Monday 26 June 2023

Microcoelia exilis Pinhead Orchid

 Microcoelia exilis  Pinhead Orchid Iphamba


Microcoelia exilis  is a monopodial leafless epiphytic orchid with an extensive branching root system with long roots resembling an untidy bird’s nest hanging from the branch of a tree. The roots grow into open clumps that allow a maximum amount of light to reach all of the roots. The grey roots with orange growing tips contain the chlorophyll that aids in photosynthesis. 

Plants have a stem from which masses of very small, white flowers, the smallest of all orchid flowers naturally growing in South Africa are borne on a very long flowering stem.

There is a very distinctive spherical spur present

The flower stems of Microcoelia exilis are slender, arching and drooping, becoming from 6 cm to 12 cm long with time. The inflorescences emerge from below new roots. 

From 20 to 80 tiny white flowers may be found in one spike, a flower less than 2 mm in diameter. A brownish anther cap is visible in each flower centre. There is a very distinctive spherical spur present, 1 mm in diameter.

Flowering can occur nearly throughout the year, mostly from mid-summer to early autumn.

Exilis means thin, weak or meagre in Latin, probably referring to the inflorescence.

Distribution and habitat

Microcoelia is an orchid genus consisting of 31 species endemic to Africa.

The species Microcoelia exilis  is an epiphytic perennial that grows primarily in the seasonally dry tropical biome.

Its range includes South Africa , Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Madagascar where it grows on the small branches and twigs of trees  in gallery forests, woodland, secondary forests and plantations, at elevations of up to about 1,800 m (6,000 ft)

In the South Africa I have found Microcoelia exilis growing in Sand Forest, a region of ancient dunes northern KwaZulu-Natal in deep shade on Cola greenwayi and Drypetes arguta. In the Durban area I have seen them growing on Syzygium cordatum, and in deep shade on Mangifera indica (mango)

Cultural uses

In South Africa it is used as a love charm.


I have grown these orchids in Durban South Africa for nearly 50 years both outdoors as well as more recently indoors. Microcoelia exilis is an easy to grow epiphyte that possesses a nearly complete disregard for whatever it might be mounted on. An occasional root or two might attach to its host to stabilize its growth but the vast majority of the plant thrives in the open air. In cultivation they can be suspended tied to a piece of string, placed on a piece of plastic mesh, tied to a wooden mount or simply placed on top of an empty pot which has a stone placed into it to give it stability. I have even grown them to a potted shrub.

They grow easily and well under both low, medium and high light intensities requiring plenty of water and very little feeding, in fact too high concentrations of feed very easily damage or kill them, be sure to soak them frequently in pure water to remove any salt concentrations that may collect on your plant.

My plants are watered daily, a few times a month I add a very dilute amount of feed to the water followed the next day with a heavy drench of water or I soak the plant in a bucket of water for 15 minutes to remove any excessive accumulation of salts from the roots.

When happy they grow and multiply extremely quickly in comparison to most other of our local orchids and when happy and well established they flower almost continuously throughout the year.

Article written by Michael Hickman 27.06.2023

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