A beauty of the highlands: Gastrorchis françoisii

Already the botanist Rudolf Schlechter praised the orchid Gastrorchis françoisii in 1925 as one of the most beautiful he would ever have described. And indeed it is: its large flowers, about 5 cm wide, pink on the outside and white and purple on the inside, with the striking yellow spot on the lip, are a real eye-catcher. And even among the great variety of Malagasy orchids Gastrorchis françoisii seems exceptionally beautiful.

Gastrorchis françoisii auf flowering in Madagascar

Rudolf Schlechter was a curator at the Botanical Museum in Berlin. From the collection of the French botanist Henri Perrier de La Bâthie he had received several orchids from Madagascar at the beginning of the 20th century. Gastrorchis françoisii was named after its discoverer, the Frenchman Edmond François. He worked in 1925 for the colonial power of France as an agricultural inspector in the botanical garden of Antananarivo (today the zoo and botanical garden of Tsimbazaza).

But back to the orchid itself. Gastrorchis françoisii reaches a growth height of up to 60 cm. In particularly favorable locations, the orchid can also reach almost a meter from the ground. It occurs only in some remnants of the original Malagasy highland forest at altitudes between 1200 and 1800 m a.s.l. and at the very northernmost tip of the tropical island near Antsiranana. In the highlands, the orchid lives through a cold dry season. Only in the warmer, humid rainy season, it develops its beautiful flowers.

To find this orchid in its flowering season, one should come to Madagascar during the rainy season. From January to March you have a good chance to spot the large pink flowers. At good locations, the orchid grows in dozens next to each other. It forms a real flower carpet of high-growing plants. Such a place, a small orchid paradise, is the inselbergs of Angavobe and Angavokely in the eastern highlands of Madagascar. The locality mentioned in the first description is only a little further east of it, near Mandraka. However, it is not so easy to find the beautiful orchid there today. Slash-and-burn and logging for firewood are visibly reducing the local habitat.

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