The individual species within the genus are comparatively small plants, but they produce brightly coloured flowers.
The species have been widely used to produce the compact bright red coloured hybrids with larger flowers than the
species, within the cattleya alliance.
The genus Sophronitis comprises some 6 to 7 species, which are natives of east Brazil and Paraguay. The generic
name is derived from the Greek word 'sophronia' - meaning 'modest' - which certainly applies to the species
used to initially describe the genus (Sophronitis ceruna).
The genus was established in 1827. It is allied to epidendrum and laelia, being similar to the later in having
8 pollinea, but differs in the erect lip which is stalked at the base of the column, and is shortly joined to it.
It characteristically has a moderately thick column which bears a small wing on each side of the stigmatic cavity.
Pabst and Dungs (25) list the following Brazihan species with their habitat zones - see
Habitats series for full descriptions]
S. brevipedunculata (Cogn.) Fowl. Arid habitat
S. cernua Lindl. Foothilll and arid habitat
S. coccinea (Lindl.) Rchb.f. Lowland
S. mantiqueirae Fowlie Lowland
S. petrocarpa Lindl. Foothill habitat
and S. wittiana Barb. Rodr.Arid habitat
Withner (The Cattleyas and their Relatives, Volume 3 1993 ISBN 0-88192-269-2) describes the following new species
Fowlie (49) has produced an identification key as follows. For general use the descriptions have been
simplified. If any difficulty occurs, the original published by Fowlie should be referred to.
Key to the genus SOPHRONITUS
A. Flowers large, up to 60 to 70 mm in diameter, solitary or rarely two on a stem, petals much broader than
the sepals (exception S. mantiqueirae var. parviflora has very small (25 mm in diameter) flowers but the other
features of this group) B
B. Leaves egg shaped to more oval, blunt to sharply pointed, pseudobulbs growing without any arranged order along
the rhizome and elongate club shaped to somewhat rounded, flower scape much shorter than the leaves. C.
C. Flowers borne in nature in Brazil in January and February, flower colouration a deep carmine red with lip of
egg yolk yellow interrupted by 3 to 5 veins of colouration, leaves beneath provided with tiny purplish anthocyanin
spots, plants restricted in distribution to the Sierra da Mantiqueira from 1500 to 1800 metres Always summer flowering.
CC. Flowers borne in nature in August and September most commonly but with second season in March April and
even in July (three peaks), flower colouration deep red-orange with subdued yellow-orange throat, interrupted by
7 to 9 veins of colouration, leaves in sunny situations with a prominent longitudinal zone of red striation on
either side of the leaf vein and running the length of the leaf, plants restricted to the coastal ranges of Brazil
from about 750 to 900 metres. Never mid-summer flowering.
BB Leaves egg shaped to elongated rounded form but conspicuously thickened. Pseudobulbs spherical, flower scape
approximately equal or longer than the leaves. D
D. Pseudobulbs growing in a carefully arranged alternating order along the rhizome, forming a double row to the
right and left and clearly spherical or nearly so. E
E. Leaves broadly egg shaped, flowers deep to light pink in colouration, petals bluntly egg shaped to somewhat
pointed, plants flowering in nature in June and July and native to Eastern Esparto Santo. Scape prominently longer
than the leaf.
EE. Leaves more narrowly egg shaped, flowers light coloured reddish, petals narrowly elliptic, plants native
interior mountains of Minas Gerais, plants flowering in nature in April to May. Flower scape barely exceeding the
leaf in length.
DD. Pseudobulbs growing without order on the rhizome and not arranged right and left in alternating double rows,
spherical to somewhat club shaped. Leaves more elliptical to elongate.
AA. Flowers small to 15 mm in diameter or smaller, usually 3 to 5 or even more per spike, petals the same width
as the sepals or slightly broader. F.
F. Leaves egg shaped, somewhat rounded at their base, ovary unwinged with a short apex.
FF Leaves elliptic, somewhat heart shaped at their base, ovary winged with a drawn out apex flowering period
April to June in their native Brazil
The species will now be discussed in detail.
a. Sophronitis coccinea (Lindl.)
This is the most commonly cultivated of the Sophronitis species, and is a plant which has been extensively used
in hybridising. It is a small epiphytic or lithophytic plant which has a creeping elongate branching rhizome. Its
pseudobulbs are clustered, erect or ascending, terete, cylindrical, with 1 to 2 nodes, 15 to 40 mm long and 2 to
6 mm in diameter. The single leaf is erect, quite fleshy, 30 to 60 mm long, 10 to 25 mm broad. The somewhat erect
inflorescence is single flowered. The flower itself is very showy, fleshy, scarlet red with yellow base to the
lip.(22) Fowlie notes (49) the plant is easily distinguished vegetatively by a longitudinal
red line down the centre of the leaf. Its main flowering naturally in the Southern Hemisphere is June to August
with some plants flowering from April to October.
This plant was first collected by a Frenchman M.E. Descourtilz in the high mountains which separate the Province
of Bannanal from Ilha Grande, now known generally as a portion of the Serra do Mar. He called it Epidendrum ponceau
and forwarded his painting of this species to the botanist Lindley in England who formally named it Cattleya coccinea
in 1836. Reichenbach transferred it to its correct genus - sophronitis - in 1864. This plant is also often grown
under the name Sophronitis grandiflora Lindl. Lindley gave this name when he described it again two years
after his original description (22), so this name is invalid in terms of the rules of name priority.
Reichenbach f's name Sophronitis militaris is a synonym of this species. The history of the confusion of its name
has been well set out by Fowlie in his review of the genus.
Fowlie discusses the natural habitat of this species in detail. It grows in a narrow (3 to 5 km wide) discontinuous
band of mountains close to the coast, the Serra do Mar. It is found at about 650 to 900 metres altitude growing
as an epiphyte on moss covered small saplings from near ground level to 20 metres in the air. The forest is very
damp being subject to daily mists from 4 pm onwards, which soaks everything completely through. The wet season
occurs from September to November, when spring showers deluge the habitat. December and January are subject to
hot thunderstorms. February to June is changeable, producing a constantly humid misty climate with two distinct
heavier periods of rainfall - in October to December and May to June. The dry season extends from July to August
with cold winter rains. For long periods of the year the air is fully saturated with moisture. Temperatures range
from 30 degrees Celsius highs to 15 degrees Celsius lows, varying slightly winter and summer. He notes that seedlings
frequently take root on small trees in dark places, not flowering because of the low light levels. As the host
trees age and die and loose their leaves, the plants are exposed to bright light, suddenly bursting into massed
display of flowers.
Pessoa (47) has also discussed the habitat, noting they are found from 450 to 850 metres altitude, in
areas which are always very humid - 90 % in the morning, falling to only 60 to 70 % in the afternoon. He notes
temperatures fall to 5 degrees Celsius in winter, rising to only 25 degrees during the summer. The plants he has
seen where in quite windy zones in the highest and coolest areas.
In different habitats, some variability within this species is evident. Fowlie (49) notes
three ecotypes, which appear to be genetically fixed, are as follows:-
Sophronitis coccinea ecotype militaris has pseudobulbs as 'thin as pencil leads', the
one standing next to the other like a row of soldiers. They grow in very dark forests, low down on trees, producing
very short peduncles so that the flowers appear to sit on the long narrow leaves.
Sophronitis coccinea ecotype coccinea is a typical plant, which has leaves shorter
and broader and with pseudobulbs more plumped out than the above. They grow in normally bright positions in average
forests. They show a prominent purple mid rib in the centre and running down the length of the leaf.
Sophronitis coccinea ecotype insolaris is the rarest of the ecotypes. It prefers little
branches that reach up to the sunlight in the tallest trees in the centre of the forest. The longitudinal leaf
stripe is marked and also the leaf border is margined purple. The leaves are shorter and are a lighter green and
the pseudobulbs more egg shaped. This has redder coloured flowers.
A number of recognised horticultural forms exist, which characteristically flower outside the normal period. They
are said to occur throughout the .natural range of the species. The main varieties can be listed as follows:-
var. carmesa with flowers carmine-red, known to Brazilian residents as 'carmesim variety'. It occurs
once in 100 to 200 normals, and has more purple in the flowers.
var. barboleta has peach coloured flowers, the petals with red, longitudinal striped effects. Originally
found in the mountains of Peruibe from a single example, a second discovery was made of it in 1971. The varietal
name means 'butterfly' in deference to its simulation of a butterfly's highly variegated wings.
var. discolor has flowers light brick-red in colour with darker red veins and an entirely yellow
lip. The lip is well recognised by its completely ochre-yellow colour without any red veins. It occurs about once
in 500 normally coloured forms, and flowers before or after the normal flowering individuals with which it grows.
var. gigantea is evidentially a tetraploid form, found several times in separated occurrences in
the Serra do Mar about once a year. Pseudobulbs measure 150 mm in height with leaves to 150 mm long, the flowers
to 75 mm in diameter.
var. labelloid variety has flowers with three lips instead of two petals and one lip, and is thus readily recognised.
var. lobii is the rarest of the yellow coloured varieties, occurring perhaps once in 10, 000 normals in nature.
The colour is described as a kind of lemon-yellow without any orange lip, as has the variety rossiteriana.
var. pallens is called by the Brazilians 'abobara' in deference to its similar colour to a native
squash. It is a pale very light brick colour, occurring perhaps once in a hundred normals in nature.
var. rossiteriana has yellow flowers, but with a paler lip inside of which has a reddish tinge. It
has egg yolk coloured flowers, causing local people to call it 'Cor de gemma'. Some Brazilians mistakenly call
this var. aurantiaca which is used for another plant, a typical S. coccinea
var. striata has red-scarlet flowers, with darker red longitudinal venation, more marked on the petals
and occurs once in about 50 normals in nature.
In 1933 it was suggested that the name Eunannos be given to the species with single flowers in the genus,
reserving Sophronitis for the multiflowered species only, namely S. cernua. This has not been generally
SL My Little Pumpkin - sophronitis hybrid
b. Sophronitis mantiqueirae Fowlie
Originally described as a subspecies in 1968 (51), it was raised to full species rank in 1972. (52)
Closely related to Sophronitis coccinea, both these species have tender fleshy growths not evident in the
other more succulent species. S. coccinea is a stouter plant with taller more robust growth and shows a
red line longitudinally along the centre of the leaf. It generally flowers in the autumn, winter and spring. Sophronitis
mantiqueirae is a somewhat more miniature version. It shows finer pseudobulbs and leaves which lack the red
line. The leaves instead are red spotted underneath or uniformly red suffused. It flowers only in the summer.
Sophronitis mantiqueirae comes from the Serra do Mantiqueira, a high range of mountains parallel to the
coast and S. coccina's habitat in the Serra do Mar, but some 80 kilometres further inland. The mountains
rise to some 1500 metres altitude overall, with the species living from 1200 metres up to about 1900 metres on
the peaks. It grows on small saplings which are usually moss or lichen shrouded. The plants prefer the humid creek
gulch forests. The species flowers in January and February, with a lesser second flowering in September to October.
The plants spread their roots 150 to 200 mm, vertical trunks preferring shady forest, horizontal trunks in the
bngher crest forest. In the area summer temperatures reach 30 degrees Celsius during the day, falling to 10 degrees
celius at night. Winter temperatures during the day range from 11 to 18 degrees celsius, with nights falling to
just above the frost level. Because of the temperatures the plants rest during June to September.
c. Sophronitis wittigiana Barb. Rodr.
Barbosa Rodngues described this species from Espirito Santo in 1878. This species has S. rosea, S. grandiflora
var. rosea and S. purpurea as synonyms. (49)
It produces flowers with a very deep pink colouration. Its pseudobulbs grow in a double row, alternating left and
right along the rhizome. Its flower peduncle is much longer that the leaf. It is June and July flowering. It grows
only in the Brazilian State of Espirato Santo, in gully swamps at some 1000 to 1400 metres altitude, on the uppermost
branches of trees where light is brighter, preferring zones at higher humidity. (49)
d. Sophronitis brevipedunculata (Cogn.)
Initially described as a variety - Sophronitis wittigiana var. pedunculata, it is now considered a separate
species by Fowlie. The pink flower colouration of S. wittingiana is replaced by a light red colour, these
flowers generally being larger with different shaped petals and labellum It flowers naturally in April and May.
It lives on rocks and bushes in Minas Gerais State, on the saddles of mountains separating the river valleys. The
leaves are less broad and more elongated than S. wittigiana. It grows in an area which frequently is so
and no conventional trees exist at all except in the gullies. It is found at an altitude of 1500 to 1800 metres
where it receives night condensation in what otherwise is a semi xerophytic habitat. It therefore needs a sunny
and rather dry environment unhke the species previously described. (49)
e. Sophronitis acuensis Fowlie
This species was discovered by Fowlie in 1975. It is found over a very limited geographic area near the highest
point in the Organ Mountains of Brazil, at an altitude of some 2000 metres. A close relative of S. brevipedunculata
it does not have the same regularly aligned pseudobulbs. S. acuensis has shorter more rounded and broader
lateral sepals, with its lip shorter and more oval at its tip. It flowers in November and December. (49)
The description and details are fully recorded in the Orchid Digest. (58)
f Sophronitis cemua Lindley
Originally described in 1827, it has somewhat cylindrical small pseudobulbs 12 to 25 mm in long, which grow in
a single row. These bear spoon shaped flat leaves. 2 to 5 flowers are born on a terminal inflorescence, pale yellow
in colour, with a yellow lip base and with 2 lilac spots on the crest. It is May to August flowering. It is a common
inhabitant of the sea coast
Brazilians use the name var. Horaena to distinguish a coastal type with faded flowers, but the more correct name
for this is S. cemua var. cemua. Variety lowii is extremely rare, bearing yellow flowers of great beauty. Subspecies
mineisa is an inland race, which produces tiny brilliant carmine-red flowers in deeper and paler tones. Subspecies
mineira var. endsfeldzii is a pale yellow 'albino' form.
Sophronitis acunae Hort. has been applied to a geographic race of this species from Amazonia Bolivia. (49)
g. Sophronitis bicolor
This species was first described in 1991, being one of the varieties originally included with S. coccinea,
some of the numerous varieteis included in that grouping. This species has characteristically elongated leaves.
h. S. pygmaea
The smallest species of the genus, first described in 1976. It produces tiny deep red flowers with raither pointed
segments. From the coastal mountains of Espirito Santo in Brazil.
Sl Tinkerbelle - sophronitis hybrid
Pessoa has discussed this in detail (48) and his article is worth detailed study. He states that most
Sophronitis species are subject in nature to temperatures ranging from 0 degrees celsius during the winter, to
a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius during the summer. At all times, and especially with the higher temperatures, humidity
must be maintained at a high level - around 70 -to 90 %. Sophronitis pygmae, S. acuensis and S. mantiqueira
require the coolest temperatures. S. coccinea can take slightly higher temperatures. With S. cernua,
S. brevipedunculata and S. wittigiana still higher temperatures are tolerated. The plants require a
light intensity as for cattleyas - or even more. He states any fresh mix able to hold moisture may be used - even
straight sphagnum moss. Contrary to the accepted advice with cattleyas 'if in doubt about watering - always water'.
Because of their mountain environment, always give plenty of moving air, provided it can be kept humid. Always
avoid warm dry conditions. (48)
Fordice (21) notes that while S. coccinea has been widely used in hybridising, the more difficult
culture of that species has led to hybridists now more frequently using S. brevipedunculata, S. cernua and
S. wittigiana as parents, as they are warmer and drier growing species.