Waxy satyr orchid (Satyrium carneum)

Satyrium carneum in flower
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Waxy satyr orchid fact file

Waxy satyr orchid description

GenusSatyrium (1)

The waxy satyr orchid is one of Africa’s largest orchids, growing to nearly a metre in height (4). It bears two to four thick, fleshy, green leaves that grow near the base of the plant, the lowest leaves almost spreading on the ground (2) (5). Atop the tall stem is an inflorescence, bearing a dense cluster of up to 200 tubular, waxy flowers (4), which vary in colour from pale pink to rose, and occasionally white (2). The scientific name of this plant arises from the Latin word ‘carneus’, which means flesh-coloured, referring to the pink hues of the petals (5).

Height: up to 80 cm (2)

Waxy satyr orchid biology

The waxy satyr orchid, which flowers from September until November (2), is distinctive for being one of the few African orchid species known to be pollinated by birds (4). Sunbirds, including southern double-collared sunbirds (Nectarinia chalybea), orange-breasted sunbirds (Nectarinia violaceae) andMalachite sunbirds (Nectarinia famosa) visit the waxy satyr orchid, attracted solely by the vivid colour, as the flowers are unscented. The sunbirds grasp the stem with their feet while inserting their bill into the tubular flowers to feed on the nectar. While feeding, the pollen from the flower becomes attached to the bill, and the sunbirds can be seen afterwards with dense clumps of pollen stuck to the upper mandible, about one centimetre from the tip (4). The resulting seeds of the waxy satyr orchid are dispersed away from the parent plant by the wind (7).


Waxy satyr orchid range

Endemic to the Cape Floristic Region, a ‘hot-spot’ of plant diversity in south-western South Africa (2) (6).


Waxy satyr orchid habitat

The waxy satyr orchid inhabits coastal flats and low slopes (2) (5), among dune-bush vegetation and in coastal fynbos, on moist to dry sands and limestone (7).


Waxy satyr orchid status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the Interim Red Data List of South African Plant Taxa (3), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).


Waxy satyr orchid threats

Like many orchid species, whose elegant and beautiful flowers are desired by plant collectors, the waxy satyr orchid faces the threat of over-collection. In addition, urban expansion and agriculture pose a threat to this species future as it greatly impacts the waxy satyr orchid’s habitat (6). Cultivation for agriculture has transformed almost 26 percent of the Cape Floristic Region and 1.6 percent is now covered by urban areas (8). The spread of invasive alien plants also threatens to alter the unique, natural habitat of the Cape Floristic Region (9), to the detriment of many plant species. As a result of these impacts, the beautiful waxy satyr orchid is becoming increasingly rare (7).


Waxy satyr orchid conservation

The waxy satyr orchid is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in this species should be carefully monitored to ensure it is compatible with the species’ survival (1). This should help mitigate the threat of over-collection. There are no other conservation measures known to be in place specifically for the waxy satyr orchid, however, within the Cape Floristic Region there are a number of protected areas (10), and a number of conservation organisations are working to conserve this botanically rich habitat. Conservation actions include purchasing land to protect it from the threats of encroaching agriculture and urban development (11), the removal of alien plants, and the establishment of new protected areas (9); all measures that should ensure the survival of this stunning orchid.


Find out more

For further information on the Cape Floristic Region and its conservation see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk


Cape Floristic Region
An area occupying about 90,000 square kilometres in South Africa that contains an incredibly high diversity of plant species (around 8,700 species), of which 68 percent are found no where else.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
The natural shrubland vegetation occurring in the southwestern and southern Cape of South Africa, holding the greatest diversity of plant species in the world. Fynbos is characterised by tall shrubs with large leaves, heath-like shrubs, wiry reed-like plants, and bulbous herbs.
The shoot of a plant which bears a group or cluster of flowers.
When pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) are transferred to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.


  1. CITES (February, 2008)
  2. Goldblatt, P. and Manning, J. (2000) Cape Plants: A Conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa. National Botanical Institute of South Africa, Pretoria .
  3. Threatened Species Programme. (2007) Interim Red Data List of South African Plant Taxa. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. Available at:
  4. Johnson, S.D. (1996) Bird pollination in South African species of Satyrium (Orchidaceae). Plant Systematics and Evolution, 203: 91 - 98.
  5. Paterson-Jones, C. and Manning, J. (2007) Ecoguide Fynbos. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa.
  6. Golding, J.S. (2002) Southern African Plant Red Data Lists. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 14. SABONET, Pretoria.
  7. PlantZAfrica (February, 2008)
  8. Rouget, M., Richardson, D.M., Cowling, R.M., Lloyd, J.W. and Lombard, A.T. (2003) Current patterns of habitat transformation and future threats to biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystems of the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa. Biological Conservation, 112: 63 - 85.
  9. Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots (February, 2008)
  10. UNEP-WCMC: Cape Floral Protected Areas of South Africa (February, 2008)
  11. Fauna and Flora International (February, 2008)

Image credit

Satyrium carneum in flower  
Satyrium carneum in flower

© Marland Holderness

Marland Holderness


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