Zygopetalum Orchids

Zygopetalum Orchids

Fast Facts Zygopetalum Orchids

Botanical Name: Zygopetalum (zy-go-PET-a-lum)
Abbreviation: Z.
Etymology of the orchid genus' name: Greek, meaning “yoked petal”
Common name or nickname: Zygo
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Epidendroideae
Subtribe: Zygopetalinae
Number of recognized species: 15 to 16 recognized orchid species, depending on the source 
Type species: Zygopetalum mackaii Hooker 1827
Origin/Distribution:  Tropical Central and South America – Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia
Growing classification: Sympodial, semi-terrestrial, with true epiphytes
Blooming season: Late autumn to winter
Color: Zygopetalum orchid plants have uniquely shaped flowers that come in multiple colors, usually green, brown, purple, and white.

About Zygopetalum Orchid Genus

Zygopetalum is perhaps one of the smallest genera of the Orchidaceae flowering plant family. They belong in the Epidendroideae subfamily, the tribe of Maxillarieae, and the subtribe of Zygopetalinae.

With more or less 15 distinct orchid species recognized, this New World genus hails from the cold rainforests and mountainous regions of countries in Central and South America, such as Paraguay, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, where the biggest distribution can be found.

The genus name, Zygopetalum, literally translates to “yoked petal,” from the Greek words zygon (yoke) and petalon (petal). It’s a reference to the appearance of Zygopetalum orchids where in the flower parts are attached to the callus.

According to the American Orchid Society (AOS), Zygopetalum orchids are close relatives of other smaller orchid genera, namely Bollea, Huntleya, Pabstia, Promenaea, Warrea, and Pescatorea.

Zygopetalum Orchid Plant Description

Orchid plants from this genus can be sympodial and semi-terrestrial in growth, although other hybrids and cultivars can also be epiphytic. A certified head-turner, Zygopetalum orchids mostly grow as high as 15 inches or anywhere from 0.25 to 1.50 feet based on Missouri Botanical Garden. They have pseudobulbs on short rhizomes and elegantly long and glossy leaves.

Despite their size, Zygopetalum orchids have eye-catching flowers with lips that have distinct indigo-colored veins and petals that come in unique patterns of stripes or specks and in multiple contrasting colors, typically green, brown, purple, mauve, or white. These orchid blooms are produced from long spikes. Their inflorescence type is raceme, which shoots a spray of 4 to 8 flowers up to twice a year. The flowers of Zygopetalum orchids can have a diameter of 2 to 3 inches. They make excellent candidates for orchid arrangements because they can last a long time, usually 3 to 4 weeks.

Another winning feature of Zygopetalum orchid plants is their signature sweet fragrance that can be noted even from afar.

Zygopetalum Orchid Species and Hybrids

Zygopetalum mackaii Hooker 1827 is the type species for this orchid genus. Apparently, Sir William Hooker, a prominent orchidologist and the botanist who established the Zygopetalum genus, christened the orchid species in honor of a Brazilian named John MacKay. The later stumbled upon the exquisite orchid in Brazil during one of his explorations and gave it to Hooker in 1827.  

Below are other orchid species in the Zygopetalum orchid genus.

  • Zygopetalum brachypetalum Lindl. - Brazil
  • Zygopetalum crinitum G.Lodd. - Brazil
  • Zygopetalum ghillanyi Pabst - São Paulo
  • Zygopetalum graminifolium Rolfe - São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro
  • Zygopetalum intermedium Lodd. ex Lindl. 1844
  • Zygopetalum maculatum (Kunth) Garay - spotted zygopetalum - Peru, Bolivia, Brazil
  • Zygopetalum maxillare G.Lodd. - Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina
  • Zygopetalum microphytum Barb.Rodr. - Minas Gerais, São Paulo
  • Zygopetalum pabstii Toscano - Espírito Santo
  • Zygopetalum pedicellatum (Sw.) Garay - southeastern Brazil
  • Zygopetalum reginae Pabst - São Paulo
  • Zygopetalum sellowii Rchb.f. in W.G.Walpers - Brazil
  • Zygopetalum silvanum V.P.Castro & Campacci - Bahia
  • Zygopetalum sincoranum V.P.Castro & Campacci - Bahia
  • Zygopetalum triste Barb.Rodr. - Minas Gerais

The most widely grown Zygopetalum orchid species are Z. mackayi, Z.intermedium, Z.crinitum, and Z.maxillare. Several hybrids have been produced from them. Some remarkable Zygopetalum hybrids worth mentioning are:

  • Zygopetalum Perrenoudii, (Z. intermedium x Z. maxillare.
  • Zygopetalum B.G. White (Z. Blackii x Z. mackayi)
  • Zygopetalum Arthur Elle (Z.Blackii x Z. B.G. White)
  • Zygopetalum Imagination (Z. Arthur Elle x Z. Kiwi Geyser)
  • Zygopetalum Blue Lake (Z. B. G. White x Z. crinitum)
  • Zygopetalum Titanic (Z. John Banks x Z. B. G. White)
  • Zygopetalum Helen-Ku (Z. maxillare × Z. Blackii)
  • Zygopetalum Warringal Wonder (Z. crinitum x Z. John Banks)
  • Zygopetalum John Banks (Z. Blackii x Z. crinitum)
  • Zygopetalum Sedenii (Z. mackayi x Z. maxillare)
  • Zygopetalum Yolande (Z. gautieri x Z. mackayi)

Orchid Care: How to Maintain Zygopetalum Orchids

The fact that it’s a genus of tropical orchids makes growing Zygopetalum orchids in Los Angeles sort of a walk in the park compared to other parts of the country. Plus, they have a solid reputation among long-time orchid growers and hobbyists of being low-maintenance and easy to cultivate.

Check out this quick guide on how to choose and take care of beautiful orchid plants from this particular genus:

  • Before orchid shopping, research for easy-to-grow species and hybrids.
    mackayi, Z.intermedium, Z.crinitum, and Z.maxillare are your best bet. Avoid orchid species that are challenging to trigger blooming or reblooming. A pro tip from Ortho’s Guide to Orchids: if the orchid plant is big with many pseudobulbs with just a few spikes and no signs of previous blooming, do not buy.
  • Cold-growing orchids or warm-growing orchids?
    Despite being a tropical orchid from Central and South America, the Wagga Wagga Orchid Society says that in general, Zygopetalum orchids are considered cool-growing orchids, such as Cymbidium orchids, with the exception of several orchid species. However, this doesn’t mean that Zygopetalum orchids would appreciate being out in extremely low temperatures or cold, wet environments.

    Warm-growing Zygopetalum orchids include Z. lindeniae, Z. alleniana, Z. maxillare, and Z. lunata. These are probably more suitable orchid plants for you if you live somewhere hot.

  • Temperature and humidity requirements 
    Zygopetalum orchids need high levels of humidity, anywhere from 50 to 80 percent. To achieve this, you can try putting on a humidifier in the area where you keep them. You can mist on super-hot days with a spray bottle filled with filtered water. You can also improvise with a DIY plant humidifier by filling a shallow tray with large pebbles (so your pet doesn’t unwittingly swallow them if you have one) and water. Put it underneath the pot of your orchid plant.
  • Black spots on the leaves
    This is one of the most common complaints about Zygopetalum orchids. To prevent leaf spotting in your own orchid plant, give it enough space and air circulation. Be sure the leaves are dry before nighttime if you wet them from watering.

  • Bright light is essential for Zygopetalum orchids to survive.
    While many blogs suggest that Zygopetalum is an ideal indoor orchid plant to keep at home, you should be careful and consider if your place has enough source of natural light. Orchids from the Zygopetalum genus need as much as 3,000- to 4,000-foot candles every day. However, it should be protected from intense, direct sunlight during noon time as it can burn the plants and flowers quickly. A sunny windowsill, a light-flooded glass wall, or a roofed patio or balcony is recommended.

  • Water generously but allow to dry in between watering sessions.
    Zygopetalum orchids love moist but not constantly wet and soggy soil. A wise move would be to water in the morning to allow leaves and roots to air dry before temperature drops when evening comes. Stick to a regular watering schedule, which you’ll know once you get to know your plant better.

There’s probably a slim chance that you’ll spot a Zygopetalum orchid plant while casually strolling in the grocery or at your local garden center since they’re a bit on the exotic side.

However, if you are keen on having your own Zygopetalum orchid, we suggest you check out the orchid shows and exhibits happening all the time around California or visit a nearby orchid nursery in Los Angeles. You can also talk to your favorite florist or store in the farmer’s market about the possibility of sourcing Zygopetalum orchids for you.


American Orchid Society 
Missouri Botanical Garden



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Sep 04, 2019

Dear Zygo experts,

Can you tell me what zygopetalum orchid species or hybrid has the strongest fragrance and variations between the hybrids please?

Thank you, sincerely,


Alan Fetters

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