Stenoglottis fimbriata


Orchidaceae (orchid family)
Common names:
fringed Stenoglottis (Eng.); fraiing-stenoglottis (Afr.)

Stenoglottis fimbriata

This charming, mauve, ground orchid is easily identified by the dark markings found on the leaves and flowers.

Stenoglottis fimbriata is a terrestrial tuberous orchid, reaching a height of 300-400 mm. It is found growing in a very thin humus or moss layer on rocks or in humus-rich soil in rock crevices or on tree trunks or fallen logs in shaded forests. The root system consists of a clump of elongated, fleshy tuberous roots. The roots are hairy, which allows the plant to attach itself to rocks.

Leaves are dark green, lanceolate, 5-20 arranged in a basal rosette, ± 150 mm long and ± 20 mm wide. Leaves display wavy margins with recurved tips and are dotted with dark purple spots.

Close up of flowersThe flowering stem is slender, purple in colour, 300 mm tall, leafless and bears small, green, spotted bracts.

The lilac-pink flowers, 5-50, vary in size and are loosely arranged on a raceme. The raceme continues to elongate as the flowers open over a period of several weeks. All parts of the flower are spotted and lilac-pink in colour. The dorsal sepal is narrowly ovate and 4-8 mm long. The petals are elliptic to narrow, 3-6 mm long and thus shorter than the sepals. The three-lobed lip is a distinctive identifying character of the plant. It is 6-15 mm long, paler than the sepals but more densely spotted. The lateral lobes of the lip are usually shorter than the central lobe. They are often barely toothed or almost subdivided.

Stenoglottis fimbriata flowers from January to April.


Single flowering stemThis orchid is widespread in eastern South Africa in forests and patches of bush surrounding rocks, from the coast up to 1 800 m inland. It can be found growing on rocks, earth banks and epiphytically on moss-covered tree trunks. Plants have been recorded from Eastern Cape, Transkei, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

Derivation of the name
The generic name Stenoglottis is derived from the Greek stenos meaning narrow and glotta meaning tongue, referring to the lobes of the lip (tongue-like lip). The species name fimbriata meaning fringed in Latin.

The small genus Stenoglottis was established by John Lindley, English orchidologist in 1837. Based on a plant specimen of Stenoglottis fimbriata from Transkei, collected by a German explorer and traveller, J.F. Drège.

Stenoglottis fimbriata is one of six species found in South Africa. The other species are S. longifolia, S. macloughlinii, S. molweniensis, S. woodii and S. zambesiaca. All species occur singularly or in groups on the forest floor of both high altitude and coastal forests.

Medicinal and cultural uses
The roots are used by Africans in the preparation of an enema for the relief of flatulence.

Growing Stenoglottis fimbriata

It is important to understand the life cycle of Stenoglottis fimbriata for successful growing and maintenance of this plant. It is not difficult to grow. This plant species is from the summer rainfall region with an active growth season from spring to autumn and with a short dormant period in winter.

Stenoglottis fimbriata can be grown in a glasshouse, shade house or an environment with intermediate temperatures ranging from 20-35°C in summer and should not drop below 6°C in winter. It requires moderate shade, 50-70% and good air movement. Poor ventilation causes black blotching on leaves resulting in die-back.

After the flowering season (January -April), the leaves start to yellow and die back. Dead leaves are removed and flowering stems can be pruned. The plant has completed its summer growing season and will experience a period of dormancy during winter. This is an ideal time to repot the plant into a fresh new medium. The plant requires a free-draining medium consisting of 50 % river sand, 40% leaf mulch and 10% vermiculite. Remove the root ball from the pot, the dead leaves and much of the old potting medium. The root ball can be divided into smaller clumps. Put a layer of coarse stone chips to encourage good drainage. Fill the pot ¾ with fresh potting medium and arrange the tuberous roots to allow the growing point to be planted below the surface of the medium.

It is not necessary to repot every year. The plant can be left undisturbed for ± 2 seasons before repotting into a bigger pot or replacing old potting mix.

During this period of dormancy watering is withheld to allow the medium to dry. It is vital to watch that the medium does not dehydrate completely. To prevent this, the pot is drenched every 2-3 weeks and allowed to dry.

When new rosettes of leaves emerge in late winter and early spring, water lightly until weather warms. The plant should be kept moist during the growing season (spring to autumn). Feed the plant with a seaweed-based fertilizer, an organic plant food, every two weeks during spring. During summer watering can be increased to twice a week.

Be on the look-out for aphids and control with a suitable pesticide.

Stenoglottis fimbriata can be grown as a container plant and houseplant. Plants should be kept on a windowsill where they do not receive direct sunlight.


  • LA CROIX , I. & E. 1997. African orchids in the wild and in cultivation. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  • STEWARD, J., LINDER, H.P., SCHELPE, E.A. & HALL, A.V. 1982. Wild orchids of southern Africa. Macmillan, Cape Town.
  • BATTEN, A. & BOKELMANN, H. 1966. Wild flowers of eastern Cape Province. Books of Africa, Cape Town.
  • LINDER, H.P. & KURZWEIL, H. 1999. Orchids of South Africa. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
  • GIBSON, J.M. 1975. Wild flowers of Natal (Coastal Region). Natal Publishing Trust Fund, Durban.
  • POOLEY, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publication Trust, Durban.

Norma Jodamus
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
March 2003

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