African Orchids: Ansellia Africana

Pronounciation: an-sell-i-ah
Common Name: Leopard orchid (English); Luiperdorgidee (Afrikaans); Imfeyenkawu (Zulu)
Distribution: tropical Africa and into N Namibia, N Botswana, Swaziland, and in South Africa in the Northern Province, the Lowveld and Kwa-Zulu/Natal.

Named after John Ansell, an assistant botanist on an 1841 expedition to the Niger River.


Range and Habitat

These stunning plants were originally discovered on Fernando Po Island off the West coast of Africa, this extremely variable orchid is now thought to be a monotypic genus that is widespread throughout tropical Africa. They have been encountered from Uganda, Kenya, Angola, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. In South Africa , plants are found in Kwazulu Natal , Swaziland and Mpumalanga.
They are found in a variety of habitats, and are often seen growing in the hot and dry open woodland areas. Plants usually seen wedged into the forks of large trees or attached to the branches, occasionally they are lithotypic and can be seen growing on rocks, or even terrestially

Growing Ansellias
They are relatively easy plants to grow and maintain, they do tend to get very large in a short period of time, their pseudobulbs can grow to a length of 120 cm, some plants in nature are estimated to weigh around a ton.

prefer daytime temperatures of 25 C to 30 C, and nighttime temperatures of 8 C to 12 C. However, better results are obtained when grown intermediate to warm..

Provide Ansellias with sufficient light (2500-4000 fc), this is important for healthy growth and flower production, they require bright, filtered/diffused light, but. full sun tends to burn the leaves easily. They should also get constant air movement.

Watering and Humidity
I grow mine at a humidity of around 60% to 80% in summer and dropping down to 55% - 60% in winter, and they thrive in these conditions. I have read that they will do fine in an low humidity situation (30% - 40%) as occurs in the home, where they can be grown on trays of gravel, partially filled with water, so that the plants never sit in water. Using an evaporative cooling system in warm climates can increase the humidity. Good air movement is essential, especially when humidity is high, this can be achieved by using fans.
Actively growing plants should be watered often, but there should be good drainage around the roots, which should never be soggy.

Repotting and Potting mixes
There are various potting mediums, such as osmunda (expensive), tree fern, bark, moss, CHCs (coconut husk chips), perlite, vermiculite, Semi-Hydro (used in the hydroponics industry) sponge rock and rockwool (extruded melted rock). They should be repotted about every two years, or as the medium decomposes. Whatever mix you use, it should drain fairly quickly.

A potting mix which I have found to work pretty well for me consists of the following:

10 parts small to medium sized bark chips
3 parts Sphrag moss
1 part silica sand, used for pool filters (can also use washed river sand)
2 part small stones
1 part Vermiculite

Should be done on a regular basis, but they should be fertilized at half to quater strength so as to avoid burning the roots. The first signs of fertilizer burn is seen on the tips of the leaves which will turn brown. The pots should also be flushed with clean water regularly to get rid of salts which tend to build up in the medium and around the roots. I prefer to give a weekly foiliar feeding.

Rest Period
Ansellias require a winter rest period in order to initiate flowering. During this time it is recommended that the watering is cut to a minimum, I however water my plants throughout the winter, maybe a little less than in summer, and they all flower very well. Fertilizer should be reduced or eliminated until new growth starts and heavier watering is resumed in spring.

Ansellias are extreamly showy plants and are sought after specimen plants for gardens. They have about 40-150 flowers per inflorescence, which can be up to 80 cm long, with 5-10 on each branch of the panicle. Flowers, which have a strong, pleasant glycerine-like scent, are 2.5-4.0cm across. Flowers are extremely variable in colour, usually having a yellow or greenish background that is variably marked with burgundy, brown, light brown, cream to no spots at all. These markings may be spots ranging in size from small to large, and in some forms the entire blossom may be almost dark brown. Other forms, however, may be only lightly marked, and some forms have plain yellow or yellowish green blossoms with no markings. The initial flower spike on a new growth emerges from the tip of the pseudobulb, there after the flower spikes may be produced on the sides of the canes, lower down.