These orchids are particularly mysterious and are called butterfly orchids. The flower moves in the wind, and mimics a female butterfly which attracts male butterflies to try and mate with it, thus pollinating the flower. It also might have a second trick. The butterfly-like flower might attract a parasitic insect on the lookout for butterflies, or it fools a male butterfly into thinking it’s a female.
There’s even a fun word for it: pseudocopulation. Either way, the orchid succeeds in getting its seeds distributed to continue the life cycle. We got to see a hybrid butterfly orchid.
Psychopsis papilio (Lindley, 1825) H. G. Jones. 1975 Psychopsis mariposa, right.
Originally described by John Lindley as Oncidium papilio, it was removed to the genus Psychopsis by H. G. Jones (1975) in the Journal of the Barbados Museum Historical Society (p. 32). Caution: it’s still marketed occasionally under the old name by some vendors, and under both names by less scrupulous ones!
This species is a native of low-mountain forests in Trinidad, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. It resembles certain species of South American butterflies so well that males attempt to mate with it, and in doing so, pollinate it. P. papilio (Fig. 11) puts out a long rachis. This particular plant’s flower was held on one about 7.5 decimeters (about 30 inches) long, putting it well above the plant’s leaves where it may flutter lightly in a breeze and aide its butterfly mimicry. Another aid to butterfly mimicry is that flowers bloom successively; not a few at the same time.
Psychopsis papilio is often confused with P. kramerianum (see below) which is from Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru, but P. papilio has a bilaterally compressed peduncle lacking swollen nodes (P. kramerianum: peduncle terete), and the wings on the columns of each species are shaped differently.
Flower Size to 5″ [to 12.5 cm]
Found from Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in tropical lowland and lower montane rainforests on large branches at altitudes of 50 to 1300 meters as a medium sized, hot to warm growing epiphyte with small dollar shaped, laterally compressed psuedobulbs subtended by imbricate bracts with spotted undersides of the single, apical, rigid, leathery, persistent, elliptic-oblong, acute, contracted into a short, folded petiole leaf that blooms on a 3′ [90 cm] long, erect, 1 to 2 flowered at a time, successive opening inflorescence with ovate-triangular bracts and large showy flowers. These inflorescence, if left alone can bloom for years so do not cut them as they also can produce plantlets.