Perfumed 'elephant's ear' in Estepona, for a short time only...

Visitors photographing the giant orchid.
Visitors photographing the giant orchid. / CHARO MÁRQUEZ
  • Phalaenopsis gigantea, a rare and delicate giant orchid, has flowered for the first time in Estepona's Orchidarium

Despite the robust sounding nickname 'elephant's ear', this orchid that has just flowered in the Orchidarium in Estepona is very delicate and finicky. It needs very special conditions to grow: the right light, humidity and temperature, and for that reason is prized among collectors and botanists.

Phalaenopsis gigantea is the biggest orchid in the Phalaenopsis family and has characteristically enormous leaves that make it a unique species.

This type of orchid can have leaves up to 90 centimetres long and 40 wide, big enough to hide a toddler behind.

The director of the orchidarium, Manuel Lucas said that this orchid is very rare, "because it takes up a lot of space making it difficult for many collectors to grow".

The flowers are large and beautiful with bold, maroon splashes on the pale yellow petals. They have the additional attraction of being sweetly scented.

Unusually, this plant grows down towards the ground, with the roots and leaves above the hanging, flowering stems.

Phalaenopsis gigantea originates from the areas of Merutai and La Montaña del Tigre in Borneo. Its rarity is not only because of the size of its leaves but also for the difficulty in getting it to flower. Lucas says that the temperature has to be kept above 16 degrees and when its above 30 degrees "it's as happy as Larry". For this reason the plant can only be viewed in the mornings on warm days as it will not withstand any cold air. The rest of the time the orchid is constantly monitored and kept warm in the director's office.

"Each plant is like a person to us and we go out of our way to look after it," explained Lucas.

According to the director, Phalaenopsis gigantea should continue flowering for two weeks although he fears the polar vortex, which is threatening parts of the country at the moment, may prematurely end the flowering period.