May 2014 Winning Photo

05 PM T pulchemirra sm

Pauline Meyer’s winning photograph is a whole plant picture of Western Australia’s flamboyant Queen of Sheba Orchid.  It was taken at Eneabba, north of Perth and identified by a local as Thelymitra variegata but in consulting the books it would appear that it is the Northern Queen of Sheba, T. pulcherrima.  There are three species known as Queen of Sheba orchids in Western Australia – T. varigata, T. pulcherrima and T. speciosa.

T. variegata was originally named in 1839 by John Lindley but under the genus Macdonaldia.  In 1865 Ferdinand Mueller moved it to Thelymitra, later people began to separate it out to three different species* but it wasn’t until 2009 that Jeff Jeanes describeds T. pulcherrima and T. speciosa as distinct species from T. variegata.

All three species have a single thin spiral leaf and showy multi-coloured flowers.

T. pulcherrima and T. speciosa differ from T. variegata in the following points.

  • T. speciosa, begins flowering earlier, is a slightly shorter plant with fewer flowers (one, more rarely two) and although the flowers are a similar size to T. variegata they are even more colourful and the petals and sepals are distinctly different colours.
  • T pucherrima is similar in height to T. variegata but has smaller flowers with yellow, red, purple mauve sepals and pink purple mauve petals.  It too begins flowering earlier than T. variegata.
They all have distinct separate locations as reflected in the common names – Southern Queen of Sheba (T. variegata), Eastern Queen of Sheba (T. speciosa) and Northern Queen of Sheba (T. pulcherrima).  For some good images go to Retired Aussies or the Chookman
 
Finally there is one other species that is similar to these three and it is called Cleopatra’s Needle, T. apiculata.
 
  Thelymitra pulcherrima Theylmitra speciosa Thelymitra variegata
  Northern Queen of Sheba Eastern Queen of Sheba Southern Queen of Sheba
Distribution North of Perth between Lancelin and Dongara Between the Stirling Range and Condingup Between Perth & Albany with disjunct populations near Hyden
Flowering late June – early September late June – September August to September
Flower numbers 1 to 5 1 to 2 1 to 5
Flower height 150 – 350 100 – 200 mm 100 – 350 mm
Flower size 25 – – 35mm 30 – 50 mm 30 – 50 mm
Sepals Yellow, red, purple and mauve Yellow, red, purple and mauve Deep pink purple blotched
Petals Pink or purple and mauve Pink or purple and mauve Deep pink or purple and darker purple blotched
 
References:
Field Guide to the Orchids of Western Australia 2013, pages 425 & 427
I would like to thank Andrew Brown, co-author, for his help with this article.
 
* The name T. puchemirra is mentioned in the Western Australian Native Orchid Study and Conservation Group 2008 field trip report
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