Queen Of Orchids, The Largest Orchid In The World In Flower Now At Kew!

The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower at the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.
The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower at the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.

Nestled inside the warmest zone of the behind-the-scenes Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, a giant orchid, Grammatophyllum speciosum – also known as the Queen of Orchids – is growing in a wooden slatted basket which was especially made for the plant by Kew.  A large, and naturally top-heavy, epiphytic orchid, Grammatophyllum speciosum can be found growing within the branches of tall trees in tropical regions of the world, where it flowers every two to four years.  In cultivation it’s very rare indeed to hear of a Grammatophyllum speciosum flowering, this particular specimen measures 5.5 meters from one side to the other, which although huge in comparison to most orchids, is surprisingly small for a flowering-size plant of this particular giant orchid species.

The Grammatophyllum speciosum specimen at Kew is held in place by chains, which secure the orchid protectively to the two benches that the plant has rather ceremoniously spread itself across, during the many years that this orchid has been growing in this area of the behind-the-scenes glasshouse at Kew.

The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower in the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In this image you can see the new flower buds developing. This orchid flower is yet to reach its full size! Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.
The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower in the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In this image you can see the new flower buds developing. This orchid flower is yet to reach its full size! Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.

This Grammatophyllum speciosum specimen was collected back in 1983, by Phillip Cribb and Christopher Baines, in Sabah, Malaysia, the plant was then given to Kew, and has been cared for by the orchid specialists at Kew ever since.  It has taken 32 years of expert care and cultivation to encourage this orchid to bloom, an amazing achievement for the glasshouse team at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The flower spike on this Grammatophyllum speciosum specimen first appeared in August 2015, and has been busy growing ever since, enchanting both Kew’s visitors and orchid experts alike.

I was lucky enough to be shown this very special orchid by Christopher Ryan, the Tropical Nursery Supervisor at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  Christopher was kind enough to tell me more about this Grammatophyllum speciosum specimen, and the interesting history of this orchid at Kew.

Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, is flowering now, inside the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It's very difficult to grow this orchid to flowering size in Temperate regions of the world, it's an amazing achievement for the team of experts working at Kew. This is the largest orchid in the world, it's flowering now at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, is flowering now, inside the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It’s very difficult to grow this orchid to flowering size in Temperate regions of the world, it’s an amazing achievement for the team of experts working at Kew. This is the largest orchid in the world, it’s flowering now at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A Grammatophyllum speciosum bud just starting to open inside the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A Grammatophyllum speciosum bud just starting to open inside the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A close up of a Grammatophyllum speciosum flower, this orchid is blooming inside the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A close up of a Grammatophyllum speciosum flower, this orchid is blooming inside the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

During the first week that the Grammatophyllum speciosum flower spike appeared at Kew, it grew vertically until the flower spike reached over a meter in height.  At this time it was rocketing up, growing 15cm – 20cm a day!  The orchid’s growth rate slowed, as the flower spike began to produce flower buds.  On the day that I visited this Grammatophyllum speciosum specimen at Kew, the flower spike measured 2.5m – 3m (6 to 8 feet) in length!

On the 22nd September 2015, Christopher Ryan counted the number of flowers at 102; up from 84 the previous week, 75 the week before, and 50 the week before that.  As the orchid’s stem continues to produce flower buds, it keeps growing – so by the start of October 2015, it will probably have over 150 flowers on the stem!  Although naturally some of the earlier, older flowers are just starting to fade, being up to 4 weeks old. The leaves of Grammatophyllum speciosum are linear, they are arranged in two rows, and are 50 to 100cm in length. As the leaves age they droop from the base. The foliage of this orchid is thought to resemble that of sugar cane (Sacchaarum officinarum) which has led to one of its many common names - sugar cane orchid.

The leaves of Grammatophyllum speciosum are linear, they are arranged in two rows, and are 50cm to 100cm in length.  As the leaves age, they droop from the base.  The foliage of this orchid is thought to resemble that of Sacchaarum officinarum, also known as sugar cane, which has led to one of its many common names – sugar cane orchid.

A close up of on of the many flowers of Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids. This is the largest orchid in the world and is now flowering at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A close up of on of the many flowers of Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids. This is the largest orchid in the world, it’s now flowering at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A close up of a Grammatophyllum speciosum flower. This is the largest orchid in the world, it's flowering now at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A close up of a Grammatophyllum speciosum flower. This is the largest orchid in the world, it’s flowering now at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Grammatophyllum speciosum has many common names – Queen of Orchids, sugar cane orchid, tiger orchid, and perhaps unsurprisingly, giant orchid.  Grammatophyllum speciosum is reputed to be the largest orchid in the world!

Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, this is the largest orchid in the world, it's flowering now at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, this is the largest orchid in the world, it’s flowering now at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kew advise that the ideal growing medium for Grammatophyllum speciosum orchids, comprises equally sized particles of four parts course coniferous bark, two parts course pumice chips, and one part charcoal.

An close up of an Grammatophyllum speciosum flower. Photograph taken at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on 24th September 2015.
An close up of an Grammatophyllum speciosum flower. Photograph taken at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on 24th September 2015.

The large size of this orchid makes it prohibitive to consider growing yourself, unless of course you have a spacious glasshouse, with room to accommodate this large plant.  If you’re tempted to try growing your own Grammatophyllum speciosum, the minimum temperature for this orchid is 15 C, this plant will require good light, heavy watering throughout the year, high levels of humidity, as well as the space to grow.  This orchid doesn’t like to be disturbed or moved often, and will require regular feeding.

A close up of an individual Grammatophyllum speciosum inflorescence.
A close up of an individual Grammatophyllum speciosum inflorescence.

As with most Orchids, the flowers have a lip adapted for pollination, but interestingly some of the earlier flowers are incomplete, with only 4 floral parts.

A close up of an individual Grammatophyllum speciosum flower at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A close up of an individual Grammatophyllum speciosum flower at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A Grammatophyllum speciosum flower.
A Grammatophyllum speciosum flower.
The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower in the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In this image you can see the new flower buds developing. This orchid flower is yet to reach its full size! Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.
The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower in the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In this image you can see the new flower buds developing. This orchid flower is yet to reach its full size! Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.
Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, is flowering now, inside the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It's very difficult to grow this orchid to flowering size in Temperate regions of the world, it's an amazing achievement for the team of experts working at Kew.
Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, is flowering now, inside the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It’s very difficult to grow this orchid to flowering size in Temperate regions of the world, it’s an amazing achievement for the team of experts working at Kew.

Orchids of this type are very rare indeed to flower in temperate regions of the world, although they are grown more widely in the tropics – a Grammotophyllum speciosum orchid is growing outside the curator’s office in Singapore, it’s reported that this plant measures over 10 meters in circumference!

Grammatophyllum speciosum, the largest orchid in the world, photographed at Kew Gardens on 24th September 2015.
Grammatophyllum speciosum, the largest orchid in the world, photographed at Kew Gardens on 24th September 2015.
The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower in the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.
The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower in the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.
The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower in the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In this image you can see the new flower buds developing. This orchid flower is yet to reach its full size! Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.
The largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, in flower in the Tropical Nursery, behind the scenes at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In this image you can see the new flower buds developing. This orchid flower is yet to reach its full size! Photograph taken on 24th September 2015.

Christopher plans to pollinate the flowers in the next week or so.  Although waiting for seed will require a little more patience – it’s expected that the seeds will take 12-16 months to fully develop.

The length behind the flower stem will produce the seed pods – each will measure around 10cm by 10cm, and will contain tens of thousands of seeds if pollination is successful.  If pollination is successful, some Grammotophyllum speciosum seeds will be stored in the Millennium Seed Bank, and the Conservation Biotechnology team at Kew will also attempt micro-propagation.

A close up of a Grammatophyllum speciosum flower. This is the largest orchid in the world, it's flowering now at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A close up of a Grammatophyllum speciosum flower. This is the largest orchid in the world, it’s flowering now at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kew are generously offering free tours to see this special orchid while it’s in flower, the tours are on Wednesdays at 1pm and 2pm, starting at White Peaks café. The tours are free-of-charge, but there are limited spaces available, and so pre-booking is essential. There is access for disabled visitors, so everyone can see this very special orchid.  For all the details of how to book your place on a tour at Kew, please click here.

New buds at the tip of the still growing flower spike on the Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, flowering inside the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This photograph was taken on 24th September 2015, so there's time for you to visit the beautiful gardens at Kew and book your place to see this interesting orchid.
New buds at the tip of the still growing flower spike on the Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids, flowering inside the Tropical Nursery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This photograph was taken on 24th September 2015, so there’s time for you to visit the beautiful gardens at Kew and book your place to see this interesting orchid.

Other links and articles that may interest you…………..

To find out more information about the Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the Queen of Orchids flowering now at Kew, please click here to see the information on Kew’s website.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is an amazing and inspiring place, Kew is one of the world’s leading plant and fungal science and conservation organisations. The scientists, horticulturalists and gardeners at Kew work together to find plant-based solutions to global challenges such as biodiversity loss, food and water security, poverty, disease and changing climate.  Kew scientists are discovering new ways of using plants sustainably for the benefit of our people and our planet, while working hard to conserve and restore the world’s habitats, particularly those most in danger.  The vitally important work Kew carries out is impossible without support and funding, to discover more about the ways in which you can help to support Kew, please click here.

To visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, website, please click here.

Kew Gardens are a great place for disabled visitors to visit, the typography of Kew is rather flat, but also Kew have put a huge amount of work in to ensure that disabled visitors have a great time – the paths are wide and smooth, so it’s not bumpy or uncomfortable to travel around the gardens and you can be alongside your fellow visitors.
You’ll find all the information for disabled visitors to Kew here.

To go to the opposite extreme and read the first part of my Miniature Orchid Trial – Growing Miniature Orchids in a BiOrbAir terrarium, please click here.

To read about Christmas at Kew 2016 and find out about visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew over winter, please click here.

To see photographs from the 2017 Orchid Extravaganza at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, please click here.

To read the first part of my White Orchid Terrarium Trial, please click here.

To read the first part of my Madagascan Orchids Terrarium Trial, please click here.

To read about the Writhlington Orchid Project, please click here.

To read about Aerangis luteo-alba var. rhodosticta, please click here.

To read about terrariums and bottle gardens, please click here.

To read about my 2015 Sweet Pea Trial, please click here.

To read about the new lives of some of the Show Gardens from the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, please click here.

To read about carnivorous plants, please click here.

For tips and advice on protecting your plants from slugs and snails without using slug pellets, please click here.

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2 thoughts on “Queen Of Orchids, The Largest Orchid In The World In Flower Now At Kew!

  1. can’t tell how large it is without some reference – like someone standing next to it or an object of standard size

    1. Hello Bla, sadly I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to be in the photograph – there weren’t many people around at the time. If I visit Kew while this orchid is flowering again, I will be sure to find someone. Thanks for your suggestion. Best wishes, Beth

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