Big Leaf Orchids

Phalaenopsis gigantea
Giant of the genus


Story and photos by Peter Lin


This article is first published in IPA Journal - Phalaenopsis - Winter 2003 issue.

IRVING, Texas - Many of you know that Phalaenopsis is my favorite orchid genus. Through the years I have built a collection of more than 2,000 Phalaenopsis, with an emphasis on diversity and a focus on Phalaenopsis gigantea and its hybrids.

Phalaenopsis gigantea is native to Borneo and was described in 1909. Named for its gigantic leaves that easily exceed 60 centimeters in cultivation, Phalaenopsis gigantea is the largest Phalaenopsis species. The massive leaves are pendent, leathery, broadly rounded, pale silver green and shiny on both surfaces. So impressive in size, how does Phal. gigantea measure up in other aspects to the rest of the species in the genus?

Phal. gigantea arguably is the best Phalaenopsis species to use to produce award-winning hybrids. In this article I will introduce you to the reasons it is so prolific. I will also describe my experience with the culture of this fascinating species and tell you why Phal. gigantea is not as difficult to grow as we are often told.

To date, Phal. gigantea is used in 140 first-generation hybrids and is in the background of 1,187 hybrids going back seven generations, with more than 500 plants awarded.

A good example of a recently awarded Phal. gigantea hybrid is Phalaenopsis Perfection Is 'Chen', FCC/AOS. What makes this an award-winning Phal. gigantea hybrid? As much as I would like to tell you my opinion of what's hot and what's not, let us first discuss what we look for in a Phal. gigantea flower and what contributions it passes to its progeny. By the end of this article, I hope you will see what makes Phal. gigantea shine as a parent in today's modern Phalaenopsis hybridizing.

A typical Phal. gigantea flower has a natural spread of about five centimeters. The flowers tend to have a cream background with varying degrees of green around the column. The flowers are noted for full and round segments that are about equal in size, are usually overlapping and have raised red-brown spots or blotches you can feel with your fingers.

Mature, specimen-size plants are capable of producing hundreds of flowers on pendent, branching inflorescences reaching 40 centimeters. I can imagine how AOS judges would have been wowed by 139 flowers and 81 buds on six multi-branched inflorescences of Phal. gigantea 'Laurie Weltz' when it was awarded a CCM/AOS in 1993 at the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show.

To date, there are 36 quality awards to Phal. gigantea. An awarded Phal. gigantea should have large, flat flowers with the flower count depending on the age of the plant. All segments should be full, round, well proportionate and overlapping. The clarity of markings on the flowers should be distinct and vibrant. The texture should be waxy and the substance heavy.

The largest Phal. gigantea flower on record belongs to the clone 'Valle Giant', which had a 6.5 centimeter natural spread and 20 flowers when it was awarded an AM/AOS in 1996 at the Mid-Atlantic Center monthly judging. The recently awarded clone 'Beaudreaux' garnered an AM/AOS and a CCM/AOS and had "fifty-six flowers and one bud symmetrically arranged on three arched inflorescences, substance waxy, texture glossy" when it was awarded at the Middle Tennessee Orchid Society Show in 2000.

As you can see, Phal. gigantea has several desirable traits judges are looking for in an awardable flower. We use a good Phal. gigantea in hybridizing to produce spotted flowers that have good substance, glossy texture, round shape and full segments. Quoting Bill Livingston, Phal. gigantea's hybrids "are quite colorful and very smog resistant because of the heavy substance of the flowers.  They will breed rather easily, generally producing very pretty flowers, especially if they were hybridized with highly colored clones." No wonder Phal. gigantea is in the background of many of the Taiwanese novelty hybrids.

They started a number of years ago with selected hybrids and used these to produce some really wonderful spotted hybrids, commonly known as Taiwanese spots. This newest trend in Phalaenopsis breeding is different from the French spots, which feature the breeding line of another Phalaenopsis species, Phal. stuartiana.

The key differences between Taiwanese and French spots are that Taiwanese spots have smaller flowers than the French spots but larger and brighter spots with some so heavily spotted the flowers are almost a solid color.

French spots have larger flowers than the Taiwanese spots with many fine lavender spots, but the flower substance is often average. Taiwanese spots have heavy substance as a result of the Phal. gigantea influence. Good substance is an important attribute for producing long-lasting flowers.

Another reason for Phal. gigantea's popularity in producing novelty hybrids is that Phal. gigantea breeds easily with most colorful Phalaenopsis species such as Phal. amboinensis, Phal. bellina, Phal. violacea and Phal. lueddemanniana, as well as their hybrids. The round form of Phal. gigantea flowers typically comes through in the next few generations of their progeny. Hybridizers desire the round form to compliment the starry shape of the colorful summer-blooming species.

My favorite primary hybrid using Phal. gigantea as a parent is Phal. Mok Choi Yew. Phal. Mok Choi Yew (x violacea) was registered in 1968. To date this wonderful hybrid has won five AOS quality awards ? two AM/AOS, two HCC/AOS and one JC. Phal. Mok Choi Yew was awarded its first AM/AOS to the clone 'Ponkan' in 1981, which had three flowers the judging team described as well-arranged, "chartreuse, heavily spotted with magenta: inner halves of lateral sepals and labellum nearly solid purple" and with "excellent substance and texture."

Consistent with expectations of a good Phal. gigantea hybrid, other clones are praised for "substance cardboard-like", "wonderful sheen" and "texture waxy." But three flowers to an awarded plant? Does using Phal. violacea as a parent bring down flower count and dominate Phal. gigantea's multiflora trait?

In 1999, I was pleased to have the clone 'Peter Lin' awarded an AM/AOS with 11 flowers and 12 buds on three inflorescences and the clone 'Big Leaf Orchid' awarded a JC with 15 flowers and five buds on two branched inflorescences.

I believe that of all the awarded plants of Phal. Mok Choi Yew, Phal. bellina was used as a parent rather than Phal. violacea. I have seen Phal. Mok Choi Yew when it was made with Phal. violacea, and the result is not as good as the awarded ones using Phal. bellina. (At the time when these plants were awarded, there was no distinction between the two species.) This reasoning is based on the award descriptions referring to "inner halves of lateral sepals and labellum nearly solid purple" ? which is a trait of Phal. bellina, not Phal. violacea, which has solid color. In addition, Phal. bellina tends to have rounder segments and better form.

One desirable trait I like about Phal. gigantea is its citrus fragrance, described as "sweetly fragrant" by Eric A. Christenson. Because fragrance is not included in orchid judging, there is often little or no documentation on fragrance. The clone 'Big Leaf Orchid' earned a Judges' Commendation for "plant size and floriferousness" and was noted for its "citrus fragrance." Those of you who are a fan of fragrant Phalaenopsis can see why I favor Mok Choi Yew.

Another credit to Phal. Mok Choi Yew is that to date it is used in 21 first-generation hybrids and is in the background of 35 hybrids going back three generations, with as many as 14 plants awarded." My favorites are Phal. Formosa San Fan (x Misty Green), Phal. Orchidview Headliner (x Misty Green), and Phal. Razzmatazz (x Golden Gift).
<Photo: Phal. Formosa San Fan 'Nobby' >

Phal. Formosa San Fan is made by combining Phal. Mok Choi Yew with another superstar parent, Phal. Misty Green. Most of us desire large flowers. Hybridizers aim to make bigger and brighter flowers than their predecessors. Such is the case of taking the six-centimeter flower of Phal. Mok Choi Yew with the more than nine-centimeter flower of Phal. Misty Green to make Phal. Formosa San Fan. The very colorful clone 'Sun Moon Beauty' was awarded in 1994. Its 7.6 centimeter natural spread flower is described as an 'extremely flat, round', 'flower background ivory, heavily overlaid with magenta spots in a mosaic pattern; inner halves of lateral sepals with deep violet wash' with cardboard substance and iridescent texture.

My favorite clone of Phal. Formosa San Fan is 'Nobby.' It produces large flowers that are relatively flat. Like its parents, Phal. Formosa San Fan also has a strong sweet fragrance which must be experienced to be appreciated.

Another one of my favorites is Phal. Orchidview Headliner, made by H.P. Norton from Monck's Corner, S.C., using Phal. Mok Choi Yew 'Ponkan' and Hausermann's Goldcup. H.P. took a well-known yellow breeder to add more color to Phal. Mok Choi Yew. To date there are seven awarded clones of Phal. Orchidview Headliner. I like them for their well-formed and fragrant flowers, their multicolor appearance resulting from the effect of fine magenta spots overlaid on yellow-gold, satiny texture, and hard substance. The clone 'Sunshine' was awarded an AM/AOS in 1994 for 'Eleven flowers evenly spaced and well-displayed on two inflorescences', 'color yellow-gold, uniformly overlaid with find rose-burgundy dots', and texture that is semi glossy.

I liked Phal. Orchidview Headliner so much that I talked H.P. into letting me keep 15 plants from the original cross. H.P. is still waiting for me to grow them better so they will receive the AOS Award of Quality. In due time, I intend to carry on H.P.'s good work with making more hybrids with Phal. Orchidview Headliner. Already we have seen good results in Phal. Swamp Fox (x Julia Wilson) registered by H.P. in 1997. The clone 'Big Al' received an AM/AOS in 1997 with three 'full, round, well-balanced' ruby red flowers that have heavy substance and waxy texture. Phal. Francis Marion (x Super Stupid), also registered by H.P. in 1997, produces a clone such as 'Orchidview' that shows how Phal. gigantea can really enhance the color of its hybrid.

One primary hybrid of Phal. gigantea worth mentioning is Phal. Joey, which is made with Phal. lueddemanniana, a species well known for making red Phalaenopsis. Although it does not have an awarded clone, Phal. Joey produced 34 hybrids with 19 awarded plants. My favorite clones of Phal Joey are 'Huey Fong' and 'Huey Fong #10'. These are good examples of Phal. gigantea hybrids because of their full and overlapping segments. The color of Phal. 'Huey Fong #10' is intensified as a result of the contribution from Phal. lueddemanniana. I especially like the waxy look of the bold red patterns that shine under light.

In Phalaenopsis - A Monograph, Christenson talks about the variety aurea of Phal. gigantea that "has a brighter yellow ground color throughout the sepals and petals (including the area surrounding the column)." This yellow form of Phal. gigantea is recognized for its significance to horticulture. Per Chirstenson, 'the yellow ground color of var. aurea is inherited and produces very different looking progeny,' such that Phal. Marion Fowler (Zada x Phal. gigantea) produces vibrant raspberry flowers from the overlay of purple on yellow.

Unfortunately, this golden yellow Phal. gigantea is not readily available in the trade. In my search for a yellow Phal. gigantea, I know only a couple of growers who own one. To my dismay they are not ready to part with one of their yellow Phal. giganteas. Being rare, those who own a yellow Phal. gigantea have made seedlings from selfings in hopes of preserving the yellow color trait. It has been suggested by other hybridizers that yellow is recessive and rarely comes through when combining Phal. gigantea with white ground with yellow ground color.

So, we look for other yellow Phalaenopsis species to create golden Phal. gigantea hybrids. Hybridizers created Phal. David Lim (x Phal. amboinensis) in 1974 and Jade Gold (x Phal. venosa) in 1984. Of these two hybrids, I expect that Phal. Jade Gold will prove itself to be a wonderful parent. Even though, Phal. venosa is a relatively new Phalaenopsis species (it wasn't described until 1983) it has already proven to be an important building block in making yellow multiflora Phalaenopsis hybrids.

The most recently awarded Phal. Jade Gold is 'Laura' in 1994. It was awarded an AM/AOS with 34 flowers on four inflorescences. The flowers are described as 'bright butterscotch with dark cordovan brown bars' with very heavy substance and varnished texture.

Another example of adding yellow color to Phal. gigantea is Phal. Liu Tuen-Shen (x Golden Sands) by Irene Dobkin in 1979. It is arguably the most important Phal. gigantea hybrid. It just has to be made with the best yellow Phalaenopsis Golden Sands 'Canary' FCC/AOS at that time. Four clones of Liu Tuen-Shen received four quality awards and two cultural awards. The latest is 'Lillian Pitta' with a CCM to Meir Moses of the Orchid Konnection in Dallas in 2000 for 27 yellow flowers with fine rust spots spaced evenly. Knowing that I collect big Phal. gigantea plants, Meir let me keep his awarded plant. With heavy substance, flowers easily last many months in my greenhouse.

To date, Phal. Liu Tuen-Shen has 74 hybrids to its credit. Out of these, 33 plants are awarded and carry on Phal. Liu Tuen-Shen's legacy. For example, Phal. Fortune Buddha (x Golden Buddha) has 58 hybrids and 33 plants are awarded. The best clone of Fortune Buddha is 'Brennan's Orchids,' which won an AM/AOS in 1997 for four large 8.5 centimeters flowers. They are described as very full, intensely colored, heavily overlaid with red-mahogany spots coalescing to solid red-mahogany basally, substance heavy, and texture glossy. Most of these characteristics exemplify the desired traits from having Phal. gigantea in the background.

Outstanding progeny from Phal. Fortune Buddha include Phal. Brother Zip (x Phal. venosa) registered in 1992 with four AOS awards, Phal. Brother Pirate King (x Brother Purple) registered in 1998 with 15 AOS awards, and Phal. Brother Buddha (x Brother angel) which went on to make today's modern hybrid Phal. Ambo Buddha (x Phal. amboinensis) that has 20 AOS awards including an FCC to the clone 'Phoenix' in 2000. These outstanding hybrids inherit their good form, heavy substance, and glossy texture from Phal. gigantea.

Finally, we will look at the famous Phal. Golden Peoker (Misty Green x Liu Tuen-Shen), another fine Phal. gigantea hybrid. Phal. Golden Peoker is already well known and heavily used by Taiwanese hybridizers for its non-mutated clone 'Brother'. Awarded an AM/AOS in 1991, Phal. Golden Peoker 'Brother' is an outstanding plant with outstanding flowers. They have good form, round segments, heavy substance, and sparkling texture. These desirable traits of Phal. gigantea are readily inherited in the next generation. As a parent, Phal. Golden Peoker also enhances the color of its progeny. All these reasons make Phal. Golden Peoker 'Brother' the plant to have for hybridizers.

Many plants have been cloned from Phal. Golden Peoker 'Brother', which has resulted in a selected few clones that are mutated. These clones caused quite a stir in the orchid world because their new color, described as "dark, concord grape purple blotches," bring new direction for hybridizers. Phal. Golden Peoker 'Ever-Spring', awarded a JC/AOS in 1996, is commended "as the origin of 'Harlequin' spotting ? a new line producing progeny with clownish spots, blotches and occasional near-solid colorations of unusual red and purple hues." Other awarded clones of Phal. Golden Peoker include 'Nan-Cho', AM/AOS, 'S.J.', HCC/AOS, and 'BL', HCC/AOS.

Those awarded clones are used to make even more outstanding hybrids in Taiwan. Of the 62 registered Phal. Golden Peoker hybrids, outstanding progeny and proven breeders include Phal. Super Stupid (x Brother Yew), Phal. Ever-Spring King (x Chih Shang's Stripes) and Phal. Brother Purple (x Brother Glamour), to name just a few. It will take another article, such as "Harlequins - a look at the evolution of those crazy spotted Phals" by Meir Moses of the Orchid Konnection in Dallas in the last issue of the Phalaenopsis Journal, to describe a parade of awarded Phal. Golden Peoker progeny such as Phal. Black Peoker (x Black Beauty) with five awards, Phal. Bright Peacock (x Yungho Princess Gelb) with two awards, Dtps. Ever-Spring Prince (x Dtps. Taisuco Beauty) with two awards, Phal. Ever-Spring King (x Chih Shang's Stripes) with six awards, Phal. Ever-Spring Light (x Ever Spring Star) with four awards, to name just a few.

The top honors go to Phal. Ever Spring Fairy 'Tokai Silky Star', FCC/AOS (x Taisuco Kochdian) in 1999, Dtps. Chain Xen Diamond 'Celebration', FCC/AOS (x Dtps. Judy Valentine) in 2001 and Phal. Perfection Is 'Chen', FCC/AOS (x Black Eagle) in 2002. This list of awarded plants will continue as Phalaenopsis enthusiasts and hybridizers seek out what more Golden Peoker can do."

So, what qualities did the judges see in Phal. Perfection Is 'Chen', FCC/CCE/AOS that are contributed by Phal. gigantea? 'Chen' was first awarded an AM/AOS in 1999 for '18 very full, flat flowers and eight buds on one inflorescence with three branches.' In 2002, 'Chen' received an FCC and a CCE for being a spectacular plant with '71 very round flowers of superlative quality for star-shaped novelty lineage and 26 buds in near perfect presentation on 10 branched inflorescences; sepals and petals yellow with near solid red overlay of concentric bars.' The flowers have extremely firm substance and satiny texture.

This clone without a doubt takes after its Phal. gigantea heritage of having round, heavily patterned, exceptionally floriferous flowers with heavy substance and shiny texture. The negative features of Phal. gigantea's huge plant size and pendent inflorescences are recessive in 'Chen'. This plant stays very compact and has shiny round leaves. 'Chen' is a perfect Phalaenopsis, which makes Phal. gigantea shine as a parent in today's modern Phalaenopsis hybridizing.

By now I hope that you are ready to pick up your toothpick and make new Phal. gigantea hybrids. You should have many reasons to grow Phal. gigantea . If so, read on. I will now describe my growing experience with this fascinating species and tell you why Phal. gigantea is not as difficult to grow as we are often told.

Phal. gigantea shares easy cultural requirements similar to other Phalaenopsis species. I became fascinated with Phal. gigantea when I took on the challenge that I would not claim to be an experienced Phalaenopsis grower until I could bring a Phal. gigantea to flower.

Intrigued by the stories of seeing hundreds of flowers borne on a mature plant of Phal. gigantea with its massive, silver-green, 'elephant-ear'-like leaves, I started to seek out Phal. giganteas from different growers in the hope that one day I, too, would own one. That was about nine years ago. Today, I have as many as 30 Phal. giganteas (from seedlings to large plants) growing side by side with the rest of the 2000-plus Phalaenopsis in my greenhouse.

Christenson said that 'although not difficult to grow, (gigantea) seedlings take significantly longer to reach maturity than other species.' This unfortunate truth is what keeps most commercial growers from stocking seed-grown Phal. gigantea plants. As a result, Christenson said 'the demand for wild-collected mature plants for horticultural trade has been and continues to be a problem.'

Most of the wild-collected specimens perished because these plants could not support their large leaves with their severed root mass still attached to the trees. Lacking a perfect tropical-like environment, most of these collected plants will not recover.

To be successful in keeping Phal. gigantea in cultivation, start off with a seed-grown plant or an established plant from other growers. While Phal. gigantea does take a long time to reach maturity in nature, I have found that seed-grown plants significantly reduce the time to reach blooming when growing in an optimal environment.

So, how do I grow my Phal. giganteas and bring them to flower? Like many orchids, growing Phal. gigantea begins with watering carefully. If I start off with a healthy plant, I can keep it alive by avoiding getting water on any part of the leaves. Compared to other Phalaenopsis species, gigantea has a shorter stem that results in leaves with little or no space between them. Water trapped between leaves from water splash, overhead misting, and water condensation can lead to rot. Bacterial rot is especially fatal to a monopodial epiphyte if developed in the crown ? the single growing point of the plant.

When growing Phal. gigantea in a pot, I like to tilt the pot at an angle so the leaves hang down and the crown can drain any water that may be trapped. I try to water my plants early in the morning so that any water left on the leaves will dry off completely. I use a timer to turn off the humidifier by early afternoon. I stopped using an overhead misting system to avoid the risk of having moisture trapped between the leaves. I use ceiling and box fans to provide good air circulation and constant air movement through the long leaves to help dry off water left on the leaves.

When I must water my plants on cloudy days, I use an air compressor with high air flow to blow off any water trapped between the leaves. I used to take a tissue paper to soak up water in the crown. That is very time consuming with a larger collection. Other growers have success with spraying fungicide after watering to prevent rot on cloudy or raining days; I like to avoid spraying chemicals. On cooler days, I would turn up the heat to plants help dry off.

I find Phal. gigantea to be tolerant of a wide range of temperatures. I keep my greenhouse between 60 and the high 80s F for economical reason. For the best results, I would like to keep it between 70 and 83 F.

I fertilize Phal. gigantea every time I water using a diluted fertilizer. On average I water my plants once a week, so I would reduce the manufacturer's recommendation to one quarter strength. While I let Phal. gigantea dry off between watering, these are big plants with a large leaf area that requires lots of water and food to keep up with their growth.

I am growing Phal. gigantea in different ways to see what works best for me and the plants. The larger plants are grown in a teak basket packed with sphagnum moss. This method allows me to keep Phal. gigantea undisturbed for many years without repotting. I either hang the basket on the wall or tilt the basket at a 45 degree angel to allow the leaves to hang down. I also have a few Phal. gigantea mounted on tree fern plaques with sphagnum moss. Because the basket and tree fern are open and dry off quicker that the pots, I have to keep up with watering more frequently.

Due to my busy schedule and to provide an alternative for less frequent watering required by basket culture, I have gone back to growing Phal. gigantea in plastic pots. I use a coarse potting mix made of medium size fir bark, sponge rock, medium size charcoal, and long fiber sphagnum moss. I tweak the ratio of potting medium used depending on the root mass. To be successful, I want the pot to almost completely dry off between watering.

I do not use clay pots because plastic pots work better for me. It pays to be gentle and not to disturb the roots if at all possible. Phal. gigantea needs its entire root system to keep its big leaves hydrated. Repotting should be done during warmer months when Phal. gigantea is in active growth.

In nature, Phal. gigantea grows quite high in the trees. They receive brighter light than other Phalaenopsis species. With this in mind, I keep Phal. gigantea high in my growing area where they receive more light than other Phal species. A tip from Ken Avant, a fellow enthusiast with a large Phal. gigantea collection, is to provide the species with brighter light in the winter months than other Phal. species. Christenson says in his book that for many growers who report difficulty in flowering Phal. gigantea 'the cause is usually insufficient light levels.'

Peter Lin is a former editor of the IPA Newsletter and owner of Big Leaf Orchids. 4932 Longwood Court, Irving, TX 75038.

Peter Lin's favorite
Phal. gigantea hybrids

Here are a few of my favorite Phal. gigantea hybrids. Perhaps you will find them easier to flower in case your growing area is not suitable for flowering Phal. gigantea.

Phal. Maritea '

Phal. Black Lion '
Spotted Prince' 

Phal. Brother Princess 'Hai-Tung'

Phal. I-Hsin Peacock 'Fashion
  1. Phal. Maritea 'Wan-Chyan'  (gigantea x Maria Montez)
    I love its flat, cream-colored flowers that are heavily barred with dark lavender stripes.

  2. Phal. Black Lion 'Spotted Prince'  (Paifang's Golden Lion X Black Eagle)
    I like its cream-colored, heavily overlaid flowers with concentric magenta bars. Parent Paifang's Golden Lion has Liu Tuen-Shen as a grand parent.

  3. Phal. Brother Princess 'Hai-Tung' HCC/AOS (Princess Spot x Misty Green)
    I love its eye-catching rose-purple maculated white flowers.
    Parent Princess Spot is gigantea x Princess Samba.

  4. Phal. I-Hsin Peacock 'Fashion' HCC/AOS (I-Hsin Tiger x Black Beauty)
    I am wowed by its beautiful 'tawny yellow' flowers with 'dense but distinct, uniform, magenta bars.'