This is a terrestrial orchid that behaves like a perennial in the garden. Phaius tankervilliae is native to large parts of tropical Asia. The long, pleated leaves grow from the base of the plant and arch over to a length of two feet or more. In early winter the flower spike will start to emerge from between the leaves and the flowers will open in mid-spring on a 3 to 4 foot stalk. The bloom spike will last for 4 to 6 weeks.
The nodding flowers are a rusty brown color on the front side and white on the back, with a prominent purple lip. Each flower is about 3 to 4 inches across. It is the reproductive parts within the throat of the flower that give the plant its name. If you peer inside you will see the image of a nun wearing a white habit.
Phaius can be grown outdoors in the ground in USDA Zones 9-11. In cold climates the plant can be grown in containers and protected from freezing weather. A light shade or filtered sun location is best.
One other interesting thing about these plants is that you can cut the old flower stems into sections and lay on moist soil or sphagnum moss and they will send out roots and grow new plants!