Colours and shapes
Purple, brown, green, flaming, sometimes a leopard print and always a full, beautifully marked lip - there’s lots going on with Zygopetalum. What makes this orchid eye-catching is that at first glance it appears to be two different flowers. The crown consists of five brown and green petals which can be either pointy or round. Emerging from this is a luxuriant lip, usually white and purple. In the jungle it offers excellent camouflage, but in the living room it actually stands out even more.
The name is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘zygon’, which means yoke and refers to the two protruding petals. In Greek mythology Zygo is the ‘firstborn river’ from which all other rivers sprang. The rivulet pattern (also known as the delta) on the orchid’s lip refers to this. Ever since it was introduced in its cultivated form in 1880, the plant has symbolised ‘a spiritual connection between people who belong together’, just like the various petals and lip belong together.
In nature Zygopetalum grows on tree trunks, rocks and amongst leaves on the ground in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. It’s a real jungle native that can take a knock. The flowers are mauve, olive and sometimes almost blue and some species have a sweet fragrance. In the wild Zygopetalum uses this to attract insects, making it an important part of the rainforest biotope. Zygopetalum is one of the smallest orchid families: only 15 species are known, however there are many more Zygopetalum hybrids from which the houseplants come.