The Phantom Resembling Mormodes








Mormodes is an epiphytic genus ranging from sea level to 800 meters that seems to favor dead or rotting branches. This leads to many plants being found growing on the ground when the limbs break. The name of the genus comes from two Greek words that mean “phantom” and “resembling”. They are frequently called “goblin orchids” in English. Their name is based on the very strange lip shape and the relationship of the column to the lip. The lip is frequently reflexed in two or three sections with the column twisted to one side with the back resting on the lip. Mormodes are usually considered to bear perfect or bisexual flowers with both pollen and a stigma in the column. Like Clowesia and Dressleria, however, the stigma will not accept fertilization until the pollen has been removed. After the pollen is removed, the column straightens and raises back from the column to expose the stigma for pollination. A vegetative feature that distinguishes Mormodes from the other Catasetinae is that the inflorescences generally originate from the middle or lower nodes of the pseudobulbs. Another difference from the other Catasetinae is that the inflorescences of Mormodes project straight out or upward from the pseudobulb. There is less published information about Mormodes than about the other Catasetinae. In a subtribe that abounds with strange features, Mormodes may be the strangest of all. Some Mormodes species produce different types of flowers referred to as female-dominant, male-dominant and normal hermaphroditic or bisexual flowers. This variation in flower shapes and sizes on the same species has confused the identification of many species. There are also indications that a few species do produce on occasion small male flowers with only pollen and a vestigial stigma. The so-called female-dominate flowers are larger and heavier than the male-dominant or normal bisexual flowers. Although the flower has pollen, it probably would function well only as the recipient of pollen from another flower. Mormodes sinuata, M. rolfeanum, M. variabilis, Mormodes revolutum, and the newer species described from Brazil are among species readily available in cultivation. The red species of Mormodes make them popular in intergeneric hybridization. The most highly awarded among this group is Cycnodes Wine Delight.

Number of species: The World Monocot Checklist contains 81 accepted names (9/2007).

Distribution: Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia


Basic Culture



Warm to intermediate


Bright open shade with good air movement


Like Catasetum, Clowesia and Cycnoches, mormodes are seasonal growers whose new pseudobulbs develop and mature in a six to seven month period. When the bulb has matured, it flowers and then the leaves are normally dropped and the plants rest for one to four months before starting growth again. While in growth, water heavily and maintain high humidity. After maturity, watering should be reduced or withheld until new growth begins. Spider mites are a common enemy in hot dry conditions while the plants are in growth. While at rest, the bulbs should be watched and if they start to shrivel, spray them very lightly.


Use balanced or high nitrogen fertilizer while the plants are in full growth as for Catasetum, Clowesia and Cycnoches. See the section on fertilizing in Cycnoches.


Sphagnum in clay pots; medium-fine fir bark in clay or plastic pots; mounted with sphagnum at the roots on tree fern, cork, driftwood or in baskets. Remember that mormodes show a preference in nature to dead or rotting wood and use it if available. Suspending or hanging the plants helps provide good air circulation.


1.Pabst, G.F.J. An illustrated key to the species of genus Mormodes Lindl.; 1982 Orquideologia 15 pp. 173-178 2. Monnier, Gene, Sexual Polymorphism in the genus Mormodes, 1992 South Florida Orchidist pp. 180-184 Also see the sections on Mormodes in the standard orchid encyclopedias, and also the Icones series.



Mormodes orchids, sometimes called "Goblin Orchids", are relatives of Catasetum. The flowers are asymmetrical, with the lip twisted to the side; breeders try to minimize this, but it's an inherent characteristic of the genus. Like related genera, these epiphytes have large, thick pseudobulbs covered with a bract of dead leaves, and with a fan of leaves distributed along their length. Not long after flowering, the plants drop their leaves in preparation for a dry season, and should not be watered until growth resumes unless the pseudobulbs shrivel a lot.

When the plants emerge from their dry rest, growth is very rapid; they need to be watered a lot at this time, and fertilized copiously too. After the new growth matures, flower stems will emerge from above one or more of the leaves, usually the lower or middle ones, and the plant will bloom. Some species can produce unisexual flowers that are either male or female but not both; such flowers look different from the usual bisexual flowers, and this behavior is influenced by lighting levels among other factors.

After flowering the leaves will drop and the plant enters its dry rest; it will easily rot if watered too much during this period. The best time to repot these orchids is just as they come out of their rest, as there's lots of root growth at this time. It's also a good time to divide the plant; most commonly people leave one pseudobulb in each pot. Clay pots are most common, as the pseudobulbs can be top-heavy and cause the plant to tip over. The best potting mixes are sphagnum moss and fine fir bark.

They seem to do best with high lighting, about 3000 footcandles, similar to a Cattleya, but will also adapt successfully to lighting levels as low as 1000 footcandles, similar to Phalaenopsis.

Warm temperatures, 75-85°F (24-29C), are preferred. Temperatures should cool off by 10-15°F (6-8C) at night.

They like humidity of 50-70%.




Mormodes (Morm.): This genus is composed of over 70 species, epiphytes found especially in lower tropical forests and growing on the rotten parts of trees or fallen branches and on tree trunks. The inflorescence is produced from about the middle of fleshy pseudobulbs once the new growth matures after the dry season.

This interesting genus of small to moderately sized plants produces fragrant flowers on upright racemes. At times identified as 'the flying swallow', 'the fairy' or the 'goblin' orchid, its flowers are asymmetrical with the lip twisted to the side. Its 'perfect' flowers have both male and female segments. Some species can produce unisexual flowers that have a different appearance from the usual bisexual flowers.

Mormodes have a reputation for being more difficult to grow and are the most susceptible to rot. Great care is needed to follow the regimen of ceasing watering during the dry period and resuming only after the plant has come out of its rest and when the new growth is sufficiently developed. Clay pots are often preferred to prevent tipping over, each pot usually including only one top heavy pseudobulb in a mix of sphagnum moss and fine fir bark.

Mormodes appear to do best at lighting levels as low as 1000 footcandles, similar to Phalaenopsis. Warm day temperatures of 75-85 F (24-29 C) are preferred with a cooling down at night by 10-15 F (6-8 C). Humidity needs to be kept fairly high at 50-70%. Mormodes hybridized with Catasetums can deepen colours to almost black as witnessed in Catamodes Black Magic (Catasetum Orchidglade x Mormodes sinuata). But note the wide colour variations that are often produced.  



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Mormodes / Culture


General information on the growing of Mormodes can be found here.  Information specific to species and hybrid Momodes can be found following the appropriate links for a species or hybrid Mormodes.  Culture sheets are meant as a guide.  The ultimate source for the proper care of any orchid is frequent observation of the actual orchid and the correct interpretation of what it is telling you.

Mormodes / Hybrids


Hybrid orchids are the result of an experienced grower controlling the breeding of two orchids that result in a hybrid orchid with traits from both parent orchids.  These traits can include determining the overall size of the new orchid, appearance of the bloom, and growing conditions.  Hybrid orchids are generally easier to care for.  Hybrid orchids might also include more dramatic and longer lasting blooms.

Mormodes / Species


In the orchid world, "species" are those orchids that occur naturally in nature.  Depending who you ask, the blooms of a species is better, the same or not as dramatic as the bloom of a hybdrid orchid.  Most species orchids are less forgiving in a growing area they are not accustomed to and the result will be disappointing (specially for the orchid).   Understanding the cultivation needs of species orchids will serve as a guide for the care of a hybrid that includes particular species in its background.