The Paphiopedilum sanderianum is often hailed as the “Queen of Paphs” due to its striking flower with two beautiful side petals, each petal growing to almost three feet long. Sander’s Paphiopedilum orchid is found in its native land, Borneo.

It often grows on vertical limestone cliffs, in the shade of other growing plants, with its roots gripping the moss and decaying matter within its growth. Specifically, it is found mainly in Mulu, Borneo, and Sarawak, Malaysia, where it was believed to be extinct for nearly a century before its rediscovery in 1978.

Name Origins

The Paphiopedilum sanderianum is named in honor of the famed orchid collector Henry Frederick Conrad Sander. Its scientific name comes from the ancient Greek city of Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, and from the ancient Greek word “pedilon,” which means slipper.

Species Overview

Sander’s Paphiopedilum is a medium-sized lithophyte, which means it enjoys growing in limestone cracks and on limestone rocks where its roots find adequate moisture supply in the decaying compost from leaves and barks of the surrounding plants and trees. The leaves may reach up to eighteen inches or slightly longer, depending on their environmental conditions.

– Pseudobulbs

These orchids do not have pseudobulbs. The Paphiopedilum sanderianum tends to form large clumps where young shoots grow vigorously from older mature growths at the base of the plant. The thick, fleshy, leathery leaves usually have mottled appearances near the base’s underside, with a shiny green upper surface. Each shoot of the Queen of Paphs flowers only once and then dies. While seemingly prolific, they are slow to grow and propagate, making them even more sought after.

– Roots

Since Sander’s Paphiopedilum has evolved to thrive in steep, vertical limestone cliffs, its roots have likewise adapted to keep the orchid stable and supported in its challenging environment. The thick, fleshy roots of the Paphiopedilum sanderianum embed themselves in the fissures of the limestone rocks where decaying leaf wastes hoard the perfect amount of moisture to sustain its growth in the tropical wilderness.

– Flowers

Sander’s Paphiopedilum is commonly considered the “Queen of Paphs,” with its long trailing side petals reaching up to three feet long. Highly collectible by orchid connoisseurs, these orchids are also known to be mildly demanding when it comes to flowering, as it may take several years before the plant starts to bloom.

Once it flowers, however, the Paphiopedilum sanderianum blooming period can last up to eight weeks. When the tentative flower stalk starts to emerge, several buds on the flower’s inflorescence begin to develop at the base until the full raceme is mature, where two to five buds start to develop and flower. The blooms are approximately two inches tall, with the side petals reaching an average of two to three feet long, depending on the maturity of the Queen of Paphs.

The shorter petals are covered by minuscule hairs and are pale green with purple margins and stripes. The orchid’s lip is similarly colored and furry, although it is more prominent in size with its protruding appearance similar to a slipper.

– Habitat

In its natural environment, the Paphiopedilum sanderianum can be found clinging securely on the walls of limestone cliffs, enjoying its nutrients from the rotting leaves and barks of the nearby plants. It is a lithophyte and thrives in shady portions of the limestone cliff walls, where it gathers moisture through cracks and condensation.

The Sander’s Paphiopedilum can sometimes be found growing in the branches of trees, where their roots happily dig into the decaying mounds of moss and leaves.

Paphiopedilum Sanderianum Care

While frequently perceived as a slightly high-maintenance orchid plant, the Sander’s Paphiopedilum is surprisingly easy to care for.

Despite its tropical origins, many orchid lovers have successfully bred and cultivated the nearly-extinct Queen of Paphs. Since they are forbidden from being taken from the wild for personal and commercial cultivation, many methods have become available to grow these phenomenal plants.

– Light Requirements

The Paphiopedilum sanderianum is accustomed to growing in shady areas of rain forests, where diffused bright light from the dappling leaves of the nearby plants and trees scatters early morning light.

Moderately shady places are ideal, but they can also grow in slightly brighter or darker conditions. In temperate climates, grow lights may be used at light levels of 18,000 to 25,000 lux. Sander’s paphiopedilum orchid will thrive happily at the ideal brightness level, producing new shoots with bright green growths.

– Water Requirements

Since Paphiopedilum sanderianum orchids are tropical dwellers, those grown in cultivation must emulate their natural conditions and environments. In the rainforests, where rainwater levels can be average to abundant, these plants require similar watering frequency. When watering, care should be given that the roots constantly remain moist and do not dry out completely.

– Temperature

Sander’s Paphiopedilum orchids thrive in warm weather and temperature, making them thermophilic plants. Ideal plant temperatures range from 82 to 84 F during the day and 71 to 77 F at night. The Queen of Paphs enjoys a large difference in day to night temperature, mimicking its natural environment in the tropical rainforests.

– Soil

The perfect growing medium for Paphiopedilum sanderianum plants should be loose and maintains moisture. Ideal materials would be decaying matter, such as leaves and sphagnum moss. Orchid poles, old tree trunks, and even rootstocks are the perfect support media for growing the Queen of the Paphs. Dolomite limestone rocks can be used to simulate its wild environmental growing habitats, with some leaf litter and moss for extra support.

In cultivation, you can also place Paphiopedilum sanderianum plants in clay pots in a loose permeable mix, such as chopped pieces of bark, moss, and clumps of fallen leaves. While rainwater is best for watering, you may use regular tap water. Still, it can cause mineral salt accumulation in the growing medium and pot, so it is best to clean these regularly.

Repotting Sander’s Paphiopedilum is advisable when the roots start growing out of their pots or support media. You may repot Paphiopedilum sanderianum plants any time in tropical climates; however, in temperate locations, repotting is ideal during the colder months of autumn and winter. Repotting encourages growth through clump division, increasing the number of Paphiopedilum sanderianum clusters for more planting opportunities.

– Humidity

The Queen of the Paphs enjoys a high humidity level of 80 to 85 percent throughout the year. Since it is normally found in the tropics, orchid lovers and cultivators are advised to mimic the natural growing conditions of the Paphiopedilum sanderianum. Simple humidifying techniques, such as frequent misting and spraying under controlled conditions, will keep the moisture content in the air high and the plants happy.

– Fertilizer

Paphiopedilum sanderianum plants love to be fertilized every week or every two weeks. Diluted solutions are ideal, with a tenth to a quarter of the usual strength of regular fertilizer dosages. A water-soluble fertilizer high in nitrogen is best used in alternate with a high phosphorous content fertilizer throughout the year. Fertilization should also be lessened in tandem with watering when the plant is observed to be too wet.

– Rest Period

Unlike most orchids, Sander’s Paphiopedilum does not require a rest period, even in its normal climates. However, you should reduce the watering and fertilization in colder months in temperate locations, where the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Orchid lovers should make sure that these plants never dry up.

– Cultivation

All Paphiopedilum sanderianum in the wild are considered endangered and protected from illegal wild plant collection. Some growers have successfully raised the Queen of the Paphs from the seed to reduce the need for illegal wild orchid poaching. It is the dream of orchid and plant conservationists to keep the Paphiopedilum sanderianum away from the endangered species list.

Since new seedlings are grown from Paphiopedilum sanderianum seeds, each cultivated plant is unique and may possess different genetic features, making it possible to create hybrids and cross-breeds. The future of Paphiopedilum sanderianum as a parent to other breeds of its genus is an exciting premise as long as we keep the ones in the wild safe from plant poaching.

Conclusion

The Paphiopedilum sanderianum, despite its reputation as a slow grower, is still an extremely rewarding orchid plant to care for. Once all its growing conditions are met, the Queen of the Paphs is relatively easy to grow and will reward its carers with spectacular flowers with remarkable side flowers that delicately trail down, either under natural or artificial conditions.

Let’s recap what we’ve learned so far about this impressive orchid that was almost lost to the world:

  • The Paphiopedilum sanderianum orchid may be grown outdoors and indoors as long as it is legally acquired.
  • The Queen of Paphs can be grown in temperate climates under carefully controlled artificial conditions.
  • Watering and fertilizing should be reduced in frequency and strength during the colder winter months in temperate locations under the ideal light levels.
  • While it is a slow-growing plant and may take years to fully mature and bloom, its magnificent flowering period can last up to eight weeks.

The Paphiopedilum sanderianum is truly the Queen of Paphs, with its two delicate tendrils of petals trailing down during its flowering period staking its royal claim to the orchid family. With some care, patience, and love, Sander’s Paphiopedilum will bring so much joy and delight to orchid lovers for years to come.

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