Marvelling at the exotic beauty of medinilla


The medinilla is also known as the ‘Rose Grape’, the ‘Philippine Orchid, the ‘Pink Lantern’, or the ‘Chandelier Tree’.

ONE weekend visit to a local nursery made me very happy with a display of magnificent panicles of pink flowers cascading from large and leathery dark green leaves.

The sight of the medinilla took me back to 1985, when I first set eyes on this beauty in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

This exotic evergreen ornamental plant is quite rare here, although my nursery had it once in the 2000s – without much success in keeping it.

The plant can grow up to a height of six feet (close to 2m) with thick ovate leaves up to 25cm long. The inflorescence can measure a foot (over 30cm) long, consisting of large bracts and many red flowers with yellow stamens.

In the native conditions in the Philippines, Java, the Malay Peninsula or Sumatra, the medinilla can be found growing as epiphytes on trees in the dense jungle – an environment with high humidity and warm sunlight is a favourite site for it in the wild.

The plant does not exist as a parasite on the tree, as it does not withdraw food from the host. Named after a governor from Mauritius, Jose de Medinilla Pineda, in 1820, the plant’s flower was depicted on Belgium’s 10,000-franc note, honouring its great significance to the people there.

Sometimes, it is also called the ‘Rose Grape’, the ‘Philippine Orchid, the ‘Pink Lantern’, or the ‘Chandelier Tree’.

The blooms, grown under weather protection above 15 degrees Centigrade with high humidity and bright sunlight, have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

The medinilla is known to bear more flowers during cooler nights.


In our local tropical environment, the medinilla is grown in pots as a perennial plant. The term ‘tropical zone’ is distinguished from other climatic and biometric regions of the Earth, covering an area of 40 per cent of the Earth’s surface area, and 36 per cent of Earth’s landmass.

It is here that 40 per cent of the world population claimed as homeland.

As a succulent, the medinilla does not need to be watered often – just once a week should suffice. However, it would be really good to water using spray, or even better, using a humidifier.

It is better to deadhead the spent blooms to promote new flowers and to keep them healthy-looking.

After flowering, it would be best to ‘feed’ it with orchid fertiliser that is mild and would not hurt the plant. It is better to cut back or prune the leaf stalks to allow more to regenerate and to become bushier, so as to produce more inflorescences.

Post-blooming, the fruit clusters are produced with seeds. One cluster may give us 2,000 seeds which, in turn, would produce offspring true to the parent’s features.

Prepare fresh seeds by crushing the fruits, clean them and soak them in water for several days (also, change the water in between) to remove the tannins that may inhibit germination.

The seeds are planted just into the surface of a sterile potting medium; cover with a layer of milled sphagnum mosses to prevent damping. Germination may take up to one month and it is required to keep the medium moist.

Re-potting the fully grown plant is best done after the flowering season. It is best to divide the existing stalks as a way to propagate more plants by planting them in new pots.

For good planting, use well drained potting mix with soil of pH levels from 6 to 6.5, with it being slightly acidic.

Ornamental plant

Many medinilla varieties are grown as house plants, suitable for arrangements on the patio or as greenhouse specimens in view of its preference for humid conditions.

It is good to give the plant partial exposure to sunny outdoors to boost its ‘vigour’.

As ornamental plants, it would be good to grow them as a row along the shady border or under the shade over a spot within the house compound.

Pests such as spider mites may infest the plant during dry conditions, so one needs to be alert; be sure to check the plants and have them misted frequently.

Happy gardening!