Bonatea speciosa

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Botanical Name
Bonatea speciosa
Orchidaceae -

The orchid family.

bon-AT-ee-uh spee-see-OH-suh
Common Name(s)
English: Green wood orchid; Phantom orchid
Afrikaans: Moederkappie; Oktoberlelie
Plant Group
  • Orchid
Plant Size
  • Canopy Shade Canopy shade is found below closely grown trees where some light filters through. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Light or Dappled Shade Found below trees with sparse, open foliage. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
General Information
  • Deciduous Plants which completely lose their foliage for part of the year.
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate The plant is moderately adapted to arid conditions and can survive short periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Fragrant / Aromatic These plants posses a strong, usually pleasant odour.
  • Frost: Tender A plant that will not survive any frost or low winter temperatures.
  • Water Moderate These plants will need some extra watering compared to water-wise plants. Plant them together, in at least some shade and in a convenient proximity to the house so that grey water can be utilised during times of drought.
Specific Information

Bonatea speciosa is a deciduous terrestrial orchid, usually growing 0.4-0.6 m in height but is known to reach up to a meter or more.

During the growing season a robust stem with broad, very dark green  leaves, rises from the ground. The flower stem carries a few to many medium-sized to large, green and white, sweetly scented flowers, which are very complicated in shape and look somewhat spider-like. The flower is pollinated by hawk moths.

At the beginning of the dormant season, the above-ground parts dry off completely, and the plants rest, drawing nutrients from their elongated storage tubers. 

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spider-like orchid flower

  • Winter to Summer Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • white
Growth Rate
  • Moderate Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Container Trees, shrubs and ornamental species that can adapt to growing in a restricted environment.
  • Pot Plant A plant that needs a protected environment on a patio or indoors.
  • Suitable for coastal gardens Plants adapted to dry, sandy soil, forceful wind, limited rainfall and intense sunlight.
  • Wild Garden An indigenous garden planted for the benefit of wildlife and birds. Provides food, water, a variety of mini-biomes and no poisonous chemicals are used.
Distribution and Habitat

from Lambert's Bay in the Western Cape, through a narrow coastal strip in the Eastern Cape, north to KwaZulu-Natal, and further into southern Mozambique, in Fynbos, Indian Ocean Coastal Belt, Eastern Cape.forest, on forest margins, in open woodland and occasionally in open savanna in sandy soil

Planting Suggestions

Bonatea speciosa needs well drained soil or soil mixture to prevent the roots from rotting, but it is reportedly one of the easiest orchids to grow.  Plants cultivated in garden beds require a shady or semi-shady spot. In climates where temperatures make it unsuitable for an outdoor environment, grow this plant in pots or containers so that the plants can be moved indoors during inclement weather.

A growing medium of equal parts of fibrous peat, loam, coarse sand and fine bark, with a layer of drainage material at the bottom, should be used. The soil should be kept fairly dry in the dormant season, but must not dry out completely. Bonateas do not thrive in high humidity. Acceptable temperatures would range between 5ºC and 30ºC. The most common cultivation problem is rotting of the tubers, stems or roots due to over-watering. Try to avoid wetting the leaves and new shoots altogether.

Plants of Bonatea speciosa cannot be divided and propagation from seed is complicated, requiring the facilities of a laboratory with sterile working conditions. 


Medicinal Uses

No data found.

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Bonatea speciosa also occurs in the Free State Province, probably mainly in the eastern parts. It grows on densely wooded faces of hills and mountains. I have found it abundantly in the Clocolan district, near the Lesotho border, also some plants in the Marquard district and it grows wild in the Free State National Botanical Garden. The plants flower in March. Picture taken 13 March 2014 - flowers will open within a few days.

Hi Dawie

Thanks for your clear description and photo. Unfortunately I must disagree with your identification.

Orchids are extremely climate sensitive and Bonatea speciosa would not survive in the areas you have described. They are found strictly along the Eastern coast of South Africa. The flowering time for Bonatea is from winter to summer, not autumn, and the leaves and plant structure are quite different - compare the leaves in your picture with those of the Bonatea.

Considering there are 433 species of orchid in South Africa, it is very easy to make an error in identification. I am unable to identify this orchid from the picture but I suspect it may be a member of the genus Habenaria, of which there are 30 species, some of which are found in the Free State.

To correctly identify this orchid, the only suggestion I can make is to email the picture to the Free State National Botanical Gardens at As it grows wild in the gardens, they should be able to identify this orchid from your picture and the list of places you have seen it.

If you do find the correct ID, do please let me know the name.

Kind regards

Lorraine, ek is geneig om saam met Dawie te stem mbt die identifiseering van Bonatea speciosa. Ek woon Noord-Oos van Pretoria in die De Wild omgewing en het 7 soortgelyke plante op my kleinhoewe wat identies is van die wat Dawie ge plaas het en deur PlantZAfrika beskryf word. Hulle groei onder en tussen die soetdoring en ander bome. Die grond is sand-leem. Bonatea speciosa se kappie is ook oorwegend groen terwyl Bonatea Habenaria genus se kappies wit is. Hier by my blom hulle van einde Januarie tot einde Maart. Dus in die koeler somer maande. Ek neem aan dat hulle redelik goed aanpasbaar is en het selfs 2015/2016 se uitermatige hute (tot 44grade C)oorleef. Hoop dit help. Groetnis. (As ek reg ontou het ek hule as kind ook in die waterberge (Noord-Transvaal) waar geneem)

Dag Willem

Baie dankie vir jou verklaring.


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