Bartholina etheliae, the spider orchid, is a slender tuberous perennial reaching heights between 8 cm and 20 cm.
The flower is dominated by the long, thin thread-like protrusions from its lip, the lower petal. The four-lobed spreading lip is creamy white near its base with sparsely scattered spots on the surface and about four filament-like or thread-like segments extending outwards, curving downwards here from each lobe. These thin segments spread in a broad fan-shape, whitish and translucent near their bases, olive green near the tips. The segments end in small, bulbous, oblong or spoon-shaped tips.
At the top of the photo the flower’s two sickle-shaped lateral sepals cross like arms in an emblem. They are olive-green in colour with faint dotted lines lengthwise along their surfaces. Thin, whitish lateral petals, angled low down and curving towards each other near their tips, are visible in front of the sepals.
The species distribution is mainly in the Western Cape, slightly into the southwest of the Eastern Cape, while a isolated, secondary distribution occurs in the Northern Cape near the Gariep River, extending in southern Namibia.
The habitat is widespread, the plants growing sheltered under bigger shrubbery in various conditions apart from alkaline and brackish soils. The species is not considered to be threatened in its habitat early in the twenty first century (Vlok and Schutte-Vlok, 2015; Liltved and Johnson, 2012; Manning, 2007; http://redlist.sanbi.org).