Paphiopedilum purpuratum

Family : Orchidaceae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini



The species is native to North Vietnam and South China (Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan and Yunnan) where it grows in the forests and the thickets, usually on rocky soils covered by moss or by vegetal debris, up to about 1500 m of altitude.

The name of the genus is the combination of the Greek terms “Παφια” (Paphia), attribute of Aphrodite, and “πεδιλον” (pedilon) = sandal, with reference to the shape of the labellum; the specific name is the Latin adjective “purpuratus, a, um” = turned purple, purple, with obvious reference.

Common names: Hong Kong lady’s slipper orchid, purple paphiopedilum (English); zi wen dou lan (Chinese); lan hài tía (Vietnamese).

The Paphiopedilum purpuratum (Lindl.) Stein (1892) is a terrestrial species with distichous oblong-elliptic leaves with pointed or bi-tridentate apex, 8-16 cm long and 2-4 cm broad, coriaceous, of pale green colour with dark green spots above, uniformly pale green below. Terminal floral scape, erect or sub-erect, of violet purple colour and covered by short white down, 10-18 cm long, bearing one flower, rarely two, of 8-9 cm of diameter; pedicel and ovarium about 5 cm long. Ovate dorsal sepal with pointed apex and slightly ciliate and retroflexed margins, 3-4,5 cm long and broad, of white colour suffused green at the base with brown-purple veins, lateral sepals merged in one unique sepal (synsepal) ovate-lanceolate behind the labellum, 2-4 cm long and 1-1,6 cm broad, of greenish white colour with green veins. Oblong petals slightly wavy with pointed apex and ciliate margins, 4-6 cm long and 1-1,8 cm broad, of purple colour suffused green and dotted of dark brown at the base with dark purple veins. Saccate labellum, 3,5-6 cm long and 2,2-2,6 cm broad, of brown-purple colour with darker veins, and lunate staminode with sharp and facing inward lateral lobes and pointed tooth at the apex, 0,8 cm long and 1 cm broad, of yellowish green colour suffused purple.

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The Paphiopedilum purpuratum is a South China terrestrial species. Due to its beauty and the indiscriminate collecition in nature counts less than 250 mature specimens and is today inserted in the red list as at very high extinction risk. However will survive cultivated with its fascinating 8-9 cm of diameter flower © Giuseppe Mazza

It reproduces by seed, in vitro, and division, at the vegetative restart, with each section formed by at least three tufts. Species of great ornamental value, for the flowers as well as for the foliage, particularly appreciated by the collectors, requires a semi-shady exposition, intermediate temperatures in summer, 20-30 °C, cool in winter, 16-20 °C, with lowest night values preferably not under the 10 °C, high humidity, 60-80%, and constant ventilation. Regular and abundant waterings from late spring to mid autumn, then reduced in winter, but without ever allowing the substratum to dry up completely, utilizing rain water, by reverse osmosis or demineralized. It is usually cultivated in pot with particularly draining compost formed by medium sliced bark fragments, sphagnum or coir and inerts, such as agri perlite or expanded polystyrene balls. Monthly fertilizations during the vegetative period with a hydrosoluble balanced product, with microelements, at ¼, or less, of the dosage reported on the package. Repottings are to be done by the end of blooming.

Because of indiscriminate collection, deforestation and excessive anthropization, the population has fragmented and drastically reduced to a number estimated (2015) of mature idividuals of less than 250, for such reason the species has been inserted into the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “Critically Endangered” (at very high risk of extinction in nature in the immediate future).

The species is reported in the appendix I of CITES (species at risk of extinction whise trade is allowed only in exceptional circumstances).

Synonyms: Cypripedium purpuratum Lindl. (1837); Menephora bicolor Raf. (1838); Cypripedium sinicum Hance ex Rchb.f. (1852); Paphiopedilum sinicum (Hance ex Rchb.f.) Stein (1892); Paphiopedilum purpuratum (Lindl.) Pfitzer (1894); Cordula purpurata (Lindl.) Rolfe (1912); Paphiopedilum aestivum Z.J.Liu & J.Yong Zhang (2001); Paphiopedilum purpuratum var. hainanense F.Y.Liu & Perner (2001).


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