Habenaria

Habenaria is a large genus of more than 800 species in the Orchidaceae family distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Plants are variable. Species have small to large underground root tubers, are deciduous, and have erect stems 20 to 80 cm. Some have two flat leaves and others many leaves along the stem. The small to medium flowers are normally green, yellow, and/or white. Species in this genus are sometimes referred to as Ghost Orchids because of their light color. The median sepal is joined with the upper lobes of petals forming a hood. The distinguishing feature of this genus is the receptive surface of the stigmas produced on two projecting club-shaped organs.

There are 35 species in southern Africa, mostly confined to summer rainfall areas where plants grow singly or in small groups in forest, savanna, dune scrub, marsh or grassland. The species of this genus flower mainly in summer and often emit a sweet scent in the evening to attract moths which act as pollinators. More information on the southern Africa species including cultivation information can be found here.


Habenaria dives Rchb.f. is found in well drained grassland up to 2600 m from the Eastern Cape through KwaZulu-Natal to Mpumalanga and including Lesotho and Swaziland. Growing to 60 cm, it has small white green flowers with green veined sepals and a 3 lobbed lip with the white lateral petals divided into narrow upper parts with tips pointing upwards, while the shorter lower parts taper and curve outwards, spreading sideways. It has stiff stem clasping leaves with prominent veins up to 24 x 20 cm with the acutely pointed leaf tips angling outwards. The spur is short, tapered from a wide mouth. The stigma has two short, chunky and shiny projecting arms, dull green in the center. It flowers December to March. Known as the Death Orchid, ground and dried tubers are used as an evil charm. Photos taken by Cameron McMaster in Maclear and Ugie.

Habenaria dives, Aurora Peak, Maclear, Cameron McMasterHabenaria dives, Ugie, Cameron McMasterHabenaria dives, Ugie, Cameron McMaster

Habenaria falcicornis (Lindl.) Bolus is found in marshy grassland up to 2600 m from the Western Cape to Zimbabwe. It grows from 22 to 80 cm with leaves from 8 to 18 cm x 2 cm, grey green, sheathing a pale yellow stem. The lateral petals are two-lobed, the upper lobes pointing upwards, the larger lower ones spreading to the sides. The lip below is three-lobed, the lobes narrowly oblong, white at their bases, green at their tips. This species resembles Habenaria dives, but the inflorescence is looser and the spur is longer. It flowers November to March. Photos by Cameron McMaster taken in Maclear.

Habenaria falcicornis, Maclear, Cameron McMasterHabenaria falcicornis, Maclear, Cameron McMasterHabenaria falcicornis, Maclear, Cameron McMaster

Habenaria laevigata Lindl. is a tuberous orchid found on stony grassland from 700 to 2000 m in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It grows to 40 cm and has leaves that clasp the stem and green scented flowers in a dense inflorescence. It blooms late spring into summer. Photos taken by Cameron McMaster, Bob Rutemoeller, and Mary Sue Ittner January 2010 at Maclear and Naude's Nek.

Habenaria laevigata, Maclear, Cameron McMasterHabenaria laevigata, Maclear, Bob RutemoellerHabenaria laevigata, Maclear, Mary Sue IttnerHabenaria laevigata, Naude's Nek, Mary Sue IttnerHabenaria laevigata, Naude's Nek, Mary Sue Ittner

Habenaria lithophila Schltr. is a tuberous orchid growing to 30 cm. found on stony grassland up to 2500 m. from the Western Cape of South Africa to Tanzania. It has green to yellowish green flowers. The lower petals lobes are long and very slender. It blooms late spring into summer. Photos taken January 2010 by Cameron McMaster at Naude's Nek.

Habenaria lithophila, Naude’s Nek, Cameron McMasterHabenaria lithophila, Naude’s Nek, Cameron McMaster

Habenaria medusa Kraenzl. is sometimes wrongly written as Habenaria medusae. It is probably synonymous with H. myriotricha. It is native to southeast Asia. The inflorescence reaches about 18 inches (40 cm) in height and the flowers are 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) across. It is not an easy species to cultivate and requires very good orchid conditions with a lot of moisture and air movement. After flowering, it will go into a dormant stage where the tubers must remain somewhere between moist and dry. When new shoots appear, increase watering to keep the medium just moist until vigorous growth commences. Photos 1-3 were taken by of a cultivated plant (bought as H. myriotricha) taken September, 2009 by Eugene Zielinski. The other flower in the first picture is Pecteilis sagarikii. Photo 4 was taken by Nhu Nguyen.

Habenaria myriotricha, Eugene ZielinskiHabenaria myriotricha, Eugene ZielinskiHabenaria myriotricha, Eugene ZielinskiHabenaria medusa, Nhu Nguyen

Habenaria radiata (Thunb.) Spreng. is a synonym for Pecteilis radiata.


Habanaria rhodocheila Hance is native to a broad geographic range from southern China to Malaysia and the Philippines. There are several color forms. After flowering, it will go into a dormant stage where the tubers must remain somewhere between moist and dry. When new shoots appear, increase watering to keep the medium just moist until vigorous growth commences. Photos 1-5 were taken by Nhu Nguyen. Photo 4 shows the side view that includes the stigmatic surface. Photo 6 shows a pollinium.

Habenaria rhodocheila, Nhu NguyenHabenaria rhodocheila, Nhu NguyenHabenaria rhodocheila, Nhu NguyenHabenaria rhodocheila, Nhu NguyenHabenaria rhodocheila, Nhu Nguyen

Habenaria tysonii Bolus is found on exposed sunny, rocky grassland from the Eastern Cape through KwaZulu-Natal to Mpumalanga and as far as Zambia. Growing from 16 to 36 cm, it has two round to kidney shaped, somewhat succulent basal leaves that are flat on the ground and green flowers. It flowers December through February. Photos taken at Aurora Peak, Maclear, by Cameron McMaster.

Habenaria tysonii, Aurora Peak, Cameron McMasterHabenaria tysonii, Aurora Peak, Cameron McMasterHabenaria tysonii, Aurora Peak, Cameron McMaster

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