Photo/Foto: Sergio Araujo No matter how hostile the environment seems to be, the Sugar Loaf, one of the most known postcards of Rio de Janeiro, is still a habitat of orchids. The most amazing is the occurrence of orchids such as Zygopetalum mackayi, a species of a genus considered as too much difficult to be cultivated.When we look that habitat with those almost barren walls, it is hard to believe that occurs this species which, in other habitats, grown as terrestrial and in very protected humid environment, in high lands, humid steep
  banks and sandy grounds of high mountains and coastal woods, since the state of Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais until Rio Grande do Sul. The occurrence of Bifrenaria harrisoniae is also curious since we expect to always find it in the woods of the Serra do Mar, mountains and eyelash woods of the rivers in the states of Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo and São Paulo, in high altitude and very humid protected environment.
Nevertheless we should point out that there is a small wood at the foothill of Sugar Loaf and the temperature strongly drops down at the night. Many times, in clouded days, the top of the mountain stays involved by fog. Two surveys have been done recently and, in general, the conclusions are the same. The differences concern the extension of the occurrence of the species in the different faces of the hill and do not invalidate neither one nor other work.


According to the survey done by Francisco E. L. de Miranda and Rogério Ribeiro de Oliveira, at the beginning of the 80th decade, and published in the "Atas da Sociedade Botânica do Brasil", Rio de Janeiro section, eleven rupicolous species of the Orchidaceae family occur in the Sugar Loaf hill.
They are:

Bifrenaria harrisoniae (Hook.) Reich. f.  
Brassavola tuberculata Hook,  
Cyrtopodium andersonii R. Br. probably Cyrtopodium glutineferum Raddi since, nowadays, there is a consensus that the genuine Cyrtopodium andersonii does not occur in Brazil, at least in southeast.
Epidendrum denticulatum Barb. Rodr.  
Epidendrum robustum Cogn. To some researchers such as Guido Pabst and Maria da Penha Fagnani, it would be Epidendrum ammophilum Barb. Rodr or even Epidendrum ammophilum Barb. Rodr.var. cariocanum Brade & Pabst.
Laelia lobata (Lind.) Veitch.  
Maxillaria acicularis Herbert ex Lindley  
Polystacha estrellensis Rchb. f.  
Prescottia plantaginea Lindley  
Sarcoglottis biflora (Vell.) Schltr.  
Zygopetalum mackayi Hook.  

  The survey concerns exclusively the orchids that occur in the rock: the rupicolus (growing direct in the rocks) or the saxicolas (growing in the organic material retained on the crevices the rocks). The other terrestrial or dendricola species that occur in the neighbor woods were not included such as the Vanilla. This species can be seen along the Cláudio Coutinho way which winds sinuously the sea, at the foothills of Sugar Loaf and Urca hills.
The researchers visited the local monthly to observe the plants in their own habitat and the herborized material has been placed in the Herbarium Alberto Castellanos (FEEMA).
  The Sugar Loaf hill is 395m above the sea, with a very acid ground and the more steep walls (at about 90º) are the north, west and south faces, the east and nor-east faces have less declivity (between 45º and 60º).
  Photo/Foto: Sergio Araujo All sides of the hill have been studied and the researchers concluded that the south face is the one that offers the best conditions for the settlement of orchids because it presents less sunstroke, during some months of the year, it does not even receive the sunbeam.
Besides it has more capacity to retain humidity on the ground, high declivity and high atmospheric humid provided by the winds.
There, Francisco end Rogério verified the occurrence of 9 species, they did not just find Laelia lobata and Cyrtopodium know as andersonni.
The west side, which faces the Urca hill (the first stop to get Sugar Loaf hill), is also very rich.
  In the north face, they found Polystachya estrellensis and Brassavola tuberculata that, as it occurs in the Leme hill (object of the Orchid News 15), growing with the cactaceous of the genus Rhipsalis and the Bromiliaceae Vriesea brassicoides. That face is the one that receives more sunbeam. The east face, which receives the morning sunbeam with a good luminosity all day long, has a less steep wall, allowing a more fixation of the ground and, as a result, presents more developed vegetation. There occur Cyrtopodium known as andersonni and Epidendrum denticulatum.
It is interesting to point out that just one specimen of Laelia lobata has been found during their survey, making Francisco Miranda to stay in doubt if the colonization of this species in Sugar Loaf hill is beginning or finishing.

Blooming season in Sugar Loaf hill:
Bif. harrisoniae
Bra. tuberculata
Cyrt. andersonii
Epi. denticulatum
Epi. robustum
Laelia lobata
Max. acicularis
Poly. estrellensis
Pres. plantaginea
Sarc. biflora
Zyg. mackayi                        
X = Peak of blooming


In his work called "Orquídeas do Estado da Guanabara" (Rio de Janeiro city) and published in Orquídea magazine, in l966, Guido F. J. Pabst enumerated many plants that occur in the ensemble formed by Sugar Loaf and Urca hills and Praia Vermelha (Red beach). Of course, the fact that he did not mention a species does not mean that it does not occur there. It just means that he did not collect it or he did not find any mention in the literature. We can notice that he did not mention the occurrence of Laelia lobata in Sugar Loaf, he just mentioned Pedra da Gávea (at 830m altitude), Pedra Bonita and Pedra Itaipu (Gavea, Bonita and Itaipu rocks), making us believe that he did not research the walls of Sugar Loaf or, if he did, he did not find it there. This fact does not help to clarify the doubt arisen by Francisco Miranda.

Species listed by G.F. Pabst:

Bifrenaria harrrisoniae (Hook.) Rchb. f. Praia Vermelha
Brassavola tuberculata Hook. Pão de Açúcar, Praia Vermelha and Pedra da Urca
Eltroplectris calcarata (Sw.) Garay & Sweet (sinonimous Centrogenium setaceum (Lindl.) Schltr.) Pedra da Urca and Praia Vermelha
Epidendrum ammophilum Barb. Rodr. Praia Vermelha and Pedra da Urca
Epidendrum ammophilum Barb. Rodr. var. cariocanum Brade & Pabst.
Praia Vermelha and Pedra da Urca
Epidendrum denticulatum Rodr. Praia Vermelha
Habenaria leptoceras Hook Praia Vermelha and Pedra da Urca,
Maxillaria funerea Lindl. Praia Vermelha

Prescottia montana Barb. Rodr.

Pão de Açúcar
Prescottia plantaginea Lindl Praia Vermelha and Pedra da Urca

  When we compare those works, we concluded that from the 11 species found by Francisco and Rogério, 5 have been also found by Pabst or examined by herborized material. They are:
Bifrenaria harrisoniae Praia Vermelha
Brassavola tuberculata Pão de Açúcar, Praia Vermelha
Epidendrum denticulatum Praia Vermelha
Prescottia plantaginea Praia Vermelha, Pedra da Urca
Epidendrum robustum, which appears as Epi. ammophilum Barb. Rodr.
and as Epi. ammophilum Barb. Rodr. var. cariocanum Brade & Pabst.
Praia Vermelha

  So, the other 6 species mentioned by Francisco and Rogério, Laelia lobata , Maxillaria acicularis, Polystachia estrellensis, Zygopetalum mackay, Sarcoglottis biflora e Cyrtopodium glutinniferum were not mentioned by Pabst as occurring in Sugar Loaf, nor Urca hill, neither Praia Vermelha.
The only mention to Sugar Loaf was the Brassavola tuberculata.

We verified the occurrence of Vanilla, along the Cláudio Coutinho Way, at the foothills of Sugar Loaf and Urca hills.
We presume that it is Vanilla chamissonis Kl. due to shape of the leaves and due to fact that it is the most common species of this genus occurring in Rio de Janeiro city.

Photo/Foto: Sergio Araujo
Cláudio Coutinho Way


Ronaldo L. Pangella did his research in Sugar Loaf during since June l993 until November 1995 with the main of illustrate the rupicolous orchids. He based on the work done by Francisco Miranda and Rogério Oliveira. Besides confirming those data, he also got some other results in his search. Overcoming the heat and the difficult of the climbing, he verified all faces of the hill carrying in his knapsack his material to draw and to do some measurements. In the middle of the way, he stopped, took the writing pad and started to do his measurements, his sketches to the study of colors taking, sometimes, it took an hour and half. Those studies were concluded later with the help of the photos he took there. According to him, at the same, he tried to keep his emotional balance because the excitement provoked by finding blooming flowers was really great. However, this excitement dribbled the tiredness, the thirst, the sun and the heat. As time went by, he became more audacious and literally got out of the way of climbing making his climbing more dangerous.

Photo/Foto: Cristina Pangella

In the east face (turned to Baia de Guanabara), Pangella found his first orchid, Epidendrum denticulatum. He noticed that this species is quite common in this side and also in the south face,

Illustration by R. Pangella ilustração de Pangella occurring mainly in the inferior third of the hill, in places where the slope is not so sharp. It can appear in the naked rock. and prefers the borders of the community of Velloziacea, Gesneriacceae, Melastomastaceae and Gramineae where there is more sunstroke. It blooms all year along but the peak extends from November to February (later spring and mid summer in south hemisphere). The size of the plant is very variable (since some centimeters). Epidendrum denticulatum fructifies very easily and also presents many keikis developed from the floral spikes. The plant presented here has been illustrated in this face, at 210m altitude.
Photo/Foto: Cristina Pangella
Epidendrum denticulatum
  In the summit of the hill, next to a colony of Bifrenaria harrisoniae, there is a leafy tree where
Photo/Foto: Cristina Pangella

Photo/Foto: Cristina Pangella
  Pangella found an orchid, which has been later, identified by Francisco Miranda as Prostechaea vespa (also known as Anacheillum vespum or Encyclia vespa).
Photo/Foto: Cristina Pangella
Prostechaea vespa
  This species appears again in the west face however, growing direct on the rocks. Besides those species, Pangella also found Brassavola tuberculata.

The south side
(faced to Praia Vermelha,
the same side of
Cláudio Coutinho way)
has different degrees
of difficulties and has
more than 8 different
ways of climbing.
Photo/Foto: Sergio Araujo
  Well protected from the sun,

it is the more humid side.

Zygopetalum mackayi Hook

occurs encrusted in small

crevices of the rocks,

encircled by its biggest

enemy, Panicum maximum

Jacq., the almost natural

predator of the orchids,

bromeliad and cactaceae.
Photo/Foto: Cristina Pangella Illustration by R. Pangella

  A colony of Epidendrum first believed as robustum and later rectified to Epidendrum amophylum lives together with Velloziaceaea and Bromeliáceas or growing direct on the rock with its long and vigorous secondary stems. As it is the more shaded place, this species developed a dark olive green color, making a contrast with the light green of its petals and sepals. It blooms from April to August. During 5 months, Pangella return to the place to patiently wait for the blossom. He felt as receiving a gift with the vision of the colonies of Epidendrum denticulatum and Epidendrum ammophilum next to Polystachya estrellensis.
In a wall not too much steep, in a half shade place, he came upon to Maxillaria acicularis Herbert ex Lindl. A great amount of colonies spreads out for more than 300 m along the rock, associated to bromeliad, gramineae and also Brassavola tuberculata.
Photo/Foto: Cristina Pangella
  The colonies of Bifrenaria harrisoniae were spread out along the wall and the most fascinating of this species is the soft yellow color, green and olive green shade.
It is very common in the south, west and east faces, in every altitude of the hill, in general, in the most inclined walls, especially in this face. l It is often placed in exposed rock or in the borders of the clumps of Velloziaceae, it is rare in places with more associated vegetation. Scent flowers with varied colors and blossom from October to January.
Photo/Foto: Cristina Pangella

Although the literature does not mention the occurrence of Laelia lobata and Cyrtopodium known as andersonni in this face, justified by the shadow and constant humidity, Pangella found both species and points out some interesting points concerning the specimens of Cyrtopodium, which grow in this place and those which occur in the east face.
The pseudobulbs are more vigorous and the leaves present a healthy and perfect exuberance. The flowers are a little bigger and the yellow is more intense. The petals and sepals are back curved. Those plants growing in the east face bloom before those, which grow in the south face.

  The Laelia lobata found in Sugar Loaf, with its almost

rosy color, differs from those which occur in Pedra da

Gávea which have a soft coloring and even "alba" form.

The petals and sepals present thin veins.

The Laelia lobata illustrated here come from this side.

When he confirmed the presence of three species from

the eleven listed by Francisco Miranda and Rogério,

Pangella named this face as the "Sanctuary", hardly

known that, in the future, he would find seven more

including Brassavola tuberculata e excluding only

Sarcoglottis biflora, not found.
Illustration by R. Pangella

  Photo/Foto: Sergio Araujo   The west side (turn to Urca hill) is the most exposed and the wind is almost constantly and lateral. Pangella calls our attention to the fact that it is into two slopes perfectly visible. The inferior is more declined, almost 90 degrees of inclination, where it is possible to find rare plants of Brassavola tuberculata. When the angle of inclination decreases, there is a small cave where is possible to seat down to a deserved rest and admire, at the same time, the beaches of Botafogo, Urca e Vermelha. In this place, he found wonderful specimens of Cephalocereus fluminensis (Cactácea), Clusia sp, (Guttiferae) known as onions of the wood and Tillandsia araujei (Bromeliaceae) and a small colony Laelia lobata, the same former found by Francisco and Rogério.
  This colony called the attention by a fragility never found as Laelia lobata, as any species closed related, in general, presents erect pseudobulds with a vigorous aspect. All pseudobulbs were wrinkled, twisted and yellowish, the colony does not reach 30cm. It is completely exposed to the sunbeam and does not bloom since 15 years ago.
Bifrenaria harrisoniae has been considered as the most dangerous to be illustrated, placed in a small plateau of veins of quartz, almost at 300m altitude.
Besides Epidendrum denticulatum, another colony of Zygopetalum mackayi as well as Prostecheae vespa growing on the rocks.

  Photo/Foto: Cristina Pangella The north face was not

researched because

Pangella did not find

anything representative,

just small colonies of

Brassavola tuberculata.


Ronaldo L. Pangella is painter and botanical illustrator
Cristina Pangella (photos from Pangella's survey)
Tel.: l(22) 9835-9405
E-mail :

Illustration of the Laelia Lobata: Ronaldo Pangella
The Art Emporium
Web site:

Francisco E. L. Miranda Miranda is botanist, taxonomist, expert in orchids and owner of the "Miranda Orchids" nursery
Web site:
Tel.: 863 422-9398

Rogério Oliveira is botanist and alpinist - Centro de Botânica Aplicada da FEEMA.

Guido J. F. Pabst, orchidologist, wrote more than 200 works about orchids and the most known is Orchidaceae Brasilienses Volumes I & 2 , with Dr. F. Dungs.
This book is considered the bible of the Brazilian Orchidaceae family.

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