Polystachya pubescens

(Lindl.) Rchb.f.

Family : Orchidaceae
Common names : amabelejongosi (Zulu)

Polystachya pubescens


This delightful bright yellow, fragrant epiphytic orchid is at home on a tree branch in the forest or on a sandstone rock in the full sun.

Growing on the stems of treesDescription
This plant is an epiphyte, that is it does not grow in the soil but on the branches of trees. It does not use the tree to supply its food but only to support it so that its spongy roots can absorb moisture from mists and rain and nutrients from decaying vegetation. The flowers arise from the young growth between October and December and are a striking yellow with brown markings and a strong fragrance.

This species is found in the coastal forests from the Eastern Cape in the south to Zululand and Swaziland and will not tolerate low temperatures. In the Pondoland region it can be found growing in large mats on sandstone rocks in the full sun. These plants usually have leaves that are a pronounced purple colour because of the intense light. In the lower light conditions of the forest the plants are green.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name is derived from the many ( poly- ) branched flower spikes ( stachys ) in some of the species. The genus grows throughout Africa and comprises about 200 species, 11 of which occur in southern Africa. The most common species in South Africa is P. ottoniana.

Uses and cultural aspects
Because of its showy flowers and relative ease of culture, there is a demand for plants amongst specialist orchid growers . There are records of the genus being used amongst the amaZulu as a protective charm.

Close up of flowers

Growing Polystachya pubescens

Purplish leavesThis plant grows easily in the milder regions of the country if it is attached to a branch of a tree ( Celtis, Syzigium, Harpephyllum , i.e. a tree with smooth bark) with a piece of old stocking, and kept misted during the hot summer months. No water should be given during winter. A watering of liquid fertilizer once a month when it has sent out roots will ensure strong, healthy plants.

It can also be grown on pine bark slabs or in pots of coarse pieces of pine bark. These plants should be kept in an airy, lightly shaded spot and must be watered and fed regularly. For the more adventurous with access to large sandstone rocks and a mild climate, it might be worth establishing a plant or two on them as the effect would be stunning.

References and further reading

  • Hutchings, A. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants, an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
  • Jackson, W.P.U. 1987. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera. University of Cape Town Ecolab.


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Natal Nataional Botanical Garden
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This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.