Disa (plant)

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Disa cardinalis 250603.jpg
Disa cardinalis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Orchidoideae
Tribe: Diseae
Subtribe: Disinae
Genus: Disa
P.J.Bergius 1767

See text.

  • Repandra Lindl.
  • Penthea Lindl.
  • Forficaria Lindl.
  • Gamaria Raf.
  • Herschelia Lindl.
  • Monadenia Lindl.
  • Schizodium Lindl.
  • Orthopenthea Rolfe in W.H.Harvey
  • Amphigena Rolfe in W.H.Harvey
  • Herschelianthe Rauschert
  • × Herscheliodisa H.P.Linder

Disa is a genus of flowering plants in the family Orchidaceae. It comprises about 182 species.[1][2] Most of the species are indigenous to tropical and southern Africa, with a few more in the Arabian Peninsula, Madagascar, and Réunion.[3] Disa bracteata is naturalized in Western Australia, where the local name is "African weed-orchid."[4]

The species Disa uniflora is well known as an ornamental. It is a spectacular red orchid known as "The Pride of Table Mountain."[5] Other commonly cultivated species include Disa aurata, Disa cardinalis, Disa crassicornis, Disa racemosa, Disa sagittalis, and Disa tripetaloides.[6] Some of the species are grown only in African gardens.[7]

The genus Disa was named by P.J. Bergius in 1767.[8][9] It was named after Disa, the heroine of a Swedish legend.[10]

The plants grow from a fleshy tuberous root which is a source of maltodextrins which are used as a sugar substitute. Some species attain a height of 90 cm. The flowers are solitary or arranged in racemes. The petals and the lip are small. The flowers consist essentially of the sepals. The flowers range in color from very light to dark red.

Disa exhibits a variety of pollination syndromes. Each species of Disa usually has a single species as pollinator and nearly every available pollinating insect is employed by some species of Disa. Species that adapted to the same pollinator often independently evolved a similar floral morphology which confounded the infrageneric classification of Disa until cladistic analysis was applied to DNA sequences from this genus.[11]

Examples of convergent evolution in Disa include the following:

  • flowers pollinated by butterflies have evolved twice, for example the pollination of Disa uniflora by the Table mountain Pride Butterfly Aeropetes tulbaghia (Satyrinae)[12]
  • flowers with conspicuous deception, pollinated by carpenter bees, have evolved twice.
  • long-spurred flowers, pollinated by long-tongued flies, have evolved four times.
  • night-scented flowers, pollinated by moths, have evolved three times.

Disa serves as an example of how speciation can be caused by changes in pollinator availability and evolution.

Some Disa species are pollinated by sunbirds and have pollinaria that stick to the feet of the sunbirds when they perch on the inflorescence.[13]

Once very rare in cultivation, Disa uniflora is gaining in popularity as a cut flower. However, they are difficult to grow, because of the needed mineral composition of the potting soil. Also, if exposed to excessive moisture, they can be easily killed by rot.

In Genera Orchidacearum volume 2, Disa and Schizodium compose the subtribe Disinae of the tribe Diseae.[14] After that volume was published in 2001, molecular phylogenetic studies showed that Schizodium is nested within Disa.[15][16] Schizodium comprises only six species, all endemic to South Africa.[17]

In a classification of orchids that was published in 2015, Chase et alii placed Schizodium in synonymy under Disa. They also defined the subtribe Disinae as consisting of Pachites, Disa and Huttonaea. This version of Disinae is probably not monophyletic, but was created as a holding classification, to avoid the unnecessary designation of subtribes before further studies can clarify the relationships of these three genera.[1]


Species currently (May 2014) recognized:[2]

Disa purpurascens Bolus


The following species have been used to create more than 400 hybrids : Disa cardinalis, Disa caulescens, Disa racemosa, Disa tripetaloides, Disa uniflora, Disa aurata and Disa venosa.

  • Disa × brendae (D. caulescens × D. uniflora) (South Africa, SW. Cape Prov.)
  • Disa × maculomarronina (D. hircicornis × D. versicolor) (S. Africa)..
  • Disa × nuwebergensis (D. caulescens × D. tripetaloides) (South Africa, Cape Prov.).
  • Disa × paludicola (D. chrysostachya × D. rhodantha) (South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal).


  1. ^ a b Mark W. Chase, Kenneth M. Cameron, John V. Freudenstein, Alec M. Pridgeon, Gerardo A. Salazar, Cássio van den Berg, and André Schuiteman. 2015. "An updated classification of Orchidaceae". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 177(2):151-174. (See External links below).
  2. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  3. ^ Hans Peter Linder and Hubert Kurzweil. 1999. Orchids of Southern Africa. 504 pages. A. A. Balkema. ISBN 978-90-5410-445-2.
  4. ^ Weeds Australia, Weed Identification, African weed-orchid, Disa bracteata
  5. ^ Plantzafrica, Disa uniflora Bergius
  6. ^ Anthony Huxley, Mark Griffiths, and Margot Levy (1992). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. The Macmillan Press,Limited: London. The Stockton Press: New York. ISBN 978-0-333-47494-5 (set).
  7. ^ Eric Harley, Sid Cywes, and H. Peter Linder. 2013. A Disa Companion: The Art and Science of Disa Cultivation. Author House. 123 pages. ISBN 978-1-48179-767-2.
  8. ^ Disa in International Plant Names Index. (see External links below).
  9. ^ Peter Jonas Bergius. 1767. Descriptiones Plantarum ex Capite Bonae Spei: 348. (See External links below).
  10. ^ Umberto Quattrocchi. 2000. CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names volume II. CRC Press: Boca Raton; New York; Washington,DC;, USA. London, UK. ISBN 978-0-8493-2676-9 (vol. II). (see External links below).
  11. ^ Richard J. Waterman, Anton Pauw, Timothy G. Barraclough, and Vincent Savolainen. 2009. "Pollinators underestimated: A molecular phylogeny reveals widespread floral convergence in oil-secreting orchids (sub-tribe Coryciinae) of the Cape of South Africa". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 51(1):100-110. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2008.05.020.
  12. ^ Johnson, S.D., Linder, H.P. and Steiner, K.E. (1998). Phylogeny and radiation of pollination systems in Disa (Orchidaceae). American Journal of Botany, 85, 402-411,
  13. ^ Johnson, S. D.; Brown, M. (2004). "Transfer of pollinaria on birds’ feet: a new pollination system in orchids". Plant Systematics & Evolution 244 (3/4): 181–188. doi:10.1007/s00606-003-0106-y. 
  14. ^ Alec M. Pridgeon, Phillip J. Cribb, Mark W. Chase, and Finn N. Rasmussen. 1999-2014. Genera Orchidacearum Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-850513-6 (volume 1), ISBN 978-0-19-850710-9 (volume 2), ISBN 978-0-19-850711-6 (volume 3), ISBN 978-0-19-850712-3 (volume 4), ISBN 978-0-19-850713-0 (volume 5), ISBN 978-0-19-964651-7 (volume 6).
  15. ^ Benny Bytebier, Dirk U. Bellstedt, and Hans Peter Linder. 2007. "A molecular phylogeny for the large African orchid genus Disa". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 43(1):75-90. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.08.014.
  16. ^ * Benny Bytebier, Dirk U. Bellstedt, and Hans Peter Linder. 2008. "A New Phylogeny-Based Sectional Classification for the Large African Orchid Genus Disa". Taxon 57(4):1233-1251. 19 pages. (See External links below).
  17. ^ Hans Peter Linder. 1981. "Taxonomic studies on the Disinae: 2. A revision of the genus Schizodium Lindl." Journal of South African Botany 47():339-371.

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