CLUES TO ORCHID IDENTIFICATION – Prasophyllum & Microtis Leaves

Orchids are attractive and abound in variety. It is the variety that often provides the challenge of identification. As a novice it can be a bit overwhelming. In the eye of the beginner, the experienced orchid hunters appear to have no difficulty with identification. Over the years they have accumulated various clues that guide them toward accurate identification.

This series aims to document the clues that orchid hunters use.

Prasophyllum and Microtis Leaves

The first in the series relates to distinguishing between Microtis and Prasophyllum leaves. When in flower it is easy to see which is which but not so when only in leaf; and as they do not always produce flowers it is helpful to be able to separate them out at leaf stage.

Both leaves are green. Both are cylindrical. Both are hollow. Both resemble onion leaves.

M & P Leaves

Both types of leaves are long, thin and green.  The damaged Microtis leaf (below) shows the hollow.

The differences can be found in one or two areas. Microtis leaves are always green at the base whereas Prasophyllum leaves usually but not always will have a red or purplish coloured base. To help in identification, it is necessary to examine the base by moving the leaf litter aside to see where the plant emerges from the soil.

M & P Leaf Bases

The bases reveal the difference between the two genera.

Prasophyllum species that could have a green base are P. laxum, P. occulatans, P. sp Jip Jip, P. elatum, P. sp Sandplain, P. pallidum (although this is short and usually in bud when noticed), P. spicatum, P validum.  So further observations are necessary.

Another other area of difference is that the broken leaf of a Microtis yields a mucilaginous (thick sticky) sap; the Prasophyllum leaf does not.

Within the segregate genera used by many NOSSA members, there are two other genera with similar leaves. They are Microtidium and Hydrorchis. Again they are green, cylindrical, hollow but only hollow in the lower half. The top half is solid.

It should also be noted that Microtis can form dense colonies but Prasophyllum will never form more than loose colonies.

Finally, if upon gently feeling the base of these leaves it feels solid, that will indicate that there is a bud and it will most likely flower this season.

M & P Flowers

Once in flower, the differences between the two genera is obvious.

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