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Donkey Orchids

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A Brief Introduction to the Unique and Fascinating Donkey Orchids

Donkey orchids, with their eye-catching flowers, are one of the most fascinating plants found in tropical rainforests around the world. Their scientific name is Phaius tankervilliae and they are also known by many different nicknames, such as “African donkey orchid,” “donkey ears,” and “tusked donkey orchid.” Donkey orchids have a range of colors, from whites, pinks, and purples to oranges and yellows. These colors often blend together to form intricate patterns and the flower itself can range from a few centimeters to almost a foot in length.

Apart from their amazing colors, the most unique aspect of the donkey orchid is its oddly shaped flowers. The petals of the flower look like a donkey’s ears and a long “tusk” extends from the bottom of the flower. This tusk is actually the plant’s unique reproductive structure and serves both a decorative and a functional purpose.

Donkey orchids are often found in tropical rainforests in the Caribbean, Africa, and South America. In some regions, donkey orchids are very rare and can be found only in remote, protected areas. As a result, those who wish to collect these flowers must first obtain permission to enter the area and then get licenses in order to transport the flowers away from their natural environment.

Donkey Orchids two

Characteristics of Donkey Orchids

Donkey orchids have single-stemmed plants that usually grow to be between 30 and 90 centimeters tall. The flowers are usually arranged in fan-shaped panicles—long sprays of blooms with individual flowers have single-whorled sepals and petals, and overlapping petals that form the shape of a “tusk” and ears. The flowers can be several different colors, such as white, pink, purple, orange, or yellow and often will have intricately patterned stripes and dots. These flowers typically last for about a month before they wither and die and the entire plant will take about two to three years to reach full maturity.

The plant itself has few leaves and these are typically narrow and lance-shaped. They may appear at the base of the plant or at the top where the flowers are located. Donkey orchids, like other types of orchids, do not have a root system so they must rely on the moisture in the air and soil for nourishment.

How to Care for Donkey Orchids

Caring for donkey orchids is not difficult, however it does require a great deal of attention and dedication. First, the orchid should be planted in a well-drained, shady place in the garden. The soil should be rich in organic material, such as compost or manure, in order to provide the good drainage and moisture retention that this species of orchids require. The plant should be watered regularly in order to prevent it from becoming dehydrated; however, it should not be allowed to become waterlogged.

The donkey orchid should also be protected from direct sunlight as this can cause the flowers to fade and the leaves to burn. It is important to keep the soil warm, as this will encourage vigorous growth and will help the orchid to flower more often. Fertilizer may also be applied, but it should be diluted and used sparingly.

It is also important to remember to prune the donkey orchid regularly. Pruning should be done at the end of the flowering season, once the flowers have wilted away. Pruning will help to keep the plant neat and encourage it to grow healthy and strong.


Donkey orchids are truly remarkable plants. With their vivid colors, intricate patterns, and interesting tusk-shaped inflorescence, these flowers make for a truly beautiful addition to any garden. While they can be delicate and require a great deal of attention, caring for donkey orchids is not difficult as long as the proper guidelines are followed. With a little patience and dedication, it is possible to cultivate these wonderful plants and enjoy their captivating beauty for years to come.

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