Eulophia - 3 Gauteng Early Flowering species


It is not commonly known that the orchid family is one of the largest on the planet, numbering some 25 000 species of flowering plants. Of these 466 occur in South Africa alone. It does not appear that many people know that there are some 40 orchid species recorded in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria. 

About 90% of all the world's orchids grow as epiphytes (air plants) in trees in the tropical areas where temperatures are warm and constant and the humidity is high.

In contrast to this, all of the orchids found in Gauteng are terrestrial (grow in the ground), due to the lack of humidity and harsh temperature fluctuations.

Terrestrial orchids have underground tubers and the plants die off after flowering, remaining dormant during the cold, dry winters. New growth appears from as early as July for the early flowering species and the late flowering species finally die off around April.

The early flowering species are characterised by the appearance of the flower spike first. The leaves only appear when the plants are in full flower. As such, they are not easily detected until the flowers open, or the grassland where they grow has been burnt. Flowering is usually before the first rain and is in response to rising temperatures and longer days.

This article, the first in a series on the orchids of our area, will describe three species of the Eulophia, which are three of the early flowerers. These are Eulophia hians, Eulophia inequalis and Eulophia clitellifera. All grow under similar conditions in undisturbed grassland and they flower between July and November.



  • Eulophia hians by Duncan McFarlane

Eulophia hians

The Eulophia hians can grow up to about 40cm, with the petals being pink and purple and the crested centre lobe off-white or cream in colour. Between 5 and 18 flowers are evident from August onwards. The leaves only grow while the plant is flowering and reach a maximum of half the length of the inflorescence.

  • Eulophia inaequalis by Duncan McFarlane

Eulophia enaequalis

The Eulophia inaequalis grows up to 35cm, with sepals that are yellow on the outside and a greenish yellow on the inside. The spur is prominent and reddish in colour. Between 5 and 15 flowers are evident between August and November. 

  • Eulohpia clitellifera by Duncan McFarlane

Eulophia clitellifera

They grow up to 28cm and are characterised by their broad and somewhat succulent grey-green leaves. Flowers are a pale green with red / marroon striping and edging. The lip is cream with yellow ridging. Between 5 and 25 flowers are evident from as early as July and continue until October.

Article and photographs by Duncan Mc Farlane
Edited by Karsten Wodrich