Inside The New York Botanical Garden

A Magnificent Medinilla

Posted in Around the Garden, The Orchid Show on March 12 2012, by Matt Newman

Instagram fans have flocked to this coy but colorful flower. (Thanks, Bergdorf's.)

Of all the flowers coloring the scenery of our Orchid Show, one in particular–technically not even an orchid–is drawing gasps and adoration in spades. Known as Medinilla magnifica to science (and the Showy Medinilla, or “Malaysian orchid” to everyone else), its bowing proliferation of pale pink flower clusters has found a home in botanical gardens throughout the world.

And you can have one at home if it suits you.

Contrary to its bold presentation, the Medinilla isn’t quite as rare or exotic as assumptions would suggest. It’s been raised successfully in conservatories from here to Belgium, where the late King Baudouin championed the flower through the latter half of the 20th century. So infatuated was he with this Southeast Asian native that it was placed on the country’s 10,000 franc note. But as a plant endemic to the small island of Luzon in the Philippines, Medinilla’s distribution in the wild has not proven broad enough to escape the consequences of horticultural fascination. It’s said that the demand of collectors has caused a decline in natural populations to such a degree that many believe the plant now exists only within the plant trade.

Of around 400 species of Medinilla in existence, magnifica is recognized as the only species commonly cultivated and kept in home collections. Here in the northeast it’s best to keep it in range of comfortable room temperatures throughout the year–somewhere between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Dry(er) soil over wet is also the rule, with light leaf mistings to keep the plant from becoming parched in the typically dry New York home. There’s more to it than can be said in a short blog update, of course, but you can gather further tips for keeping your Medinilla here.

Even if it’s not technically an orchid, the soft pink bracts and demure nod of this tropical inflorescence add so much to the many true orchids it accompanies. We’ll welcome it here any year.

If you would like to see the Medinilla for yourself, the Orchid Show runs from now until April 22. See our exhibition page for more information on workshops, lectures, and special evening events, and don’t forget to pick up tickets.

Photo courtesy of Bergdorf-Goodman’s generous Instagram.


Barbara Reiner said:

Thanks so much for your botanical update….this plant is very interesting. “Demure Nod” is a perfect description of the gesture of this magnificent plant. You have a very nice writing style:)