Darwin’s orchid, with its long nectar spur, can be seen in the eastern tropical house.
A native of lowland forests of Madagascar, Angraecum sesquipedale is distinct in having a nectar spur up to 45cm in length, from which it takes its specific name sesquipedale, which is Latin for ‘one and a half feet’. The common name for this species, Darwin’s orchid, arose because Charles Darwin predicted that this species had evolved with, and could only be pollinated by, a specific insect with a proboscis (tongue) long enough to reach the nectar held at the base of the spur. Darwin was ridiculed by many for this prediction, but after his death a hawkmoth (Xanthopan morganii var. praedicta), with a suitably long proboscis, was discovered in the lowland forests of Madagascar, and which is the only pollinator of this orchid. This is an epiphytic orchid with large, fleshy, star-shaped flowers held in spurs, and it has a sweet scent which intensifies at night to attract its pollinator.