Maria de Penha Fagnani

The occurrance of Cleistes in
Rio de Janeiro city
Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo

Orchids from Rio de Janeiro city


In Rio de Janeiro city is quite common meeting people who, looking for running away of pollution and urban chaos, go up to Tijuca Forest, considered as the biggest urban forest known in the world.
Within Tijuca National Park, we can follow different itineraries and, one of them leads to the Cristo Redentor's statue, a well known symbol of our city.
In this way, we find, in the
embankments of the road,
at about 600 m.s.m., some orchids
which deserve to be in evidence.

Although they are outstanding when
blooming, they are not found in the
collection due to their hard cultivation
and to short life of their flowers which,
in some species, last just for a day.
Cleistes L. C. Rich. (1818)
Subfamily Epidendroideae (Dressler)
Tribus Vanilleae
Subtribus Pogoniinae

Geographical distribution

To our country, Hoehne names 42 species and Pabst 47, however they are found from Florida until the south of Brazil. It seems to be a genus in evolution, as they are really variable since the appearance (the way of standing) of the plant and floral segments until the size and the shape of the leaves. Nowadays, there are at about 50 species but in the past, 80 were assigned to this genus. Many of them are considered nowadays just synonyms.


The name comes from the Greek "kleistos" (closed) because the flowers, in general, do not open entirely.


They are terrestrial herbaceous, from medium to high size, with slim stems ; erect or light sinuous, alternate rigid (almost coriaceous) leaves with amplexicaul base.
The blooming season is in March and April and three months ago, the capsules are already developed. After the dehiscence of the capsules, the leaves started to fade away as well the entirely stem and some months after the Cleistes disappear of the embankments. Some time after, they rise again with a new shoot, emerging from the nodular tuberoid roots.
G. Pabst in "As orquídeas do Estado da Guanabara" (Rio de Janeiro city) pointed out five species to Rio de Janeiro city, all of them finding in Tijuca Forest.
In the way to the statue of Cristo Redentor we identified two species: C. libonii (Rchb. f.) Schltr. and C. macrantha (Barb. Rodr.) Schltr.

C. macrantha. Photo/Foto: M.Penha Fagnani
C. libonii - Photo/Foto: M.Penha Fagnani
C. macrantha
C. libonii

  Main differences between the two species

1 -
C. libonii- stem of 80 cm. long , ellipticlanceolate leave, acuminate extremity
C. macrantha- plant more vigorous, with longer stems, wider and ovolanceolate leaves
2 -
In C. libonii the flowers is purple and in C. macrantha the color is rosy
3 -
In both species, the sepals have at about 7 cm. long and the petals slight smaller, but in C. macrantha, the petals are wider
4 -
In both, the lip is trilobed, and in C. macrantha, it is wider
5 -
They differ by the medium lobe of the lip:
- In C. libonii it is always longer than wider, and the extremity is acute
- In C. macrantha the medium lobe is sessile and round
6 -
C.libonii is quite frequent
C. macrantha is rare (in the place observed)


The Cleistes do not offer nectar, but they are visited by bees which look for food. The strategic of pollination seems to be the one of false reward, although swollen ovaries have been found with the flowers completely closed (cleistogamy).

They are considered primitive Epidendroideae by Dressler, as they have incumbent anther and two soft pollinia (granulose) and have been classified as Neottioideae by Garay. They belong to one of those groups of orchids which need to be more studied in order to clarify multiple aspects still unknown of their biology.

Bibliographical references:

Dressler, R. L. 1993 Philogeny and classification of the Orchid family. Dioscorides Press. Portland, Oregon.
Hoehne, F.C.1940 Flora Brasilica vol. 12, 1 Departamento de Botânica do Estado São Paulo, Brasil 210-238
Miller, David &Warren, Richard 1994 Orchids of the high mountain Atlantic Rain Forest in Southeastern Brazil Salamandra Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 38-44
Pabst, G. F. J.& Dungs, F. 1975 Orchidaceae brasilienses vol. 1 Brücke-Verlag Kurt Schmersow. Hildesheim, Alemanha. 120-121
Pabst, G.F.J. 1966 As Orquídeas do Estado da Guanabara. Revista Orquídea, vol. 28, 2.112-113


Mário Abreu de Almeida

Any type of reproduction (print or digital) of any kind of material in this page - text, photos and/or images - is not allowed without the prior permission of the owners - Maria da Penha Fagnani and Sergio Araujo