The Comet Orchid

When Darwin first saw the Angraecum sesquipedale (the comet orchid, above) in Madagascar, he was so surprised by the “astonishing length” of the whip-like green spur forming the nectary of each flower that he remarked to Joseph Hooker “Good Heavens what insect can suck it?” The spur of the flower is 20–35 cm from its tip to the tip of the flower’s lip. The name “sesquipedale” is Latin for “one and a half feet,” referring to the spur length.

He speculated that there would be an insect with a proboscis that would be able to reach the nectar that collected at the base of the spur.

In 1882, 40 years after Darwin’s death, the Xanthopan morganii praedicta moth – named in honor of his prediction – was discovered by scientists in Madagascar.

The moth is the only creature capable of pollinating the orchid.