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.
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.
- 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.
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
||Northern Queen of Sheba
||Eastern Queen of Sheba
||Southern Queen of Sheba
||North of Perth between Lancelin and Dongara
||Between the Stirling Range and Condingup
||Between Perth & Albany with disjunct populations near Hyden
||late June – early September
||late June – September
||August to September
||1 to 5
||1 to 2
||1 to 5
||150 – 350
||100 – 200 mm
||100 – 350 mm
||25 – – 35mm
||30 – 50 mm
||30 – 50 mm
||Yellow, red, purple and mauve
||Yellow, red, purple and mauve
||Deep pink purple blotched
||Pink or purple and mauve
||Pink or purple and mauve
||Deep pink or purple and darker purple blotched
In almost a word – every continent except the Antarctica.
Orchids are amazing, we expect to find them in the tropics but they can be found anywhere from the cold climes of Alaska to the semi-arid edge of the Australian deserts.
An Interactive Key to Australian Orchid Genera has an excellent chapter on habitats of Australian orchids.
15 habitats are listed with a list of the type of orchid likely to be found there. The vast majority of Australian terrestrial orchids are found in either lowland (less than 500 metres altitude), in coastal regions or in open forest/woodland. There are none in the Red Centre.
With a common name of Queen Orchid, Thelymitra crinita is aptly named, for the flower has a quiet regal air of elegance and delicacy that would appeal to many people. Lorraine Badger who took this photograph was one of those people.
T crinita is a common Western Australian orchid that can be found from Perth around to Albany with a disjunct area near Esperance. Back in 1839, it was one of 60 orchids named by John Lindley in ‘Appendix to the first twenty-three volumes of Edwards’s Botanical Register together with A Sketch of the Vegetation of the Swan River Colony’ page xlix. Though the register is written in English the species description is in Latin, here reproduced for all those Latin buffs –
(214) helymitra crinita; folio radicali oblongo apiculato glabro, raceme cylindraceo, floribus purpureis, cuculli laciniis lateralibus barbatis unguiculatis intermediâ fornicatâ emarginatâ dorso glanduloso-villosâ
On a recent visit to the South Australian State Herbarium, Michelle Waycott, Chief Botanist, explained that there is a strict botanical standard for describing a species. You may be pleased to know that at the 18th International Botanical Congress in Melbourne, Australia in July 2011, it was determined that from the 1st January 2012 it was no longer mandatory for descriptions to be in Latin only. English can now be used.
Taken at the same site as February’s winning photograph – Ramsay Conservation Park on Yorke Peninsula, the winning photograph was of an Arcahnorchis sp. by Pauline Meyers.
A positive identification was not possible due to a number of factors making firm identification difficult. Most likely it is a hybrid of the Green-combed group of spider orchids and though not positively identified there are some things that can be observed. The Green-combed group according to Gary Backhouse consists of three sub-groups, A dilatata (largest sub-group), A concinna and A integra, but David Jones has them as three separate gorups.
Some features of this group are
- One of two flowers
- Flowers mainly green or greenish and red
- Hinged and mobile
- Maroon apex
- Green comb-like teeth on the margins (edges)
- Tepals (petals and sepals)
- Green to greenish with red stripes
- Brown to yellow clubs at the tips
From the photograph it can be seen that all the green-comb features are visible except for the clubs, The dorsal sepal is obviously thickened but it is not as clear for the other two sepals. This could be due to the angle of the photograph.
Another observation to note is that it is a freshly opened flower as suggested by the elongated appearance of the labellum. As the flower ages the labellum curls further under itself. It is important to remember that an old flower and a young flower of the same species could be mistaken as two different species.
In South Australia, species belonging to the green-comb groups are
- A dilatata sub-group consisting of
- A aurulenta, A clavula, A dilatata, A interanea, A macroclavia, A necrophylla, A parva,
A phaeoclavia, A septuosa, A stricta, A tensa, A tentaculata, A verrucosa, A villosissima
- A concinna sub-group consisting of
- A integra sub-group consisting of none in South Australia
To iterate from last month – Orchids are an interesting group concerning identification. Some are extremely easy to identify but others not so.
Backhouse, G. (2011). Spider-orchids – the Genus Caladenia and its Relatives in Australia on CD Rom.
Jones, D. L. (2006). A Complete Guide to Native Orchids of Australia including the Island Territories, (2nd ed.). Frenchs Forest, N.S.W., Reed New Holland.
R.J.Bates. (2011). South Australia’s Native Orchids (DVD) [Electronic Version]
Thank you to Thelma Bridle for reviewing the article.
This month’s winner photographed by Pauline Meyers was a spider hybrid identified by Bob Bates as Arachnorchis brumalis x A conferta.
Orchids are an interesting group concerning identification. Some are extremely easy to identify but others specifically the sun orchids, but also the spider orchids, can be difficult to identify partly due to the ease with which they are able to hybridise.
A frequent hybrid occurrence across Australia (see map for Arachnorchis distribution) is the pairing of the green comb spider orchids of the A dilatata complex with the white spider orchid of the A patersonii complex as seen in this picture. A brumalis belongs to the A patersonii complex and A conferta to the green comb orchid.
Hybrids will be variable but obviously they will have characteristics of both parents. By looking at the two parents it can be seen that this picture of Pauline’s contains features of both. From the A conferta parent, the inherited features are the wide labellum of the green comb, thickened calli and the red on the segments whilst the long thin segments, glandular tips (osmophores) long and thin, not clubbed are from the A conferta.
I would like to thank Bob Bates for his helpful comments with writing this article and also Colin for his helpful website www.RetiredAussie.com with its many images of both A conferta and A brumalis which enabled me to view both species at the same time making it much easier to see the characteristics of both parents within the hybrid
Reference for the map.
Australian Orchid Genera: an information and identification system
Electronic series: ABRS Identification Series
Publishers: Australian Biological Resources Study/CSIRO Publishing
Authors: D.L.Jones, T.Hopley, S.M.Duffy, K.J.Richards, M.A.Clements, X.Zhang
ISBN-10: 0 643 09336 2
ISBN-13: 978 0 643 09336 2
Although originally from the disk quoted above, the map was accessed from this site
The winner for Part two of November’s competition, Paracaleana minor (Little Duck Orchid) was David Manglesdorf.
In South Australia, though much smaller than its big brother – Caleana major, it still suffers from similar problems ie lack of pollinator, vulnerable status, extremely limited distribution within the Southern Lofty region. The Little Duck is widespread in the east extending from Queensland down around into the South East, as well as across to Tasmania, plus one other distant location.
One of the differences between the two species is that the minor is able to set seeds without insect pollination occurring. Could this possibly help provide an explanation for its other location?
There is one colony near the very popular tourist resort of Rotorua, New Zealand where it is called Sullivania minor, (Paracaleana minor is recognised as a synonym). According to Graeme Jane it has been there ‘over a very long period’. The speculation is that it ‘could have arrived during one of those periodic severe bushfire seasons in eastern Australia when
smoke, ash and apparently orchid seed and insects are carried high into the atmosphere and brought eastwards in the jet stream in a few hours. More likely though (since it has occurred nowhere else), it arrived in soil on the shoes of a visitor to the thermal wonderland.’
Just some food for thought as to how plants may spread around the world – but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that it is also another one that cannot be cultivated and needs to protected where it naturally grows if we are to continue to enjoy this species.
Department Of Environment And Heritage. 2008.
Paracaleana minor: Small Duck-orchid. Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges South Australia: Threatened Species Profile, May 2008.
Jane, G. 2006. Caladenia alata at Rainbow Mountain -Dispelling a Myth. [online] Available at: http://www.nativeorchids.co.nz/Journals/98/page17.htm [Accessed: 7 Feb 2014].