A Revolution of a Sweet Kind

Ever since the Western world discovered the orchid in the 18th and 19th century there have been enthusiasts wanting to grow them but though an orchid may produce millions of seeds, for they are minuscule, only a relatively small number germinate.  The seeds do not have any stored food and are dependent upon fungi for germination.  This made it difficult for early orchid growers who relied on obtaining specimens from the wild – a most unsustainable practice!

Yet today cultivation of orchids is flourishing.  It is not dependent upon removing specimens from the bush.  In Australia it is illegal.

Today the orchid enthusiast can grow orchids from seeds at home.  The technique, invitro embryo germination, is popularly known as flasking.  It involves growing the seeds in a sterile agar medium to which the most significant ingredient was the addition of sugar.

At the time it was developed by Professor Lewis Knudson (1884 – 1958) of Cornell University in 1922 this method was revolutionary.



Rasmussen J, April – June 1986, “Contact Dermatitis from Orchids” Clinics in Dermatology Volume 4 Number 2

Below are some examples of terrestrial orchids grown from seeds in flasks.

Flasking Terrestrial Orchid Seeds (3)  Flasking Terrestrial Orchid Seeds (2)  Flasking Terrestrial Orchid Seeds (1)

Photographs kindly supplied by Les Nesbitt.


Australian Orchids and the Doctors they Commemorate Part 1 of 20

Back in 2013, Professor John H Pearn, Emeritus, School of Medicine, University of Queensland wrote a five page article about medical doctors who were Australian orchidologists.  This was published in the Medical Journal of Australia.  My intention is to post direct quote extracts from his article.

First …..

Thank you, John Pearn for giving permission to post

Now to begin …….., at the beginning….. of course …………

Orchidaceae is the largest family of flowering plants. Orchids grow in habitats ranging from subalpine niches to the tropics, and they produce some of the most beautiful, varied and intriguing flowers. Of the more than 1300 genera and 33 000 species, more than 1300 named taxa of orchids, in 193 genera, grow in Australia.

The word “orchid” is from the Greek word orchis  (meaning testicle), which reflects the appearance of the  root tubers in some species. According to the “doctrine of signatures” –  a 16th century herbalist philosophy  which states that herbs resembling body parts can be used to treat those body parts – orchids were used continuously from preliterate times as aphrodisiacs and as medicaments to restore virility. Theophrastus (c. 372–288 BC) wrote about the medicinal value of orchids, as did Paracelsus (1491–1541) and Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), the father of modern botanical taxonomy.  As a child, Linnaeus recorded details of his personally collected orchid specimens in his notebook, in which he wrote “Orchis from testiculus, through which its effects should occur”.

Orchid extracts such as vanilla (from Vanilla planifolia) and salep (from Orchis mascula and Orchis militaria) are used commercially in ice-cream, confectionery and medicinal flavouring agents. Crawley root preparations (from Corallorhiza odontorhiza) are used in folk medicine for their diaphoretic and antipyretic properties. In Australia, orchid preparations have been and continue to be used by Indigenous healers to treat diarrhoea and skin infections. Lieutenant (not yet Captain) James Cook used powdered orchid root as part of his method for preserving the health of his crew.

The physical manifestations of orchids, such as their flowers and the medicines and flavourings derived from them, are ephemeral. But the scientific names of orchids endure, and many perpetuate the lives and works of those who have contributed to medicine since the time of Aristotle. Here, I describe indigenous orchids of Australia whose scientific names commemorate doctors who worked in Australia, encapsulating a library of Australian medical history. These orchids comprise a monumentum aere perennius (monument more lasting than bronze) — a phrase coined by Horace in Book III of his Odes when referring to his own literary work.

To be continued ……………

Orchidologist John Lindley (1799 – 1865)

John  Lindley (1799 – 1865), who named Thelymitra crinita, mentioned in a previous post, was one of the world’s earliest orchidologists and has been described as the Father of Modern Orchidology (Pridgeon, p.1). Having no formal university education, his career began under Sir Joseph Banks as assistant-librarian. He eventually rose to Professor of Botany, University College, London, amongst his many other numerous official duties and public activities. It was the result of Lindley’s work and involvement with a group of other likeminded men that Kew Garden was saved from destruction and Corn Tax was repealed at the time of the great Irish potato famine.

Although orchids were not his only area of  interest they were his passion and the common name ‘orchid’ was introduced by him in 1845.  Lindley became involved with the naming of orchids at a time when the western world was discovering the wealth of the orchid world and his subsequent work on orchids was prodigious. He personally examined and named thousands of species specimens, with one author stating that Lindley named over 6,000 orchid species, establishing over 120 genera. Notably he wrote three major orchid works Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants (1830 – 1840), Sertum orchidaceum (1838), and Folia orchidacea (1852-1855). He also wrote for the general public and one delightfully readable textbook was Ladies’ Botany or A Familiar Introduction to the Study of the Natural System of Botany Volume I and II (1834–1837).

Though not referring specifically to South Australia, he lamented  “that there are  still, however, many species from the East and North Coast (of Australia), with which he has no acquaintance”  [sic]. As far as I can determine none of our endemic orchids were named by him.

Lindley,  J.  (1830).  The  genera  and  species  of orchidaceous plants /by John Lindley. Retrieved 30 Apr  2014,  from https://archive.org/details/mobot31753002698485

Lindley, J. (1839).  Appendix to the first twenty-three volumes of Edwards’s botanical register : consisting of a complete alphabetical and systematical index of names, synomymes and matter, adjusted to the present state of systematical botany, together with a sketch of the vegetation of the Swan River colony (http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/29179#page/59/mode/1up). London: James Ridgway.

“Lindley, John”. (2008). Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography  Retrieved 30 Apr. 2014, from http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830902630.html

Pridgeon, A. (2005). Blue Plaque for John Lindley’s Home [Electronic Version]. Orchid Research Newsletter 46, 1. Retrieved 8 May 2014, from http://www.kew.org/herbarium/orchid/orn46.pdf

Australian Orchids & the Doctors they Commemorate Part 14 of 20

Richard Sanders Rogers (1862 – 1942)

An Adelaide physician, doctor-soldier and forensic pathologist who described 82 new orchid species (66 from Australia).


Diplodium rogersii (= Pterostylis rogersii) or Curled Tongue Shell Orchid

Prasophyllum rogersii or Marsh Leek Orchid