‘Bucky,’ the Stinkiest Bulbophyllum

April 13, 2017 at 1:48 pm 5 comments

Bucky 1

“Bucky’ and its large leaves

Every orchid has an interesting story. Once you look beyond their beauty, other captivating qualities emerge about virtually all of them. However, there are some that stand out and make their presence known in ways that simply cannot be ignored. Whether you like them or not, indifference is unlikely to be your response. In this regard, there is nothing subtle about Smithsonian Gardens’ magnificent specimen of Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis. Charmed by its pendant glossy leaves and their resemblance to a beaver’s tail, the donors of this magnificent specimen named it ‘Bucky’; a name that lives on.

At the time it was originally acquired, few people outside of Asia had seen this species, though many read about it and its remarkable ecology. The inflorescence (flower head) consists of a cluster of about 15 to 20 reddish-brown (meat-colored) flowers covered with papillae (fleshy projections) said to resemble wriggling maggots. Charming! Since it targets female carrion flies as its pollinator, engaging in ‘brood site deception,’ it also evolved a fragrance to match its appearance. Early writings about it claim that its blossoms emitted an aroma reminiscent of the stench of 1000 dead elephants rotting in the sun. While this is surely hyperbole, Smithsonian Gardens staff have been waiting for many months to experience Bucky’s olfactory charms. Incredibly, buds were forming under one of its huge floppy leaves which we didn’t observe until a visitor spied them during a greenhouse tour. We certainly would have noticed them the next day when they opened and started their fragrance treat, though, making the greenhouse almost uninhabitable for a few days.

Bucky 2

Inflorescence of Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis

A monstrous plant from lowland Papua New Guinea, Bucky loves to be warm and humid all the time. Given its robust girth and thick pseudobulbs (storage organs in the stem), we water it daily and feed it frequently. It is the most famous species in Bulbophyllum section Macrobulbon, of which the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection has an almost complete set. They all share the same pollination strategy so more very stinky orchids are soon to come! The surprising species epithet, ‘Phalaneopsis,’ was given because superficially the plant resembles Phalaenopsis gigantea, the largest Phalaenopsis species (native to Borneo). Other than both being in the orchid family, however, they are not at all closely related.

– Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection Specialist 

Entry filed under: Collections, Greenhouse, Orchids, Uncategorized.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. D Nixon  |  April 25, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Hi Tom,
    Great article – I now know why Doug donated his plant – I was expecting a beautiful flower just because of the name – so it is good to know why it was named

    Reply
  • 2. Debby Halliday  |  April 14, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    What a great stinky plant! I loved your article, but think I’ll visit this beauty rather than adding it to my collection.

    Reply
  • 3. Lisa Horth  |  April 14, 2017 at 11:57 am

    Such a fascinating mimic. I have never seen so large a display on a Bulbophyllum. A nice acquistion for the Gardens, though I would not inhale air near this big stinker!

    Reply
    • 4. Tom  |  May 3, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      HI Lisa! thanks for the kind words….you should come and meet Bucky in person!…hope all is well with you! much news to share!

      Reply
  • 5. Holly Forbes  |  April 13, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks for the great interpretation!

    Reply

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