Sarcophyton pachyphyllus : Sungay Kalabaw an endemic orchid from the Philippines !

orchid in bloom ( Purificacion Orchids and Ornamental Farm )

Sarcophyton pachyphyllus’ (Ames) Garay 1972 is a part the subtribe Aeridinae. The name refers to Pachy meaning “thick” and Phyllum “leaf” the fleshy nature of the plants.

The Philippines is the only place where the genus can be found and there are only two or possibly three species that are known.

This orchid species used to be described as Sarcanthus pachyphyllus in the first printing 1952 and second printing 1982 Philippine Orchid by Ms. Mona Liza Steiner. Apparently, No correction was made in the second printing of the book which almost all Philippine Orchid collector’s “Must” Handbook.  The change happened in 1972 but local orchidists still refer them to the old name even until middle of 1990’s .  This book was the cheapest book that anyone who is interested in growing orchids. Until Mr. Andres Golamco’s book came out in 1991 and Mr. Jim Cootes in 2001.  Orchidiana Philipiniana book is very bulky and heavy that one cannot carry them and it was quite expensive for ordinary hobbyists to acquire.

This orchid species is infrequently seen among backyard orchid growers, Very few orchid growers grow this type of orchid . Some are dismayed over the miniscule flower size that this orchid species carry.

S. pachyphyllus grown in nursery

Cultural and Ethno-Botanical Importance:

This orchid species are called Robust Orchid, Carabao Horn Orchid, Sungay Kalabaw by backyard growers. The term was coined because of the nature of the leaves which looked like a curve horn of a carabao. Sometimes, backyard growers may even refer this to Vanda orchid.

Some would grow them not for their miniscule flowers but the ability of this orchid species to ward -off evil spirits or  black dwarfs ( itim na duwende )  and create good feng shui in their families. Some of them grow them in large trees within their property .

I have seen some Sarcophyton pachyphyllus  grown by 3 orchid backyard growers in Novaliches, Tandang Sora Avenue and Fairview area. The first grower was a neighbor who had some collection of native orchids.  According to her, she bought them in Baclaran . Another orchid collector who lives in Tandang Sora also happened to sell some native orchids. According to this grower, The sizeable clump that was growing attached to an Acacia tree or Rain Tree ( Saman samanea ) had been there for at least a decade, We were able to buy 1 orchid offset from this seller way back in 1992. My mom was able to bought 1 or 2 more specimen from ambulant orchid seller in 1993 “ thinking those were Vandas or Waling –waling !!!! LOL  ”. We mounted the orchids in our Duhat tree (Syzygium cumini ) where it stayed there for a couple of years until children climbing getting fruits also took away our precious orchids!

S.pachyphyllus almost withered blooms

Another grower in Fairview had some specimen -sized orchids attached them to a Bunga China – Manila Palm , According to her, It was more of a sentimental “thing” rather than superstitious beliefs or feng shui that she grows them. According to her story, It was his late father who first attached the orchid to the host palm . It was pre-internet era and pre-digital camera age , so i was unfortunate not able take photos of the orchid species. My only recollection of this species was , We were able to grow them in our backyard for sometime.

close-up view of the inflorescence and hundreds of  flowers

It will take at least a decade or so before i encountered a blooming specimen of the Carabao horn orchid at the orchid show in Quezon City. I think it was Purificacion Orchids which exhibited the orchid species in 2008 ( it won an award then) . One of the topic at the orchid show lectures about native orchid species ( 2008 )  , The lecture speakers were  Mr. Andres ” Jun”  Golamco and Mr. Kelvin Neil Manubay  tandem talked about the need to preserve and conserve Philippine orchid species and the urgent need propagate them.

several mature specimen orchid with flowers

A few months after the lecture , I was able to buy a single specimen of this orchid species from the Lung Center Sunday Market . I was a little but late when i arrived at the sunday market ,   i saw several dozens were sold to an unknown orchid collector.  BUT , I was fortunate enough to buy the smallest plant ( left- over ) from the ones that was bought by the customer.  We visited Purificacion Orchids and Ornamental Farm in Alfonso , Cavite last week and were fortunate to witness some blooming specimens of this species .

Habitat and Range:

According to literature and orchid books, It is found in the provinces of  Albay,  Ilocos, Benguet , Rizal at elevations up to 500 meters as a medium to just large sized, hot growing monopodial epiphyte with an erect stem carrying a few, 2 ranked, thick, fleshy, leathery, sickle-shaped leaves that blooms in the spring on an erect, several branched, 16″ [40 cm] long, rigid, many [to 500] flowered inflorescence.

But personal conversation with some orchid collectors and orchid sellers may add some provinces like Sorsogon, Camarines Norte, Bulacan , Zambales and Rizal as possible areas. I have a friend from Bulacan province and he said that he also used to encounter them in some private homes and native orchid peddlers selling them

Its flowering season may vary from one province to another, In the western part of the country where there is a distinct dry season and temperature fluctuations. Flowering season may start as early as February until Mid-May .

Sarcophyton pachyphyllus grown in backyard

Water and Fertilization:

Based on several years of growing this orchid species, We grew them attached to our Duhat tree ( 1992 to 1995) and Manila Palm ( 2009 till today ) . I water them almost daily during summer season and fertilize them at 20N-20-P-20-K dilute them at 1/4 of the recommended dosage almost every other day or 3 times a week ! I would also recommend to water them with rice washings ( hugas bigas) .

During rainy season , I would put 15 to 20 pieces of slow release fertilizer ( put them in a tea- bag like cloth) . Once in a while ( around once a month)  i would also fertilize my Sungay Kalabaw with 10N-30-P30-K . preferably early in the morning or late in the afternoon.  This would make the leaves more shinny and thick!

We experienced our first orchid bloomed during late February or early March in 1993 , but not from this batch of orchid which i purchased as small offset ( tira-tira – leftovers ) from Lung Center Sunday Market . The orchid can grow in partial shade or at least 50 to 60% lighting conditions. This orchid prefers to be undisturbed and thus growing them on live trees , palms or kakawate trunk seems to be perfect.

The orchid that i bought at the Lung Center is already fully matured and maybe in a year or so with careful fertilization and care , It will  bloom .  The Lung Center Sunday market had moved to Centris and I hope would be able to buy Sungay Kalabaw orchid.

I am encouraging all orchid hobbyists especially those living in the Philippines to grow and propagate them no matter how small their flowers , It is part of our natural heritage and pride of the country !

Note: All photos were taken by the author , please cite this blog site as link

References and Bibliography:
Synonyms Acampe pachyphylla (Ames) Szlach. 2003; *Sarcanthus pachyphyllus Ames 1915;

Cootes, Jim. “THE ORCHIDS OF THE PHILIPPINES.” Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2001.
“Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia” :

Orchidiana Philipiniana Vol 1 Valmayor 1984

Davis S. Reg and Steiner, Mona Liza, Philippine Orchids, M&L Licudine Enterprises , Second Printing 1982, Manila Page 200 to 203



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