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Plants & Gardens Blog

Repotting the Tiger Orchid

On June 28, Aquatic House curator Dave Horak and members of the Horticulture staff repotted BBG’s Grammatophyllum speciosum, commonly known as the tiger orchid. Considered to be the world’s largest orchid species, the plant on display at BBG is a beautiful specimen weighing approximately 300 pounds.

The orchid was purchased for BBG’s orchid collection in 1998 from the estate of Don Richardson, a prominent orchid specialist and head grower for Greentree, the 400-acre estate of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney in Manhasset, Long Island.

BBG’s Grammatophyllum speciosum has only blossomed twice since coming to the Garden; blooming requires a tremendous amount of light and heat that isn’t always easy to provide given Brooklyn’s winters, even in a glasshouse. The short day length and lower light intensity of this latitude makes blooming an uncommon event here; the last time it flowered was in 2008.

In its natural habitat in tropical Asia, the tiger orchid grows as an epiphyte in crotches of sturdy trees, where its roots intertwine to capture leaf litter and other sources of nutrients. In BBG’s Aquatic House it is planted in a wooden basket and fertilized frequently. Over the past five years the basket had begun to deteriorate, threatening to drop this heavy plant into the pool below.

The new basket was constructed by David Mueller, a BBG volunteer, and is made of ipê (Tabebuia species), a heavy, neotropical wood very resistant to insects and rot. The repotting of the orchid was a long process taking seven hours.

Rebecca Bullene is a former editor at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She is the proprietor of Greenery NYC, a creative floral and garden design company that specializes in botanical works of art including terrariums, urban oasis gardens, and whimsical floral arrangements.

    Discussion

  • Charles packer October 14, 2020

    I had my tiger in a big clay pot, for 5 years, the roots blocked the hole in the bottom of the pot and it started to die. I have removed it out of the pot to let it dry out, what is the best thing to do with it now? I live in Barbados.

  • Ilka Celeste Robles July 2, 2014

    Fantastic! I own one of these beautiful and exotic orchids. Wish I can see mine as beautiful as yours and flowering soon. I live in Puerto Rico, a tropical island, so maybe I will be lucky with the flowering.

  • Louise D. Suhey May 2, 2013

    After reading about this plant in the Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean, I had to see what it looked like. Fascinating to watch your staff repot such a large specimen. Ms. Orlean states the specimen displayed at the 1850 Crystal Palace weighed more than two tons and broke the record. Would have loved to have seen that one!

  • claube April 12, 2013

    Fantastic!

  • tassin Bernard October 6, 2012

    Bravo for this good job: well prepared and executed. Fortunately, it is easier my colleagues and me when we repot even our biggest plants. Surely I’ll visit your garden on my next visit to NYC.

    Orchid grower in France

  • Anita Arphan May 1, 2011

    I have this great orchid in my garden here in Kuala Lumpur/Malaysia and I am still waiting for the orchid to flower. It’s been now over 4 years and nothing yet. Heard in a nursery the other day that there are apparently male and female plants and I really hope that mine belongs to the female species. And they had this orchid outside which was about double the size of the one in the picture, 10 years old and NO flower yet.

  • Emily Velde Elias December 28, 2010

    good to follow your work.  Inspiring.

  • Mary Ann December 17, 2010

    Repotting an orchid is no easy job. And to repot a tiger orchid of that size must have been a difficult task. It is such an amazing plant. Thank you for sharing this journey. Congratulations and may your orchid be happy in its new home. For smaller orchids of course, orchidcarezone.com is a great resource.

  • Laurence May July 19, 2010

    Fascinating article with great photos.  Thanks.

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