ephemeral flowers; identified by Gustavo A. Romero. Natural spread 13.5 cm, 14.0 cm vert; ds 3.0 cm w, 9.0 cm l; pet 4.0 cm w, 8.5 cm l; ls 3.3 cm w, 9.0 cm l; lip 7.0 cm w, 10.0 cm l." Exhibited by Robert F. Florsheim, Dover, Mass.

Sobralia macrantha 'Bella Verapaz' CCM/83 pts, awarded at 17th National Guatemala Orchid Show, Guatemala City, 13 February 1991 (Awards Quarterly 23(1), p. 47)
"Sixteen flowers and 18 buds on 34 long, slender, 120-cm stems, each bearing a single flower or bud on a terminal successively flowering raceme; plant grown in a 74-cm wide container of tree fern; flowers large, showy, rose-purple, well presented against exceptionally clean foliage; lip large, spreading, darker rose-purple surrounding conspicuous white central area. Nat. spr. 11.5cm, 13.6cm vert; ds 2.7cm w, 7.1 cm l; pet 3.7cm w, 8.2cm l; ls 2.8cm w, 8.2cm l; lip 7.4cm w, 10.4cm l." Exhibited by Otto Mittelstaedt, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.

Sobralia macrantha 'Bolin' HCC/78 pts, Los Angeles July 1981 (Awards Quarterly 13(1), p.97, with photo)
"Two flowers and six buds on nine inflorescences; sepals and petals deep fuchsia; lip darker fuchsia; throat yellow at base; fading to white towards upper portion; lip extremely large. Natural spread of flower 18.0 cm; dorsal sepal 11.0 cm wide, 5.1 cm long; petals 10.6 cm wide, 3.5 cm long; lateral sepals 11.0 cm wide, 10.6 cm long; lip 10.6 cm wide, 15.0 cm long. Exhibited by James W. Tatum, Encino, CA." - [Yes, these are the actual measurements printed in the AQ; they seem to have gotten the width and length reversed for every part of the flower - Nina]

Sobralia macrantha 'Louise' CHM/82 pts.
Awarded at the Northeast Center Monthly Judging, Elmsford, New York. (Awards Quarterly 32(1) p. 114)
Description: Ten large, violet-purple flowers and eight buds on 18 inflorescenses; flowers fading to white centrally; a stunning display of this ephemerally flowered species. Nat. spr. 9.7cm, 12.7cm vert.; ds 2.5cm w, 7.4cm l; pet 3.4cm w, 6.5cm l; ls 2.8cm w, 8.2cm l; lip 7.7cm w, 9.6cm l. Exhibitor: Gerry Cassella, Staten Island, NY.

Sobralia macrantha 'Rustic Canyon' JC/AOS, Awarded at Pacific South Center Monthly Judging, Long Beach, Calif, 28 July 2003 [AQ 35(1), p. 65, color photo by Charles Rowden inside back cover].
"One flower with novel coloration on one tall cut inflorescence; sepals and petals white with very pale hint of pink; dorsal sepal with typical asymmmetric twist; lip white with yellow throat and pale lilac midline; substance excellent for species. Nat. spr. 13.0 cm; ds 2.8 cm w, 9.4 cm l; pet 4.6 cm w, 8.4 cm l; ls 3.1 cm w, 10.5 cm l; lip 9.0 cm w, 13.0 cm l." Exhibited by Howard Liebman, MD, Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Sobralia macrantha 'Voodoo Priestess' AM/81 pts, Long Beach, CA, June 1996 (Awards Quarterly 28(1), p. 74 with color photo)

Sobralia macrantha v. nana CCM/89 pts, March 1957 (Register of Awards Supp 1, p. 210)
"An exceptionally large, well-flowered plant with 19 open flowers and many buds." Exhibited by Eben Richards, Washington, D.C.

Printed References:

Paul Hamilton Allen (1958) "Sobralia Intermedia," in: American Orchid Society Bulletin 27(8):534-535. [Sobralia decora; S. X intermedia; S. leucoxantha; S. liliastrum; S. lindleyana; S. macrantha; S. panamensis; S. sessilis]

Oakes Ames and Donovan Stewart Correll (29 Aug 1952) Orchids of Guatemala. Fieldiana: Botany 26(1). Chicago Natural History Museum. 395p. [Sobralia decora, decora var. aerata - Panama , fragrans, macrantha, mucronata, xantholeuca, pp. 64-71]

Oakes Ames and Donovan Stewart Correll (1985 reprint) Orchids of Guatemala and Belize. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. [pp. 68-69]

Frank J. Anderson (1981) Orchids: Abbeville Library of Art. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 112p. [Sob. macrantha, p.108-109 + book cover]

Michael J. Balick, Michael H. Nee & Daniel E. Atha (2000) Checklist of the vascular plants of Belize, with common names and uses. Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 85: 1–246. The New York Botanic Garden Press. [Sobralia decora, fragrans, macrantha, mucronata]

James Bateman (1838-1841) The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala. [orig publication, pl. 26: Sobralia decora ; Sob. macrantha]

Helmut Bechtel, Phillip Cribb, Edmund Launert (1992 third ed.) The Manual of Cultivated Orchid Species. Cambridge: The MIT Press. [color plate p. 358; text p. 518]

D.H. Benzing, D.W. Ott, and W.E. Friedman (1982) "Roots of Sobralia macrantha (Orchidaceae): structure and function of the velamen-exodermis complex," in: American Journal of Botany 69: 608-614.

H.M. Butterfield (April 1955) Orchids for the California Amateur. University of California College of Agriculture, California Agricultural Experiment Station Extension Service, Manual 18, 66p. [Sobralia leucoxantha, macrantha, xantholeuca on p. 51]

Margaret A. Dix and Michael W. Dix (2000) Orchids of Guatemala, A Revised Annotated Checklist. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden Press, p.50.

Robert L. Dressler (1993) Field Guide to the Orchids of Costa Rica and Panama. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 374p. [p.321; also Plate 35 no. 4].

Fritz Hamer (1990) Orchids of Central America: An Illustrated field Guide, in: Selbyana 11 (Suppl.): 423-860. [p. 774 line-drawing of plant from El Salvador.]

Harvard University Herbarium (as of 10 April 2003), Index of Botanical Specimens.
[99 Sobralias listed: Sobralia allenii; amesiana; amparoae; atropubescens; biflora; bimaculata; bletiae; bouchei; bradeorum; buchtienii; callosa; corazoi; crocea; decora; decora Bateman var. aerata P. H. Allen & L. O. Williams; edwardsii; epiphytica; fenzliana; fimbriata; galeottiana; hoppii; infudibuligera (infundibuligera); klotzscheana; labiata; lancea; lepida; leucoxantha; lindleyana; luteola; macra; macrantha; macrophylla; mandonii; mucronata; neglecta; panamensis; panamensis Schlechter var. albiflos Schlechter; persimilis; pfavii; pleiantha; powellii; pulcherrima; rigidissima; rolfeana; rosea; roseo-alba; sancti-josephi; sanderae; semperflorens; speciosa; suaveolens; sulphurea; undatocarinata; valida; violacea; warszewiczi; wilsoniana]

Alex D. Hawkes (1989) Encyclopaedia of Cultivated Orchids. London: Faber and Faber Limited. [p. 441]

M.L. James (1986) "Cymbidium companions in the western Cape. Sobralia macrantha (Lindley)," in: S. African Orchid Journal 17(1): 33.

Henry F. Oakeley (1989) "A plant of Sobralia macrantha," in: Plantsman 11(3): 185-187.

Richard Evans Schultes (1940) "Sobralia macrantha in Oaxaca," in: American Orchid Society Bulletin 9: 88-89.

Richard Evans Schultes and William A. Davis (Sept. 1992) The Glass Flowers at Harvard. Photographs by Hillel Burger. Harvard University, 128p. ISBN: 0963440500.

Tom Sheehan and Marion Sheehan (Jan. 1993) "Orchid Genera Illustrated: 150. Sobralia," in: Orchids 62(1): 42-43. ["Species in cultivation: Sobralia cattleya, S. decora, S. dichotoma, S. macrantha, S. violacea, S. yauaperyensis"; color drawing of S. yauaperyensis]

Samuel Sprunger [Ed.] (1991) Orchids from the Botanical Register 1815--1847. Basel: Birkhauser Verlag, 2 Volume set. [Sob. macrantha; Sob. sessilis Lindley]

Daniel Tessmer (2002) "Sobralia macrantha," in: Journal Fur Den Orchideenfreund Jahrgang 9, Heft 2 - 2.Quartal, pp. 117-119. [in German, with two color photos]

James Watson, Ed. (Aug 1998) "Sobralias for Summer Color," in: Orchids 67(8):797. [with photo of Sob. macrantha 'Voodoo Priestess' AM/AOS, grown by Neal Crosswhite]

Pat Werner (DATE?) Werner’s Guide to Nicaraguan Orchids: Selva Negra.
URL: [Sobralia fenzliana, fragrans, macrantha]

An image of Sobralia macrantha is published in: Annales de la Société royale d’Agriculture et de Botanique de Gand, Journal d’horticulture... by Charles Morren (ed.). Gand, etc., 1847. Hand-coloured lithograph (sheet 165 x 250 mm). With text.

Web References:

International Plant Names Index (IPNI)

Werner’s Guide to Nicaraguan Orchids: Selva Negra

Sobralia macrantha at Orchid Connection

Comparison of Sob. macrantha flowers: Photo by Harry Tolen, Chula Orchids, CA (flower on the left is a little over 6 inches wide and 9 inches high).

Photo by Joe Linger [possibly not Sob. macrantha]

Pollination and seed germination info for Sobralia macrantha, from Aaron Hicks

Image from Peter Tomson, Canada

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