Epidendrum ciliare: Fringed Star Orchid
Updated: Nov 19, 2018
Epidendrum ciliare, or the fringed star orchid, has enjoyed a host of names over the centuries. But Kew's Checklist of Selected Plant Families, the definitive place to find the current and correct names of your orchids, has decided that the oldest name (dating from 1759, given by Linnaeus himself!) is still the best. I have seen it referred to as Encyclia ciliaris and Coliostylis ciliaris, but I'm glad that the scientific community has decided to stick with the orchid growing community on this one, because Epidendrum ciliare is a long-standing, easy, and striking favorite for indoor growers.
I love Epi. ciliare's lemon-lime colored blooms, and its scent upon its first round of blooms in my home was amazing. It smelled like lemons with a hint of cut grass to me; its scent is only expressed at night, because it is pollinated by moths. I was surprised to read in a few places online that not everyone appreciates its odor. Of course, scent is a personal preference, but I think I found a deeper reason why: a 1993 essay in the Nordic Journal of Botany surmised about Epi. ciliare that "variation in floral fragrance compounds might be a pollination strategy that disrupts associative learning processes and inhibits pollinator's ability to recognize non‐rewarding flowers." Our little fringed star orchid continually adapts to trick its pollinators to return for promised goods that never actually get delivered!
That fringed, deeply clawed lip can't be beat!
Epi. ciliare grows throughout Mexico and Central America, and anywhere from sea level up to 8,000 feet in elevation. In its native habitat, it receives highs in the 70s and 80s F year round, with lows in the high 50s year round. As for water, it receives 10-18 inches per month in warmer half of the year, and much less in winter--one-half inch to 4 inches per month. I give it moderate to bright light (behind a sheer curtain in a southeast window) in summer, and in winter, it's within inches of florescent tubes.
This orchid is a carefree, quick grower--I divided my large plant into three sections of at least three pseudobulbs each (sold two, kept one) in August and it was blooming again by November.
Epi. ciliare loves high humidity--and in the wild receives 70-80% year round. Some growers say the plant will "tolerate" low humidity, but I don't recommend anything less than 40%. The depressing picture above is what befalls the sad orchidist that mistakenly grows Epi. ciliare in low humidity when the plant is in spike--it sprouts twisted, deformed blooms. They still smell amazing, and they are not so much shriveled as simply twisted. I fixed that mistake immediately--make sure that the orchid forms its blooms in no less than 50% humidity--and for me, the next spike, just a few weeks behind, produced a big, beautiful, straight flower (first two pictures above). Other than watching the humidity, the fringed star orchid is easy, and I think its shiny leaves make it a beautiful houseplant even when not in bloom.