Encyclia altissima

Encyclia altissima Schltr.

Common Names: Christmas Orchid

Family: Orchidaceae

Habit: Encyclia altissima grow as an epiphyte or among leaf detritus and rocks.  It produces a very short rhizomatous stem that is covered with secondary stems that are expanded to form elongate pseudobulbs up to 25 cm in length.  From the top of the pseudobulb flattened linear leaves emerge that are up to 1 meter in length.  The pseudobulb can be a purplish color.

The complete, perfect, zygomorphic flowers are arranged in terminal panicles up to 125 cm in height and contain 30-45 flowers that are produced in the winter between November and February. The flowers have bracts and the calyx has 3 greenish yellow sepals that turn brownish with age. The corolla has 3 petals with one forming the labellum.  The labellum is 3-lobed, starts yellowish white but develops reddish purple lines as the flower ages.  2 lobes of the labellum wrap around the greenish yellow column. The column is formed from a fusion of the stamens and ovary into a single structure. The ovary is inferior.  The fruit is a smooth purple capsule at maturity up to 7 cm in length that opens along 6 suture lines and hangs allowing wind to assist in seed dispersal.

Habitat: Encyclia altissima grows in Dry Broadleaf Evergreen Formations – Forest/Woodland/Shrublands (coppice) that have a mixture of species or are palm dominated.

Distribution: Encyclia altissima occurs on all islands in the Lucayan Archipelago as well as Cuba.

Medicinal/Cultural/Economic usage: While there are no medicinal uses of Encyclia altissima like all orchids they are prized for their beautiful flowers. ALL orchids are protected internationally by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and should not be collected from the wild.

Encyclia altissimaalso smells wonderful when in flower!