Roscoea cautleyoides – the Orchid Roscoea

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Robert Pavlis

Roscoea cautleyoides, by Robert Pavlis

Are you interested in an easy to grow exotic orchid for your garden? Roscoea cautleyoides isn’t a real orchid but the flowers sure look like one.

Roscoea cautleyoides, by Robert Pavlis
Roscoea cautleyoides, by Robert Pavlis

Roscoea cautleyoides is one of the more popular species in this uncommon genus, which is to say that it is quite rare in gardens. That is surprising given the beauty of these plants. It is a member of the ginger family, but unlike other gingers it is fairly hardy. Everything I found on the internet said it was a zone 6 plant, but it has been in my zone 5 garden for several years now. The key to growing it in colder climates might be to plant it deep. I can’t remember how deep I planted it, but it was probably about 6″ deep. This plant has contractile roots and will pull itself lower if you plant it to high. Roscoea tibetica and Roscoea alpina are also hardy in my zone 5 garden.

The root system resembles a dahlia with a short vertical rhizome which is attached to tuberous roots. It is late to show above ground and usually does not make an appearance until early summer. At that time pseudostems are produced that are formed from a tightly wrapped cone of leaves. As it grows the leaves partially unravel as the flower develops above them.

Roscoea cautleyoides, by Robert Pavlis
Roscoea cautleyoides, Credit: Botany Ca

If you need to move this plant or want to divide it, it is best to wait until it just shows itself above ground. Then gently dig down to find the rhizome, which can be quite deep. This species is reported to be able to handle conditions that are sunnier and drier than other Roscoea species.

Soil Science for Gardeners book by Robert Pavlis
Roscoea cautleyoides, by Robert Pavlis
Roscoea cautleyoides, by Robert Pavlis

The flower has three petals, a top dorsal which is the largest and appears as a hood and two lower ones that point down. The structure in the middle looks like petals but are actually four sterile stamens (staminodes). The lower two are partially fused together to form a lip giving the flower its classic orchid look. The most common color is a pale yellow, but they can also be purple, white or pale pink.

Roscoea cautleyoides 'Early Purple'
Roscoea cautleyoides ‘Early Purple’, Credit: Peter coxhead

Roscoea cautleyoides

(ross-KOH-ee-uh  kawt-ley-oy-dees)

Life Cycle: perennial

Height: 45cm (1.5 ft)

Bloom Time: mid summer

Natural Range: western China (Sichuan and Yunnan), 11,000 ft

Habitat: pine forest clearings, grasslands and alpine slopes

Synonyms:  na

Cultivation of Roscoea cautleyoides:

Light: part shade

Soil: sandy humus

Water: moist but well drained

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5– 9

Propagation: seed, division

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

4 thoughts on “Roscoea cautleyoides – the Orchid Roscoea”

  1. Every once in a while I’d like ideas about where to find your lovely suggestions. I live in Guelph and the nearby (sometimes very expensive ) have not been of any help on numerous occasions.

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