Psychopsis papilio

Source: Orchi

Psychopsis papilio

Psychopsis papilio or butterfly orchid has very large and spectacular flowers with antenna-like sepals and petals.

This orchid is suitable for the conservatory or houseplant and is moderately difficult to grow, more difficult to flourish.

Often, the old name Oncidium papilio is still used.

It belongs to the family Orchidaceae, sub-family Epidendroideae, tribe Maxillarieae, sub-tribe Oncidiinae, alliance Trichopilia, genus Psychopsis.


Psychopsis papilio is an epiphytic and sympodial orchid of 20-30 cm height.

It has pseudo-bulbs of 3-5 cm height. The pseudo-bulbs are oval to almost round, close together, flattened, wrinkled and often dull red with dark spots.

The leaves are 15-23 cm long. A leaf is produced at the top of each pseudobulb. They stand stiffly erect, dull green and purplish red mottled on both sides.

The inflorescence is 60-150 cm long. A single flower stalk appears from the base of recently matured pseudo-bulbs The inflorescences are erect or curved and flat in the upper part where many flowers are formed in succession over a period of several months. The inflorescence continues to grow and form new buds, often over a period of several years.

Only one flower blooms at the same time on each inflorescence, but a mature plant can produce more than one inflorescence.

The flowers are 13-15 cm long and have an extremely long life. The dorsal sepals and petals are upright. They are often dull crimson and marked with a yellow transverse stripes. The sickle-shaped, bright chestnut-red lateral sepals have wavy edges with occasional yellow markings. The large, 3-lobed lip is about 4 cm long and 3.5 cm wide.

The yellow lip is marked with orange-brown or reddish brown near the base and a relatively broad, solid colored band around the edge of the mid-lobe. The callus consists of three upright fleshy ridges on a plate, with the middle ridge much longer than the side ridges. The upright column wings has jagged edges. There is an antenna-like projection with a button-like tip over the wings on each side of the column, below the anther cap. The flat top of the inflorescence and the characteristic column-wings with their top button-like fimbriae are the easiest and quickest ways distinct to Psychopsis papilio from other members of the genus.


Trinidad, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru


This epiphyt is widespread in relatively high, dense forests at 400-1,200 m altitude, but is quite rare in drier forests along the lower coast.


Psychopsis: from the Greek psyche (butterfly) and opi (-like)
Papilio: Latin for butterfly


Oncidium Papilio is the old name for this species but is still widely used.



Day temperature: average 27 °C (80.6 °F)
Night temperature: average 18 °C (64.4 °F)

The wide distribution of this orchid and the large differences in altitude implies that the plant can tolerate important variation of these temperatures.


Prefers bright light but no direct sunlight, especially at noon. A window on the east or west is ideal.


Water every 2-3 days during the summer, let the substrate dry out between two waterings. In very hot weather, give a little more water.

Prefer rainwater or non-alkaline water at room temperature. Do not use water from a water softener, because it contains too much salt.



At higher temperatures, the humidity has to be higher. You may place the pot over a bowl of water, without submerging the pot.


This orchid can be used in pots or mounted on a cork or bark slab.

Mount it on a cork bark slab only if you can irrigate it daily.

In pots, use a classic orchid substrate of pine bark and polystyrene, especially provide good drainage. Preferably use a shallow pot or hanging baskets.


A weekly fertilization during the growing period diluted to a 1/4 or 1/2 of the recommended dilution of liquid universal fertilizer is enough. Fertilizer with lower nitrogen and higher phosphorus content promotes flowering the next year and ensures that new growth is better developed for the winter.


Repot only when necessary and when new roots are formed. Thus, the plant will be better established before the winter.



Only to obtain hybrids. This is a difficult and time consuming technique and the offspring have not necessarily the same characteristics as the parent plant.


When repotting a plant you can divide it. Keep a minimum of 3 pseudo-bulbs per plant.