Growing Dendrobium tetragonum in Adelaide 1983 and Now

In 1983, Ron Robjohns, NOSSA’s first treasurer, wrote a comprehensive series of articles about growing epiphytes in South Australia. Thirty years on Ron’s information for growing is still helpful and applicable for today. Any updates or extra information are in black text.


Volume 7, No. 6, July, 1983


Dendrobium tetragonum (Tree Spider Orchid)

A variable epiphytic species growing mainly in rainforest areas from Illawarra in New South Wales to the Endeavour River in Queensland. A favourite haunt is on trees overhanging water, often in deep shade. It has a variety of hosts (including Myrtles, Eugenias, Water Gums and occasionally Melaleuca) on which it grows into small clumps. Altitude is of little concern as it is found from near sea level to approximately 1000 metres.

The stems, which are semi-pendulous and from 6 to 45 cm long, arise from a prostrate and branching rhizome They are round, thin and wiry at the base but thickening to become rectangular (hence the name tetragonum – derived from the Greek “tetra” meaning “four-sided”), then tapering slightly before the leaves. There are from 2 to 5 leaves up to 8 cm long at the end of the stems. They are deep green in colour and often with crinkled or wavy margins.

The racemes appear from between the leaves but are short and have from 1 to 5 flowers which are widely spreading and spidery in appearance. The colour is greenish/yellow with irregular and variable brown, red and purple markings. In size the flowers are from 4 to 9 cm from the top of the dorsal sepal to the tip of the lateral sepal and they have quite a pronounced fragrance.

The var giganteum is the tropical species and ranges from the Fitzroy to the Endeavour Rivers. The flowers are usually larger, but not always, and have a slightly different colour pattern.

The plant does not lend itself readily to pot culture and should be mounted. I have it growing on Melaleuca and cork slabs, but best results have been with one mounted on a hardwood slab.

I find that it needs little more than 50% shade plus humidity and, of course, plenty of air movement. Protect from frosts. Fertilise in the growing period with foliar fertiliser at half recommended strength. A number of interesting hybrids have been produced using D. tetragonum as one of the parents. They mostly flower well and have reasonably large flowers.

Dendrobium tetragonum
Dendrobium tetragonum
%d bloggers like this: