Polystachya pubescens, the yellow epiphytic orchid, is a small perennial herb reaching heights from 10 cm to 20 cm. Pubescens, the specific name, means downy or covered in short, soft hairs. This name choice probably refers to the white hairs upon the side-lobes of the lip.
The plant grows a clump of narrowly conical pseudobulbs, each topped by two or three bilobed leaves, while fleshy white roots are visible below the bulbs, being positioned above-ground. The pseudobulbs and especially lower leaf surfaces are often tinged red.
The species distribution in South Africa ranges from the Eastern Cape around Port Elizabeth through the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to Limpopo, all along the eastern reaches of South Africa. Not a South African endemic, the species also grows in Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
The plant is common where it grows, usually in cool, summer rainfall conditions on tree trunks and exposed sandstone outcrops; it is more epiphytic than lithophytic, i.e. found more on trees than rocks. These plants grow near the coast to elevations up to 1600 m. The species is not considered to be threatened in its habitat early in the twenty first century (Liltved and Johnson, 2012; www.orchidspecies.com; www.redlist.sanbi.org).