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A Disa Companion: The Art and Science of Disa Cultivation

A Disa Companion: The Art and Science of Disa Cultivation

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A Disa Companion: The Art and Science of Disa Cultivation

234 Seiten
2 Stunden
Jun 26, 2013


Disas are a genus of African orchids which are not well known even to orchid enthusiasts in Africa. However, not only are many of the species colourful and/or spectacular but they have given great scope to breeders wishing to hybridise and market ever more colourful varieties. They have specific cultural requirements, but, like most things -'they are easy when you know how'. This book has a variety of aims: it provides an introduction to the fascination and diversity of Disa species; it provides information on how to grow them in the garden or greenhouse, helped by a description of weather and other aspects of their how they grow in the wild; and a section on genetics assists in understanding the basics of colour variation in species and hybrids. Finally, a section on hybridisation demonstrates the remarkable diversity of form, colour and patterns that can be achieved by within- and between-species crosses, with numerous illustrations to back up the claim that Disas are one of the most fascinating and visually appealing of orchids to study, admire, and, with a minimum of skill, grow.
Jun 26, 2013

Über den Autor

" Sid Cywes is a retired Paediatric Surgeon, having worked for several decades at the Red Cross Children's Hospital and University of Cape Town , but has devoted his spare time energies to the cultivation and hybridisation of Disas, creating and publishing, with his wife, Marlene, many of the outstanding cultivars illustrated here." "Eric Harley worked from 1973 to 2004 at the University of Cape Town as a Chemical Pathologist with a particular interest in human, animal, and plant Molecular Genetics. He is also a grower of Disas with an especial interest in the cliff-face Disas." “Peter Linder completed a PhD on the taxonomy of Disa and its relatives at the Bolus Herbarium at the University of Cape Town. Continuing research on southern African orchids, focusing on the terrestrial groups, culminated in the publication, with Hubert Kurzweil, of the “Orchids of Southern Africa”. From 2001 he has held a teaching position at the University of Zurich.”

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A Disa Companion - Eric Harley


© 2013 Eric Harley, Sid Cywes, Peter Linder. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,

or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

Published by AuthorHouse 06/19/2013

ISBN: 978-1-4817-9767-2 (e)

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.







Morphology And Taxonomy








Showing And Judging Disas





Dr Louis Vogelpoel was one of the main instigators and promoters of this book. In his professional life he served as a highly respected physician, specializing in cardiology, and later in medico-legal matters, where he represented many of the poorer community of Cape Town in helping them obtain appropriate service in the courts in their insurance claims. However, his passion for the outdoors and for the flora of Table Mountain resulted in him becoming an acknowledged expert on many aspects of the fynbos, so characteristic of the Western Cape of South Africa. He had also an especial interest in orchids, both indigenous and exotic, studying everything from their anatomy and genetics to their cultivation, propagation, and hybridisation for show purposes. The results of his keen eye and original ideas enabled him to contribute many articles on orchid matters to the South African Orchid and other journals. His warm personality and generosity in contributing information on orchid lore on the one hand, and, more practically, divisions of his own plants on the other, made him a colleague whose loss in 2005 was a sad blow to the orchid and fynbos community, and this dedication will, the authors hope, help to keep alive the memory of a man who gave much and demanded little, and whose impact on Disa and other orchid cultivation will last as long as this, and his various publications (documented in the bibliography) remain to be read and enjoyed.



Louis Vogelpoel, Figs. 4(b), 6, 10, 11, 16, 22 (a,b), 31, 34, 47, 48, 51, 52, 53, 55, 58(a);

Heather Morgan, 57(a,d), 58(b,d), 60, 61(b);

ROC Kaschula, 17;

David van der Merwe, 3, 25(b);

Matilda Hanekom, 14;

Jan Mostert, 4(a);

Corrine Merry, 20;

Stephen Jaffe, 23;

Pellie Pelser, 37;

Berthold Gross, 38.

All other photographs and diagrams are by the authors.

Julian Shaw supplied the list of Registered Disas.


I first chanced upon disas in quantity in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania in 1976 and was charmed by their diversity and beauty. The blue Disa baurii grew close to the scarlet Disa erubescens subsp. carsonii. The purple-flowered Disa ukingensis proved to be distinct from D. engleriana into which some botanists had placed it. The whitish candles of Disa fragrans contrasted well with the orange-yellow spikes of D. ochrostachya, and, on a smaller scale, I could not fail to be charmed by the pretty little Disa rungweensis. However, all this did not prepare me for my first encounter with the large orange-scarlet flags of Disa uniflora, in Louis Voegelpoel’s collection in the Cape, which blew me away.

As befits its exotic bloom, the origin of the name Disa is something of a mystery. The most common suggestion is that Bergius, who named it in 1768, based the generic name upon dis (pl. dives), meaning grand, in allusion to the showy flowers of Disa uniflora, the species upon which he based the genus (Pettersson, 1985). Few orchids have its charisma and status, the pride of Table Mountain and the floral symbol of Cape province is justifiably renowned.

This beautiful orchid was brought into cultivation many years ago but for growers it proved mostly to be a short-lived perennial. By the late 19th century the first artificial hybrids were made in Britain. Amongst these was Disa Kewensis (D. uniflora × D. tripetaloides) and D. Watsonii (D. uniflora × D. Kewensis) bred at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London which flowered in 1893 and 1900 respectively.

Few disas were grown outside the Cape until fairly recent times, when orchid growers in the Cape developed methods for growing them that ensured more consistent success. In 1981 I visited some of the disa collections in the Cape and was astounded by the health of the plants, their floriferousness and the variety of size and colour that were available. It was obvious that a greater following outside South Africa was likely as plants began to be exported.

Disa is, however, a large genus with some 144 species found in tropical and South Africa and Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands. The South African species are the stars and range in flower colour, shape and size far more than the genus elsewhere. Here we have blue, gold, scarlet, orange, white, and spotted flowers. The spurred floral hood can be pixie-like, concave or almost flat, the lip can be linear, spatulate or comb-like. Some of the tropical African species are also striking in colour and size, and might eventually be seen in breeding programmes. In such a large genus there is tremendous potential for growers to produce strange and beautiful hybrids. To date, they have concentrated on the South African species to the exclusion of the others.

For orchid growers outside South Africa disas offer a lot. They are very showy, offer a range of plant and flower size and shape, do not take up large spaces in a greenhouse, and will tolerate relatively low winter temperatures if not freezing conditions. Truly they are plants for the cool greenhouse and area of increasing interest to orchid growers as the costs of heating greenhouses continues to rise. A detailed account of their cultivation will undoubtedly increase their popularity and readers will benefit from the wealth of knowledge and experience of the authors of this book.

Phillip Cribb

Retired Orchid Specialist at Kew Botanical Gardens


Although well known to Southern African horticulturists, as well as to those who enjoy hiking in the veld, or especially in the mountains around Cape Town, Disas, with their amazing diversity of form and colour, are less known elsewhere in the world. At any time of the year there will be one or more of this diverse genus of over 160 species in flower, providing enjoyment to the rambler and opportunity to the horticulturist. However, they are not commonly found in cultivation even in Africa. This is not because plants and seed of the better known species and hybrids are unavailable, but more because the cultivation requirements are different from those of more popular orchid species. This has, as a consequence, given Disas the reputation of being hard to grow. For some species this is indeed the case, but for many of the more spectacular species and hybrids cultivation is relatively straightforward provided the appropriate conditions are applied. This book has a number of aims: it plans to provide an introduction to the fascination and diversity of Disa species; to provide detailed information on how to enable them to thrive in culture, helped by a description of weather and other environmental aspects of their habitat; some genetics to help understand the basics of colour variation in hybrids; and a demonstration of some of the diversity of form and colour provided by both individual species and hybrid varieties. This should facilitate a wider appreciation of this spectacular group of orchids, especially for those outside Africa who might enjoy the challenge of bringing representatives to flower in their own gardens, nurseries and greenhouses.


Taxonomic history

John Ray, an English priest and later lecturer at Cambridge University may have been the first to describe a member of the genus when he wrote in 1704 in the addendum to his Historia plantarum generalis about an orchid africana flore singulari herbaceo. The first known collection of a member of the genus, and perhaps its best known representative, Disa uniflora, was made by Jan Auge, who was employed as Superintendent of the Dutch East India Company garden in Cape Town after 1747. Governor Ryk Tulbagh sent some of his specimens to various botanists in Europe, and one collection of his specimens was bought by the Swedish banker Michael Grubb, who presented the collection to Professor Bergius of Stockholm who gave Disa uniflora its name (Schelpe, 1976; Karsten, 1951). The next collection of Disa uniflora was made by Carl Peter Thunberg, who stopped by at the Cape for a few years while en route to Japan. He sent his early collections back to Uppsala, where the son of the famous Carl Linnaeus was then professor of botany. He renamed the species Disa grandiflora, and it was known under this name until a few decades ago. Linnaeus considered D. grandiflora to be a more suitable name, as the species often has more than one flower, and the flowers are rather big, but such renaming is not legal. The scientific naming of plants is governed by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, which was established a century ago to regulate the naming of plants, and in particular to ensure that there is a single accepted scientific name for each plant species. These rules specify that the first validly published name after 1753 is the name that should be accepted, and since Disa uniflora was published by Bergius in 1767, and Disa grandiflora by Linnaeus the younger in 1781, the former is the legal name, and should be used.

For some reason the origins or etymology of the name Disa has prompted much speculation. Tournay (1957) listed a number of explanations, but found them all wanting. These were:

a) that the name refers to a female version of Jupiter, based on the beauty of the flower;

b) that it is derived from the Latin dives meaning rich or wealthy, in reference to the colour of the flowers;

c) that it was a common name in use at the Cape at the time;

d) that it refers to the Greek word meaning two.

So he proposed a new one, based on an obscure Greek word for mud or mire, to indicate the habitat of the plant. This explanation was summarily rejected the very next year by Hylander (1958), who suggested rather that the orchid was named after a legendary Swedish queen whose name was ‘Disa’.

Cultivation history

The earliest record of cultivation of a Disa species was D. uniflora at Kew Gardens and in 1825 this was figured in the Botanical Register, with the text written by J.L. (presumably the Editor, John Lindley). He records that it flowered in the hothouse of William Griffin of South Lambeth, who received it from the Cape of Good Hope. The first Disa hybrid, D. Veitchii, a cross between D. uniflora and D. racemosa was registered in 1891 by Veitch of Veitch Nursery; a painting of this hybrid is shown in Fig.1. Only 11 new hybrids were registered during the following 31 years up to 1922 (Table 1). It took another 59 years before the next hybrid, D. Kirstenbosch Pride, was registered in 1981 by John Winter at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.

Fig.1 Painting of Disa Veitchii (Disa racemosa x Disa uniflora) by W.Robinson in The Garden; Nov 1892 Hanging in Kew Gardens.

Veitch and Kew Gardens were responsible for the first 7 of the 11 hybrids registered during that 31 year period, with the popular D. Kewensis, a cross between D. uniflora and D. tripetaloides, registered in 1893. The early hybrids were to an extent opportunistic and limited to Disa species available at that time, mainly D. uniflora, D. racemosa and D. tripetaloides. There was also a general lack of interest by orchid growers in the early 20th century. The successful cultivation of more Disa species, e.g.. D. tripetaloides var. aurata (now D. aurata) and D. cardinalis and the availability therefore of a wider range of genetic material and a greater interest in growing Disas in the late 20th Century, permitted more extensive hybridisation.

The original hybrids in the United Kingdom bred between 1891 and 1922 utilized three species, D. uniflora, D. racemosa and D. Tripetaloides, and there are some beautiful paintings of awarded clones made from these hybrids at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) headquarters, one of these, Disa Vetchii, is illustrated in Fig. 1.

Fig.2 From top: Disa uniflora, Disa racemosa, Disa tripetaloides.

In the early 1920’s there are

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