Native to Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador
Edited 22 March 2007
© Nina Rach
Original publication: Fedde, Rep. Beih. 17:11, 1922.
Type specimen collected in Panama near Gatun Lake by Powell (Ames Herbarium).
This terrestrial species has large, white, terminal flowers with a golden yellow throat. The stems are erect and cane-like, almost completely enclosed by leaf-sheaths.
There is a wide variation of plants which are cultivated under this name, however, and Robert Dressler has published a brief comparison with some photos in his 1998 article in Orchid Digest. See the webpage on white sobralias for some comparative information.
Observed growing in Alajuela (Monteverde) and Limon Provinces of Costa Rica from 500 to 820m elevation; blooming in January, March, May, and June. John Atwood III noted "Epiphyte on tree trunk. Stems woody canes. Flower white; lip with extensive; mustard yellow blotching" [voucher # 9182].
Collected in Panama in 1996, just outside the caldera of El Valle de Anton. Plants to about 1-1.25 meters, with stiff leaves and prominent ridges. Flowers appear at several times throughout the year and last more than two days before fading.
In addition to a yellow throat, flowers of the Colombian variety are said to have a wide, rose-colored margin around the lip.
In Ecuador, Sobralia powellii is found growing both epiphytically and terrestrially in wet montane cloud forest in the provinces of Pichincha, Manabi, El Oro, Canar, and Cotopaxi.
Garay (1978, p. 128) describes the problematic nomenclature for this species: "Sobralia powellii has been reduced to synonomy of S. leucoxantha Rchb.f. by all contemporary students of American orchids. However, an examination of the type of S. leucoxantha clearly indicates that both species are amply distinct, not only in vegetative aspects, but also in size and structure of the flowers. Ironically, most of the true S. leucoxantha specimens in herbaria are filed under S. macra Schltr., which, however, is not a synonym of S. leucoxantha."
From "The Cutting Edge," Volume VIII, Number 4, October 2001, referring to Dressler's publication in Orchids (2001):
"A well-known ornamental Sobralia (Orchidaceae) with golden-lipped flowers, ranging along the Atlantic slope from Nicaragua to central Panama, has long been called either S. leucoxantha Rchb. f. or S. powellii Schltr. The latter name has been established as applying to a rather different sp. of central Panama. Now, examination of the type of S. leucoxantha (one of the two entities alluded to in the title) reveals that this name has also been misapplied; correctly, Sobralia leucoxantha is the oldest name for a more humble sp., of Costa Rica and Panama, heretofore known as S. macra Schltr. The flashier, golden-lipped sp., momentarily nameless, is here formally christened as Sobralia chrysostoma Dressler (the second entity of the title). No specimens are cited other than the type."
Arcadio Arosema G., Roberto Estrada G., Cecilia De Jurado, Max Konanz M. (1988) Orchids From the Coast of Ecuador. Guayaquil: Asociacion Ecuatoriana de Orquideologia, 129p., 171 color photos. ["Sob. powellii" is pictured and described on p.95]
Robert L. Dressler (1998) "A New White Sobralia from Costa Rica," in: Orchid Digest 62(2): 89-91. [Sob. kerryae]
Robert L. Dressler (2001) "Two Sobralias," in: Orchids 70(8): 750-751, 770. ["Features fine close-up color photos of flowers of both S. chrysostoma and S. leucoxantha, by Kerry A. Dressler."]
Rodrigo Escobar [Ed.] (1992) Native Colombian Orchids, Volume 4: Porroglossum - Zygosepalum.
Leslie A. Garay (1978) Flora of Ecuador No. 9: Orchidaceae. in: Opera Botanica, 305pp. [new species/taxonomic changes: Sob. pardalina, persimilis, pulcherrima, and sobraliodes].
International Plant Names Index [IPNI]
Flowering sequence, from bud to open flower, two different white sobralias, labeled "Sobralia powellii" on a Japanese website
Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Ecuador (CVPE), in the W3 TROPICOS database at Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT).
Sobralia powellii is listed in the Flora of the Pacific Coastal Range of Northwestern Ecuador [MOBOT Project]
Specimen list from
Manual de la Flora de Costa Rica
Information about four specimens can be found in the BIMS Database for Costa Rica [Biodiversity Information Management System].
William A. Haber (2001)
"Plants of Monteverde: Orchidaceae"
Monteverde Natural History
AOS award to this Sobralia species:
Sobralia powellii 'Paki' CHM/81 pts
San Francisco, July 1996 (AQ Vol.28, pg. 75)
"Two flowers and six buds on one inflorescence; sepals and petals pale creamy yellow; lip ruffled, yellow with tubular golden yellow throat; large, well-flowered plant worth growing." Exhibited by Pat & Clarence Kagikawa, Sunnyvale, Calif.