Angraecum sesquipedale — also known as Darwin’s orchid, Christmas orchid, Star of Bethlehem orchid, and King of the Angraecums — is flowering this week in the Student Room of the Conservatory. (Look for it on the east bench.)
But its story began 150 years earlier when Charles Darwin first observed the flower’s foot-long nectary and famously wondered: “Good Heavens, what insect can suck it?”
Darwin’s fascination with Angraecum sesquipedale — and with answering this question — led him to predict a species of moth with a proboscis capable of extending 10 to 11 inches, able to reach the flower’s nectar reserves. To explain the phenomenon, Darwin suggested an arms race of sorts resulting in flowers with perpetually lengthening floral tubes, and moths with perpetually lengthening tongues — a prediction that represents one of his major contributions to evolutionary biology.
Despite the short days, there are other interesting plants in flower in the Conservatory.
We’re open this week (Dec. 19-23) 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We’re closed along with the rest of Cornell Dec. 24 through Jan. 2, reopening Jan. 3.