Saturday, 12 September 2015 20:48

Maxillaria tenuifolia

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Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Orchid Estate

LIGHT Partial shade
HUMIDTY Relative humidity of 50 percent or higher
WATER Keep moist during growing season, allow for a winter rest
BLOOM to Fragrant, blooms from spring into summer


This plant has spunk: the distinctive strap-like leaves and the perky, fragrant flowers really set it apart. The triangular flowers are a vibrant brick-red, about one and one half inches across, blooming singly on three inch stems. The dried-coconut fragrance is one of its most charming traits! .Temperature Tolerant. May blooming. Species from Mexico to Northern Nicaragua.




From the AOS, Maxillariella tenuifolia (Lindl.) M.A.Blanco & Carnevali


Flowers are produced from the base of the pseudobulbs in the spring. This photographs shows the typical coloration.

Like Brassavola nodosa, Maxillaria tenuifolia is one of those orchids that belongs in every collection. While small plants remain compact, it may also be grown into a specimen in a rather short period of time. The grasslike foliage makes an attractive houseplant even when not in flower. Being a widely distributed species, it is adaptable to a broad range of growing conditions. Also known as the "coconut orchid", this Maxillaria will perfume the home or greenhouse with its coconut-scented flowers and delight family and visitors.


The genus as we have accepted it in the past has undergone considerable transformation. A new classification system proposed by Mark Whitten PhD and Mario Blanco in the February 2011 issue of ORCHIDS should lend clarity to what was once a large and diverse genus. While the names change, the orchids stay the same for us to enjoy in our collections. If you are one who likes to be on the cutting edge of orchid taxonomy, you may change your nametags for this species to Maxillariella tenuifolia which is fortunately, not a major name change to remember. It is a pity that this group of orchids is not better known outside a dozen or so popular members. There are many fine species, both large and small, well worth growing and suited to all types of culture from cool to warm, shady to bright.



Here is a plant growing in situ on a tree limb in Belize. Note the dappled light.

This species was discovered near Veracruz, Mexico by Karl Theodore Hartweg and described by Lindley in 1837 in the Botanical Register. It is primarily a low elevation species found from Mexico to Costa Rica at elevations up to 1500m (4921ft). The best temperature range for cultivation is warm to intermediate, providing temperatures no lower than 50 º F (10º C) day or night. The long rhizome makes for a somewhat straggly plant that wants to "climb" out of a pot, but a good sized plant can be easily kept in a six inch pot. It will eventually start to droop over the edge as it grows up but by that time, you should plan to repot it anyway as it will take a couple of years to reach that stage by which time the media will need replacing. Basket culture is an optimal solution to accommodate this growth habit and a slab of tree fern will work equally well, although not offer as tidy a presentation. Most elements of Max. tenufolia culture are quite forgiving with the main consideration being the avoidance of stale or soggy media. We have grown it in all sorts of media including osmunda, fir bark, coconut husk fiber or chunks and of course, fir bark mixes. The paramount quality of the media is that it does not stay consistently wet so sphagnum may be the least suitable choice. Plants should not be watered again until dry, or just approaching dry. Fertilize along with your other orchids every week or two using a half strength solution of balanced fertilizer. Light tolerance is broad for this species and it can be grown in a bright greenhouse, or with "Phals" on a windowsill. Lower light will produce long whip-like foliage and a more straggly plant as it reaches for the light. Should your plant not flower, you will need to give it more light. Flowering season is March-April and flowers last for a week to ten days or longer if kept cool. Flower color is typically oxblood red with a spotted lip, but yellow color forms are known to exist. Plants propagate easily and are always readily available in the trade so there is no excuse to not have one in your collection.


Greg Allikas - April, 2011


This essay is dedicated to the memory of Eric Christenson, PhD who passed away in early April. Eric was a noted authority on Maxillaria and was continuing to describe new species up to his death. While outspoken, Eric was always willing to make suggestions to improve articles I wrote for web and print. His broad knowledge, accuracy and attention to detail held my writing to a very high standard. I only wish he were able to edit this because I am sure that I made a mistake somewhere. An article covering his contributions to the orchid world is in the works for a future issue of ORCHIDS magazine.



From Jay's

Maxillaria tenuifolia Lindley 1837


Common Name The Coconut Orchid - The Delicate Leafed Maxillaria


Flower Size 1 1/2 to 2" [3.9 to 5 cm]


The Coconut Orchid, named for it's scent, occurs in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Niacaragua and Costa Rica as a medium sized, cool to hot growing, solitary leafed epiphyte or occasional terrestrial with an ascending growth habit found on trees in open or dense forests at low elevations up to 1500 meters, with a rhizome that is completely enveloped by scarious, imbricating, nonfoliaceous bracts with oblong-elliptic to oblong-obovate, compressed pseudobulb with a single apical, linear, attenuate leaf that blooms on a 2" [5cm] long, single flowered inflorescence arising on a mature pseudobulb with scarious, basal bracts with the flower held at mid leaf height and occurs in spring and summer and then needs a semi-dry rest through the winter months, best mounted on tree fern.


Synonyms Maxillaria gracilifolia Kraenzel 1927; Maxillariella tenuifolia (Lindl.) M.A. Blanco & Carnevali 2007




  • W3 Tropicos
  • Kew Monocot list
  • IPNI
  • Die Orchideen Schlechter 1915
  • Atlas des Orchidees Cultivees Constantin 1920 drawing good
  • Encyclopedia of Cultivated Orchids Hawkes 1965 photo fide
  • Las Orquedias De El Salvador Vol 2 Hamer 1974 drawing/photo fide
  • AOS Bulletin Vol 48 No 5 1979
  • AOS Bulletin Vol 48 No 6 1979
  • photo
  • Las Orquedias de El Salvador Vol 3 Hamer 1981 drawing fide
  • Icones Planetarum Tropicarum plate 867 Dodson 1983 drawwing fide
  • AOS Bulletin Vol 54 No 1 1985 photo
  • Icones Planetarum Tropicarum plate 1366 Atwood 1989 drawing fide
  • Icones Orchidacearum I Plate 63 Hagsater & Salazar 1990 drawing fide
  • Die Orchideen lieferung 28 Schlechter/Brieger 1993 photo ok
  • AOS Bulletin Vol 63 No 4 1994 photo
  • AOS Bulletin Vol 66 No 3 1997 photo
  • Fieldiana Biology, Flora Costa Ricensis Family # 39 Orchidaceae, subtribes Maxillariinae and Oncidiinae Atwood & Mora 1999
  • AOS Bulletin Vol 67 No 1 1998 photo
  • Australian Orchid Review Vol 69 No 2 2004 photo
  • AOS Bulletin Vol 75 No 2 2006 drawing
  • Australian Orchid Review Vol 72 No 2 2007 photo
  • AOS Bulletin Vol 78 No 2 2009 photo
  • Mille et Une Mini Orchideees Roguenant 2009 photo fide
  • Orchids of Costa Rica Vol 4 Morales 2009 as Maxillariella tenuifolia photo fide
  • Las Orquideas del Peru Bezverhov 2011 photo fide


Maxillaria Orchids



Maxillaria orchids are well-known, but not necessarily popular. There are over 300 species in this genus, but not many are grown by orchid enthusiasts, because only a small portion of the species produces showy flowers. Those that do, produce single flowers on short spikes. Some of them are magnificently fragrant.


Native to tropical America, this genus derives its name from the Latin word maxilla which means jawbone. This designation refers to the appearance of many of the flowers of this species. Normally, the lip of these plants looks like an arched tongue and has three unremarkable lobes. The result is a blossom that slightly resembles a jawbone.


Don’t let the criticisms of this varied genus, however, prevent you from investigating further. Several species are well worth taking a second look. Consider Maxillaria tenuifolia. The blossoms of this plant are small (approximately 1 inch in diameter) usually dark-red and grow on a spike of about 2 inches long. Tucked amongst the leaves, this flower is barely visible, but it still makes its presence known. It emits a scent which can only be described as coconut with a hint of cinnamon. As a result, these orchids are also known as Coconut Orchids.



Maxillaria picta is another special plant from this genus. Native to Brazil, produce flowers that range from 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. These blossoms are usually yellow with the color fading to white at the tips. Dark red marks the edges of the sepals and petals, and the flowers are very fragrant. An epiphyte, this orchid grows fast and often produces several growths during one season.


A third Maxillaria orchid of note is Maxillaria schunkeana. Also native to Brazil, this orchid produces small, non-showy flowers. So what’s so important about this species? This orchid’s claim to fame is the color of its blossoms. No one has ever cultivated a black orchid, but with its dark purple-red blooms, this plant often gives the impression of being black.


The majority of Maxillaria orchids produce round or oblong pseudobulbs, usually with one or two central-veined apical leaves. In several species, these pseudobulbs cluster on a short rhizome, while in others they keep their distance on an elongated rhizome. Inflorescences sprout from the base of the pseudobulb and produce a single flower. The flower spikes are short (2-3 inches) and never grow longer than the leaves.


Because this genus has such diversity among its species growth requirements can vary widely. In general, Maxillaria orchids are epiphytes, which mean they grow well mounted on bark, on branches or in slatted baskets of equal parts fibrous peat and sphagnum. During the growing season, keep temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, water abundantly, mist daily and keep out of direct light. Sunlight seems to enhance fragrance production qualities, but the light must be filtered. After growth is finished, lower the temperature by 10 to 12 degrees, and reduce watering, but don’t let the plants completely dry out.



Maxillaria tenuifolia


Maxillaria tenuifolia, the Delicate-leafed Maxillaria or Coconut Pie Orchid, is a species of orchid ranging from Mexico to Nicaragua and possibly Costa Rica.[1] These plants are easy to grow if kept moist and given good air movement in a high-light windowsill of any orientation but North. [2]



Of all the members of its genus, which are not as sought after in cultivation, Maxillaria tenuifolia is the most popular. It has rather small flowers, typically no more than one and a half inches, and they come only one to a spike. Its popularity is due to the flower's scent, which is just like that of coconuts. The flowers are colored in red with yellow or brown speckles. This plant is easy to grow and flower but does like a little cooler night temps in winter.



Medium light as for between Cattleya and Phalaenopsis. From 1500 to 3500 foot candles are ideal. This plant will also grow well under fluorescent and high pressure sodium fixtures.



The plants grow well in intermediate temperatures, with winter nights from 55 to 62 degrees Fahrenheit and days of 58 to 75. Summer temperatures can be several degrees warmer.



This plant likes a relative humidity of 50 percent or higher. using humidity trays or room humidifiers to provide additional humidity in dry conditions is beneficial to these plants.



In its natural habitat, this plant gets much water during the rainy season, but starting in December there is a drier season that can last until May. For cultivation indoors, this means that the potting medium should be allowed to dry out between waterings from Late November until the end of March. Being careful not to allow the pseudobulbs to become too wrinkled is essential, the plant should not be kept too dry. the plants may only have to be watered every 2-3 weeks during the dry period. About mid March one can begin watering normally allowing the potting medium to become somewhat dry between watering, but not as dry as in the winter months. It is best to use rain, distilled or reverse osmosis water for these plants.


An attractive species known as the Coconut Orchid due to its intense fragrance, 1" egg-shaped flattened bulbs closely spaced on an ascending rhizome carry a single linear grass-like 14" leaf, short basal spikes emerge from the rhizome producing a single 2" triangular flower, the deep red sepals have yellow margins, lip is cream with red blotches, very fragrant. (Additional shipping may apply due to size of plant)
Growing tip:  Needs good water
Blooming Season: Spring,Summer Blooming
Light: Bright; 2500-3500 Footcandles (very bright indirect light)
Temperature: Cool, Intermediate to Warm; 40°F min. to 95°F max. (tolerant of extremes, favoring cool)
Watering: Moist; 2-4 waterings per week (let dry between waterings)


You can visit Andy's Orchids and explore this and other orchids by following this link.


Similar orchids

If you appreciate the Maxillaria tenuifolia, then the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate recommends the following orchids as well. Orchids noted with a asteric * are included in the NVOS web site, all other links will open a new browser window to the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate page.


Maxillaria bradei

Maxillaria brunnea

Maxillaria nutans type

Maxillaria pachyphylla

Maxillaria richii

Maxillaria variabilis var. yellow *

Maxillaria picta *

Maxillaria variabilis

Although not a fan of coconut, having 2 of these, waiting to see how potent they can be.
Read 15449 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 November 2015 18:00
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