This is the account of Cymbidium zaleskianum mentioned in Du Puy, D. & Cribb, P. 2007. CYMBIDIUM, A Monograph. Koto Kinabalu, Sabah. Malaysia: Natural History Publications (Borneo), page 236, originally addressed


I have long been interested in Cymbidium zaleskianum. It seems to be logical to me that this plant, said to be a possible natural hybrid between Cymbidium iridioides (syn. C. giganteum) and Cymbidium hookerianum (syn. C. grandiflorum), must closely resemble Cymbidium wilsonii, which is thought to have been derived from an old hybrid between the same two species. The only primary reference to Cymbidium zaleskianum to be found, is Plate 778 in that beautiful Orchid plate book, Lindenia, however, this plate from Lindenia had not been reprinted in any journal to which I had access, and although there is a short run of the English edition of Lindenia in the Johannesburg City Library, which I had consulted from time to time, it does not include this plate. No one I knew had a copy of the Lindenia reprint from the early 1990's; so I was never able have access to this plate.
Then the WWW surfing gods were good to me. In early June 2003, I came across a scan of the plate 778 from Lindenia, the one depicting this plant. Although of rather poor resolution, I immediately felt that this plate simply showed a clone of Cymbidium tracyanum. I looked through all the literature that I had to hand, to see if others agreed with me and found the following:

Rolfe does not seem to have commented on C. zaleskianum anywhere. It is not mentioned in The Orchid Studbook. In his article "Habitat of Cymbidium tracyanum" from the Orchid Review 19, pp.39-40 (1911); reprinted in the Orchid Journal 2 (9), p. 420 (1953), there is no mention of Cymbidium zaleskianum, at all.

Sander was more inclined to accept this concept. In Sander's Orchid Guide 1901, it does not appear in the list of hybrids given, nor in the Addendum 1901-1903 to that work. In the first Sander's List of Orchid Hybrids (1905), it is included; but there is no asterisk preceeding the entry, which would denote that it is a natural hybrid. The same holds true for the 1911 edition. By the time Sanders' Complete List of Orchid Hybrids to January 1st, 1946 appeared, the entry read:
Zaleskianum   giganteum x grandiflorum   Nat. Hyb. (no date given).
In the early volumes, giganteum was given as the seed parent, and grandiflorum as the pollen parent (simply given in alphabetical order)!

Gurney Wilson was a great early 20th century orchid grower and journalist, starting the wonderful journal, The Orchid World in 1910. This journal's life was unfortunately cut short by the intervention of the First World War, and publication ceased in 1916. In March 1913, an anonymous article appeared entitled "Cymbidium Hybrids", (v. 3 p. 128), in all probability written by Gurney Wilson himself. This article was a brief resumé of all artificial Cymbidium hybrids known to the end of 1912, at the end of which a list of four natural hybrids was given. Cymbidium x zaleskianum was not included. Wilson went on to succeed Rolfe as the editor of the Orchid Review after the latter's death in 1921.

Rudolf Schlechter's 1924 paper "Die Gattungen Cymbidium Sw. und Cyperorchis Bl.", (Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. 20: 96-110) is interesting because it was an attempt to reclassify the genus Cymbidium by placing the fairly cohesive group now known as the subgenus Cyperorchis into the separate genus of the same name. Schlechter lists many "natural hybrids" in this paper, amongst which there is no mention of Cymbidium x zaleskianum.

These negative findings; viz. Rolfe, Wilson and Schlechter totally ignoring the concept Cymbidium x zaleskianum must bear some significance; it is unfortunate that none of them appear to have made any pronouncements on this plant.

In an attempt to find out whether Rolfe had said anything following the publication of the plate in Lindenia in 1901, I entered into much correspondence in late June 2003.
Isobyl la Croix, the Editor of the Orchid Review was contacted and wrote in reply:

I've got a little bit of info for you. Cymbidium x zaleskianum doesn't seem to have been mentioned by Rolfe, but there was a reference in Vol. 91, p61, which would have been 1983. It was in an article by Andy Easton (who is now with the American Orchid Society) called 'Cymbidiums, three forgotten species' and says 'Cymbidium zaleskianum (giganteum x grandiflorum) is considered a natural hybrid but it shows none of the giganteum in colour or flower form.'
Isobyl, on querying this name with Dr. Phillip Cribb of Kew, got the following reply from him:
Despite Linden's comments I think that this is a synonym of C.tracyanum. It looks like the well-coloured Thai plants to me. If it is a hybrid then the only likely parentage is C.tracyanum x iridioides.
Meanwhile I had written to Isobyl:
... I saw the scan of Cymbidium Zaleskianum. Without doubt this is a pure Cym. tracyanum. That of course, makes one wonder what in hell's name the Cym. tracyanum plate in Lindenia represents!! One also has to wonder why, in 101 years nobody has pointed out that Linden's plate of Cym. x zaleskianum is simply Cym. tracyanum; that is why I was wondering what you predecessor, RA Rolfe said.
... As far as I am concerned the "type specimen" of Cym. zaleskianum is the icon that is Lindenia Pl.778 (1902). ... In as much as Cym. tracyanum and Cym. iridioides (giganteum) are "sister species", there is a lot of resemblance between Linden's plate and Cym giganteum, in colour particularly, and even in form to some extent. One wonders whether Mr Easton actually looked at the plate in Lindenia, or perhaps saw some live plant labelled Cym zaleskianum.
I then wrote to Dr. Cribb:
Isobyl la Croix forwarded me a copy of the e-mail you sent to her regarding my inquiry after the above plant.
I chanced upon a rather poor scan of the plate from Lindenia and i was immediately struck with the idea that this was simply a picture of Cym tracyanum, and i wondered why no one had commented on this in the last 101 years.
On re-examining the scan, I do notice that the lip markings along the margin are tending to coalesce into blocks. This I have seen more often in long cultivated tracyanums (Burmese) rather than plants from Thailand, and I have put it down to introgression with the sister species, Cym iridioides (which has lip-markings made up primarily of marginal blocks), which appears to be sympatric in Burma, but not in Thailand (the latter species apparently, however, growing at a higher altitude range).
Unfortunately, I have not seen Linden's text which accompanies the plate.
Dr Cribb replied:
Lucien Linden said that the plant was imported from Assam amongst at lot of C. giganteum (C. iridioides) by the firm of Moortebeek. He thought it either a hybrid of C. iridioides x hookerianum, or a variety of C. tracyanum. I would go for the latter, although your idea of introgression from C. iridioides is possible. Without a type, however, I do not think that a firm conclusion is possible.
By this point (10 July 2003), and following the surprise of hearing that the plant had come from Assam, I retired from the game for a breather.

Recently Jose A. Izquierdo of Puerto Rico put me onto the MONOCOT DATABASE of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Looking through it, I saw the following entry in the UNPLACED file:
Cymbidium zaleskianum L.Linden, Lindenia: t. dcclxxviii (1901)
so I decided to get back to the work. I looked further through my own literature collection:

That tireless worker in the field of Cymbidium studies, the late Mrs. Emma Menninger compiled a list of Cymbidium species which was published as "Catalog of Cymbidium Species with Synonyms and Excluded Species", in the AOS Bulletin,Vol. 30, pp. 865-876 (1961). She listed our subject as follows:
X Zaleskianum L. Linden, Lindenia 17 (1903) 778. Natural hybrid of giganteum X grandiflorum.

Christopher Seth began the revision of the genus Cymbidium, publishing "A Reassesment of the Sectional Limits in the Genus Cymbidium Swartz", together with Phillip Cribb in Orchid Biology - Reviews and Perspectives, III (Ed. J. Arditti, Comstock/Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca & London, 1984), pp.283-322. The only mention of our subject is under the category Excluded Species, the entry being;
Zaleskianum Linden, Lindenia: t. 778 - natural hybrid

The great The Genus Cymbidium of David Du Puy & Phillip Cribb does not mention Cymbidium zaleskianum at all.

I also persuaded my Texan Orchid friend, R.J. (Bob) Ferry, Sr., of McAllen International Orchid Society to look through his personal collection of early issues of the Orchid Review to see if Rolfe had mentioned Cymbidium zaleskianum there.
He looked through all the issues from 1901 to 1904 without any luck.

Just more negative findings.

Having tried before without success to get a better quality scan, by asking on the AOS Forum, (there are so many messages posted on that forum, that within a few hours, they disappear without trace), I decided to try my luck on the Orchids Digest Discussion Group (OGD).

Peter Fowler from the United Kingdom, almost immediately came to the rescue and forwarded me this copy of the plate:

On further request, he forwarded a scan of the text. As this comes from the English edition of 1993, it may have copyright attached, so here is my paraphrase of the notes.:

CYMBIDIUM. Vide Lindenia, vol. II, p. 209 et vol. Ill, p. 240.
Cymbidium Zaleskianum An C.Tracyani varietas?
Cymbidium Zaleskianum L. LIND., infra.

This interesting Cymbidium was said to have been imported by the firm of Moortebeek in a batch of Cymbidium iridioides from Assam. Based on this origin, as well as the coloration and other characteristics, Linden felt that it was likely that this plant was a natural hybrid between C. iridioides and C. hookerianum. He ascribed the spike habit and colour to the former species, the size of the flower, width and colour of the lip having come from the second parent.
Linden also considered the possibility that the plant could be Cymbidium tracyanum, and asked the reader to refer to his earlier published plate of this species (t. 514 of 1895). He remarked that the form painted earlier was much darker, with the markings dominating the tepals. In this form, the flowers were much lighter.
The plant was named for Monsignore de Zaleski, the Archbishop of Thebe.

The Latin at the beginning; viz. "Cymbidium Zaleskianum An C.Tracyani varietas?" means "perhaps a variety of C. tracyanum".

A careful examination of all aspects of the flowers on this plate leads me to believe that here we have to do with a plant that is purely Cymbidium tracyanum. An examination of the plant also shows no abberant characteristics. Not one aspect is at odds with the living plants that I fortunately have in flower at this time (June 2004) in my greenhouses.

From many years of observing and growing old hybrids and primary hybrids of my own making, I have come to realise that the one characteristic of Cymbidium tracyanum which is very recessive, and appears to disappear immediately in any hybrid, is that wonderful group of long papillae/cilia in the area of the lip callus; what I call "Tracy's toothbrush". If there is no "Tracy's toothbrush"; the plant is not a pure Cymbidium tracyanum, and conversely; if it is present, then we have that species. A good example of a hybrid of Cymbidium tracyanum which shows the evanescence of the "toothbrush" is the Cymbidium tracyanum x Tethys 'Black Magic' which can be seen on the following page:

It was therefore of cardinal importance to ascertain whether the flowers in this plate from Lindenia exhibited "Tracy's toothbrush". There are nine flowers on the plate, only two of which present themselves for this sort of examination. Both of them show indistinctness in the area of the callus; and this is what is to be expected as the papillae are not easy for the artist to represent. The top right-hand flower shows the most detail in this regard, and here I present the lip area of this flower together with a photograph of the same area from one of my flowering plants. The striations the artist has used in this area must certainly represent the lip papillae. Eureka. The plate is one of Cymbidium tracyanum.

That the provenance of the plant was stated as Assam is a problem. Cymbidium tracyanum comes from much further east, from the Shan States of Myanmar (Burma), Yunnan and northern Thailand. There are two species of related cymbidiums with brown striped flowers from Assam, and one would need to consider whether these are involved. I supply photos of the lip areas of these two species, so that the reader may rapidly dismiss any thoughts that they may be our subject.
Cymbidium iridioides Cymbidium erythraeum
Cymbidium iridioides does in fact have a certain amount of pubescence on the lip in the region of the crests. It is therefore possible that we are dealing with a natural hybrid between this species and Cymbidium tracyanum. I believe that Cymbidium tracyanum is much introgressed with Cymbidium iridioides; I wrote about this as long ago as 1983, in an article entitled CYMBIDIUM TRACYANUM. This article is available on my Website and can be consulted by clicking HERE.
The artificial version of this hybrid is known as Cymbidium Tracyano-giganteum or C. Bennett-Poei. I have found an illustration of a plant labelled Cymbidium tracyanum on a Chinese Website, which is undoubtedly a F
1 Cymbidium Tracyano-giganteum (although probably a natural hybrid and therefore Cymbidium X tracyano-giganteum). This is the lip and column area from that plant:

One can see that the lip is much more yellow, particularly along the margin; the blocks of colour are more prominent around the edge of the lip; the lip is narrower and less recurved; and the "toothbrush", although well defined is shorter and the mid-cleft is more easily visualised. It certainly does not correspond well with the above plate of Cymbidium zaleskianum.

Earlier, I had said; "....what in hell's name the Cym. tracyanum plate in Lindenia represents!!" Well here is that plate, courtesy of
A great place to view and buy Lindenia Plates.

My translation of the accompanying French text, kindly forwarded to me by John Martello, is as follows:

CYMBIDIUM. Vide Lindenia, IX, p. 13.
Cymbidium Tracyanum, Foliis elongatis. lineari-ligulatis, acutis, subtus distincte carinatis ; pedunculo robustissimo, deflexo, 10-20-floro, foliis longiore; floribus amplis; bracteis minutis ; sepalis late oblongis, aculis, dorsali saperne incurvo, lateralibus patulis; petalis patulis, anguste oblongo-ligulatis, acutis; labello petalis satis breviore, distincte trilobato, lobis lateralibus erectis ovato-triangularibus acutis margine denticutatis. lobo terminali late oblongo reflexo margine laciniato-crispo, disco a basi usque ultra medium carinis geminis carnosis dense villosis instructo ;columna elongata, incucva, exalata.

Cymbidium Tracyanum (Traceyanum} Hort.; Gard. Chron, ser. 3, VIII. p. 702 et 718 (l890); IX, p. 137, fig. 34 (1891). — Journ. of Hortic., XXI, p. 535, fig. 71 (1890). — Journ. des Orchid., 1, p, 326 (1891), — Veitch, Man. Orch. Pl., part. IX, p. 22, cum icon. (1893). — L. Lind., Les Orchid. exot., p. 684 (1894). — Williams, Orch. Grow. Man., edit. 7, p. 224, cum icon. (l894). — Orchid Rev., III, p. 360 (1895).

This splendid species, whose flowers exceed in width those of all its congeners, is still extremely rare in cultivation. The forerunner was introduced a few years ago by Mr. H.A. Tracy, of Twickenham (England); amongst of a batch of Cymbidium Lowianum, with which it was readily confused, because its foliage can hardly be distinguished. Only at the moment of the first flowering, at the end of 1890, was this confusion first recognized; the plant was then shown to the Meeting of the Royal Horticultural Society of the 9th December of this same year, and there obtained a First Class Certificate. A few days afterwards, it was put on sale at the rooms of Messrs. Protheroe and Morris, in London, and was acquired by Baron Schroeder, of The Dell, for the sum of 1968 francs.
C. Tracyanum is a very robust plant, bearing many linear-ligulate, acute, leaves keeled on their lower surfaces, and of 60 to 80 centimetres in length. The scape is one meter and more long, very robust, somewhat angled, producing from sixteen to twenty flowers, which can be up to 14 centimetres in diameter. Bracts are apprimées (can't translate this, GR), narrowly oval, very acute, 1 cm long. The sepals are largely oblong, acute, about of the same length, of a pale greenish yellow, marked with a great number of stripes and small spots, of a crimson colour, laid out in nine to eleven almost continuous longitudinal lines; the dorsal sepal is erect below, with the top part strongly incurved; the lateral sepals are very spread out. The petals are almost as spread out as the lateral sepals, acute, of the same color and about of the same length as the sepals usually bearing seven crimson stripes.
The lip is notably shorter than the petals, of a yellow cream, distinctly trilobed; side-lobes rather large, erect, oval-triangular, acute, toothed or sometimes almost crenulate on the edges, marked obliquely with rather numerous crimson lines; mid-lobe longer, largely oblong, obtuse, strongly reflexed, distinctly crisped and a little cut out along the margin, covered with small closely-spaced crimson spots; disc furnished, from the base to the lower part of the mid-lobe, with two longitudinal, fleshy and densely hairy keels. Column elongated, broad, slightly curved, wingless, greenish with small red spots. C. Tracyanum is close to C. grandiflorum Griff. (C. Hookerianum Rchb.f.), this remarkable variety being illustrated in this collection (vol. IX, pl. 389), and to which certain authors seem disposed to view as a geographical form. It indeed approaches this species in form and dimension of its flowers; but it differs considerably in colour, because in its typical form, C. grandiflorum has sepals and the petals entirely of a slightly yellowish green, the lip being marked with large crimson spots. The latter has as its fatherland Nepal and Sikkim; while C. Tracyanum probably originates in Burma, the country from which C. Lowianum comes, seeing that it was introduced with the latter. Other authors are rather inclined to regard it as a hybrid, perhaps between C. grandiflorum and C. giganteum, because it almost has the very special colouration of the latter, but with flowers much larger. This assumption is far from being established, seeing that it would require that it grows naturally in the company of these two species, which does not appear probable. In all cases, it is a plant of uncommon beauty, and its great scarcity in collections is regrettable.

As can be seen, the description does not match the plate that closely. I have listed the following characteristics of the flowers on the plate which I feel are at odds with the concept of Cymbidium tracyanum that I have:

  • Cymbidium tracyanum has one of the longest pedicel/ovaries of any species in the genus, up to 75 mm. Although the rhachis is not very evident in the painting, one gets the sense that the pedicel/ovary is on the short side. Additionally, the flower of Cymbidium tracyanum is very upright; an examination of the column will show that it is virtually vertical. As a result of the column presentation, the pedicel/ovary also becomes vertical towards the point of attachment to the base of the flower. This plate does not exhibit flowers of that nature; the failure to represent these features has made the arrangement of the spike uncharacteristic.
  • The dorsal sepal is more strongly keeled than usual and the characteristic "gutters" created by the revolute edges are not evident.
  • The petals are broader than normal and not as falcate as one would expect. The normal Cymbidium tracyanum pattern on the petal consists of 7 longitudinal lines, the outer two being wider and coalescing with the next innermost lines. The central three lines tend to be unevenly pigmented or broken up into spots or small patches; or something between the two. There are nine lines on the petals of the flowers in this plate and the other characteristics mentioned are not exhibited.
  • The lateral sepals are uncharacteristic in a similar manner to those of the petals, however the left lateral sepal of the top right-hand flower approaches that expected for Cymbidium tracyanum, although the lines are a bit too even.
  • The lip is a big problem; the lateral lobes do not resemble those of Cymbidium tracyanum, or any other Cymbidium species for that matter. They are rounder than would be expected and they do not exhibit the acute front apex that is always seen in this species. As far as the marking on the side-lobes are concerned, they normally show through from the inside being more prominent along the top edge; but in the plate, they are not visible lower down, and it appears that there is a solid pigmented edge along the outside at the top, which is totally erroneous.
  • The lip crests and indumentium are very indistinct, although their very nature makes it difficult to depict them in paintings. (See "Tracy's toothbrush" above.) The whole lip looks "broken down", the carriage being too low. The longitudinal stripes on the mid-lobe are uncharacteristic, the markings normally being in a more random pattern.
  • The column in the plate appears to be only lightly pigmented on the ventral surface, whereas Cymbidium tracyanum has rows of deep red-brown dashes prominently displayed here. The patch of colour above the anther cap is also not typical, in most Cymbidium tracyanum flowers, there is a thin line of deep colour, which widens abruptly to make a small flare of pigment at the centre.
There are so many features in the flowers shown in plate 514 that are at odds with a normal concept of what Cymbidium tracyanum is, that one is forced to believe that the plant depicted cannot possibly be that species, certainly in its pure form. Perhaps it may be a natural hybrid of Cymbidium tracyanum (an artificial hybrid at this time (1895) would be virtually impossible to contemplate).

Perhaps one should not judge this plate too harshly. Earlier drawings of Cymbidium tracyanum, such as those that can be seen in Williams' Orchid Grower's Manual or Veitch's A Manual of Orchidaceous Plants are also rather non-representational. I have written about these illustrations in the previously mentioned article: CYMBIDIUM TRACYANUM. It is obviously difficult to see and draw this species quickly and realistically.

For those people interested in Monsignore Zaleski, the Archbishop of Thebes, after whom Cymbidium zaleskianum was named, I have a second page dealing with this interesting man, which can be accessed by clicking HERE.

The next aspect of this study that interested me was what the actual hybrid between Cymbidium iridioides and Cymbidium hookerianum looked like. I was fortunate to trip over a picture labelled Cymbidium zaleskianum:

This flower is exactly what one would expect from the hybrid. These are the two parents:
Cymbidium iridioides Cymbidium hookerianum
When Cymbidium hookerianum is used in breeding, it tends to remove most of the anthocyanins present in the other parent (except where the other parent is polyploid, in which case there is a genetic tug-of-war). This species is not nearly so dominant for the other classes of pigments, and offspring can be white, yellow or green. In this hybrid, the other parent is green, under its anthocyanin shell; so it is reasonable to expect the progeny to have green tepals. The lip is fairly short from the Cymbidium iridioides side, but widened by the influence of the other parent. The markings on the lip come from the large marginal blocks of Cymbidium iridioides, increased in number by the marginal spots of Cymbidium hookerianum to make up a bar. The lack of central markings is interesting, probably derived from the former parent and the central line is inherited from both sides. The crests are hairless and divergent from the latter parent.

Andy Easton said in his article 'Cymbidiums, three forgotten species' in the Orchid Review Vol. 91, p61: "Cymbidium zaleskianum (giganteum x grandiflorum) is considered a natural hybrid but it shows none of the giganteum in colour or flower form."
I had mentioned in my e-mail to Isobyl la Croix: "One wonders whether Mr Easton actually looked at the plate in Lindenia, or perhaps saw some live plant labelled Cym zaleskianum." Having found the above photo of Cymbidium zaleskianum, I realised that this was probably the plant he had been talking about. I e-mailed him and he replied:
I grew Zaleskianum in New Zealand. It was basically a small grandiflorum. It has become much more common now because it is being collected in some area of China. I have seen it in Japan at the Tokyo Dome Show but always in the Toyoran classes (native orchids).
I then forwarded a copy of the above picture, asking him if this was the flower he knew. He replied:
Yes, this is the flower I knew, providing the size is reduced about 35% from normal grandiflorum. I am sure the hybrid is natural and I think the Toyoran judging requirements allow only species and natural hybrids.
I also enquired about sources of more information in the East; he replied that with the language difficulties, he could not suggest anyone.

I have also noticed that some hybrids having "Cymbidium zaleskianum" as one parent are starting to surface. One presumes that these are made with this hybrid plant. The Orchid Registrar is going to need to think long and hard before he registers any of these. I do not believe that the plant bearing the original name is anything but a synonym of Cymbidium tracyanum, which means that these hybrid plants are nameless; they certainly cannot be called Cymbidium zaleskianum.

Lastly, one needs to look at the taxonomic status of this name. Working your way through the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature is not for the faint-hearted.
It, however, appears that Cymbidium zaleskianum was validly published, although the date given by various authors varies between 1901 and 1903, depending on the source. It is known that the first 798 plates of Lindenia were completed by 1903 and there was no plate 795. Since we are trying to determine the date of Plate 788, it is one of the last 10, and probably dates to 1902/3. Index Londinensis is probably the most reliable reference, and they offer the date 1902.
The provenance of this plant must be seen as questionable. It was said to have come from Assam, which appears to be unlikely. In the first years of the 20th century, small numbers of Cymbidium tracyanum were trickling in from Burma and Thailand; and it seems most likely to me that the origin of this plant became confused.
It is generally believed that no herbarium specimen of this plant exists, something in common with most of the later Linden plants, the earlier ones (mostly New World species) having specimens held by the National Botanic Garden of Belgium Herbarium (BR). Therefore if a lectotype were to be selected, it would be this Lindenia Plate 788. (It is the name which requires a type; the fact that this name is a synonym is not important.)

Cymbidium tracyanum L.Castle, J. Hort. Pract. Gard. 21: 513 (1890). SE. Tibet to China (Yunnan, SW. Guizhou), Myanmar (Kachin and Shan States), NW. Laos? and N. Thailand.
     Cymbidium zaleskianum L. Lind., Lindenia 17; t.788 (1902). Type: Assam?, cult. Linden (holotype not located, see reference for illustration of type), Syn. nov.

If anybody has anything to add or correct, I would appreciate hearing from you; e-mail: .

I am now left with all sorts of questions regarding Cymbidium wilsonii. My next project?

My grateful thanks go to the following people that helped me with this:

Isobyl la Croix UK
Dr. Phillip Cribb UK
Peter Fowler UK
Jose A. Izquierdo Puerto Rico
John M. Martello USA
Nicole Schuermans-Ceulemans Nederland
Andy Easton USA
Dr. R.J. Ferry, Sr. USA