Phrag. kovachii photo by Erica Moron de Abad

The Exciting New Phragmipedium kovachii

© Nina Rach

Edited 27 April 2004
Originally published in the Sept 2002 issue of "Houston Happenings"

Photo at left graciously provided by Erica Moron de Abad, Peru.

Earlier in the spring, photos of an unusual, brightly-colored Phragmipedium from Peru were circulating by e-mail, accompanied by queries as to what this species might be. The plant elicits attention not only because of the dark pink to purple color, but also because of the large size of the flowers, with a natural horizontal spread up to 15 cm (nearly 6"). It was supposedly purchased from a roadside vendor in north-east Peru by AOS & Virginia OS member J. Michael Kovach, from Goldvein, Virginia, and according to the media, smuggled by him out of Peru.

On June 12, Selby Gardens in Sarasota, Florida sent out printed copies of a special issue of Selbyana 23 Supplement: 1, f.1, containing the official publication of this plant as the new species Phragmipedium kovachii Atwood, Dalström & Fernandez. On June 27, the American Orchid Society mailed the July issue of the AOS monthly magazine Orchids 71(7): 620-622, and many of us saw the same species published as Phragmipedium peruvianum Christenson. Although Christenson had prepared and submitted his manuscript to the AOS well before the Selby Gardens staff worked on the plant, the Selbyana description and name were published first, and according to the rules of botanical nomenclature, the mail date determines when a name is validly published. The AOS conscientiously issued a retraction in the August issue of Orchids Magazine, recognizing the name Phragmipedium peruvianum as only a synonym.

It would be extremely interesting to see some genetic work done on this new species to discover its relation to other phragmipediums. DNA fingerprinting was discussed by Wesley Higgins in the August issue of Orchids magazine 71(8): 732-734, and there are other techniques available which could yield interesting results.

Since there are issues about CITES and export restrictions, we don't expect to see these plants offered for sale legally in the United States for several years. Therefore, they are not yet permitted to be judged by AOS if exhibited in the U.S. However, I presume that AOS judges travelling to an AOS-sponsored show in Peru would be able to grant awards, if the plants on display were of merit. We can all expect that this species will be artificially propagated and available through commercial channels in a few years. Please be patient, and do not purchase wild-collected plants through the black market.

The story of this striking new species has meanwhile been picked up by the mainstream media, beginning with the Miami Herald (links to these are provided below).

Links and photos

Text of the Selby publication, posted in Japan:

Info page at Phrag Web, by Rob Zuiderwijk

Set of photos at PhragWeb:

Coverage by the press (with illustrations):
Miami Herald (9 Aug) - and reprinted in the Seattle Times (15 Aug) -

La Prensa (11 Aug) - Miami, in Spanish (no live link)

NY Times (13 Aug) -
and reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle -

Associated Press (14 Aug), carried by:
Newsday, Long Island -

Las Vegas Sun -

Selby Gardens (18 Aug)


Berliner Morgenpost, Germany (16 Aug am) -

Hamburger Abendblatt, Germany (16 Aug pm) -

Lima Post, Peru (20 Aug)

Discussion and additional links in a Salon blog by Miguel Octavio (scroll down for the entries about this phrag)

See also:
Harold Koopowitz' article in Orchid Digest vol. 67, no. 4 (Oct-Dec 2003), "The Manrique expedition."
"Judging Phragmipedium kovachii-- An amazing flower from Peru debuts in its homeland," by Carlos Fighetti, Sue Eloe, and Paul G. Bechtel, in Orchids magazine, vol. 73, no. 1 (Jan. 2004). Excellent photography by Walter Pinochet.

This species received its first American Orchid Society award at the Club Peruana de Orquideas show in Lima, Peru in October 2003: Phragmipedium kovachii 'Mem. Grimanesa Manrique', CHM/AOS (94 points). The award was given to Centro de Jardineria Manrique, run by Alfredo Manrique, who named it in honor of his mother.
Alfredo Manrique and Manuel Arias are the only two Peruvians who have been authorized by the Peruvian government to collect and propagate plants from the wild. Manrique brought two plants to the show in bloom, and Arias brought one. The photo at the top of this article was taken by Erica Moron de Abad at this show.

In November 2004, the Houston Orchid Society will host Mr. Peter Croezen, Green Canyon Orchids, Kitchener, Ontario. Mr. Croezen's presentation will be on "The Phrag. kovachii Saga."

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