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Leach orchid
Stelis argentata.jpg
Silvery stelis (Stelis argentata)
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Epidendroideae
Subtribe: Pleurothallidinae
Genus: Stelis
Sw., 1799
  • Humboltia Ruiz & Pav.
  • Physosiphon Lindl.
  • Dialissa Lindl.
  • Crocodeilanthe Rchb.f. & Warsz.
  • Pseudostelis Schltr.
  • Physothallis Garay
  • Steliopsis Brieger in F.R.R.Schlechter
  • Apatostelis Garay
  • Salpistele Dressler
  • Condylago Luer
  • Mystacorchis Szlach. & Marg.
  • Dracontia (Luer) Luer
  • Elongatia (Luer) Luer
  • Unciferia (Luer) Luer
  • Loddigesia Luer
  • Lomax Luer
  • Effusiella Luer
  • Niphantha Luer

Leach orchids (genus Stelis) is a large group of orchids, with perhaps 500 species. The generic name Stelis is the Greek word for 'mistletoe', referring to the epiphytic habit of these species. These mainly epiphytic (rarely lithophytic) plants are widely distributed throughout much of South America, Central America, Mexico, the West Indies and Florida.[1]

Many of the older species were named by Lindley, Ruiz & Pavon and Reichenbach, while many of the recent species were named by Dr. C. Luer. An orchid of the genus Stelis was probably the first American orchid ever to be brought to Europe. An herbarium specimen was depicted in 1591 in Tabernaemontanus' herbal book.

'Indian mistletoe'
first depiction of a Stelis orchid
pub 1625 in Herbal Book
of Johannes Theodorus Tabernaemontanus


A single oblanceolate leaf develops from narrow, leathery outgrowths from a creeping stem.

Most species grow long, dense racemes of small to minute flower in diverse shades of white. Other colors are rare. These flowers are photosensitive, only opening in the sunlight. Some close completely at night.

The three symmetrically rounded sepals generally form a triangle with a small central structure, made up of the column, small petals and small lip, though slight variation to this theme does occur.

This genus is not common in cultivation.


Cladistic research (by A. Pridgeon, R. Solano and M. Chase) has shown that the genus Stelis is monophyletic. But the distinction with several Pleurothallis subgenera is blurred (see Reference).

They are closely related to the massive genus Pleurothallis and Masdevallia. Although vegetatively the species show much variety, the flowers show a basic uniformity and are very similar throughout. Apatostelis Garay, Dialissa Lindl., Humboldtia Ruiz & Pav. and Steliopsis Brieger are generally included into Stelis.


Select species of Stelis include:


  • Dr. C. Luer - Icones Pleurothallidinarum XXIV: A first century of new species of Stelis of Ecuador. Part 1 (2002); ISBN 1-930723-15-6
  • Dr. C. Luer - Icones Pleurothallidinarum XXVI: Pleurothallis subgenus Acianthera and three allied subgenera; A Second Century of New Species of Stelis of Ecuador; Epibator, Ophidion, Zootrophion (2004); ISBN 1-930723-29-6
  • Phylogenetic relationships in Pleurothallidinae.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Stelis at Wikimedia Commons
  • Data related to Stelis at Wikispecies