Orchid Basics – Labellums and Columns

Orchids are unique in the floral world. Two distinctive characteristics that set orchids apart from other plants are the labellum and the column.

The labellum is a modified petal.  It is extremely varied in appearance; “often lobed, spurred, adorned with glands, appendages of calli (callus, a hardened swelling or thickening of the skin), sometimes mobile and highly irritable and often brightly coloured”. * The labellum is important for pollination.

The column (as described by Bates and Weber) “is a distinctive feature of all orchids and a unique structure in the plant kingdom. It is formed by fusion of the male parts ‘stamens’ and female organ ‘pistil’.”*

Below are examples of the various types of labellums and columns in some South Australian terrestrial orchids. Each genus has its own characteristic labellum and column.

Sun Orchid
Thelymitra – though the labellum is almost indistinguishable from the other petals and sepals, the column is quite complex.
Hyacinth Orchid
Dipodium or Hyacinth Orchid
Greenhood
Pterostylis or Greenhoods – generally a simple labellum with the column hidden well back into the hood.
Spider Orchid
Arachnorchis (syn Caladenia) can have quite varied and complex, mobile labellums
Helmet Orchid
Corybas or Helmet Orchid – the labellum dominates and the column is hidden deep inside the flower.
Donkey Orchid
Diuris or Donkey Orchid – the labellum is divided giving the appearance of more than one structure.

*Bates and Weber Orchids of South Australia 1990

 

Advertisements

Banded Greenhoods Bundled Together

Here in South Australia we often have only one or two species of a complex or a genus but this is not necessarily the case in the rest of the country. One such instance is Urochilus sanguineus (syn Pterostylis sanguinea) or Maroon Banded Greenhood. It is possible that we may have a subspecies or possibly the Mallee form but nothing like the occurrence of  this species in Western Australia where it is but one of many in a complex of several – the Pterostylis vittata complex or Banded Greenhoods*.

Below, with permission, is Andrew Brown’s post on Facebook with notes and images about the complex as it is understood in Western Australia.

The Banded Greenhood complex in Western Australia

Members of this complex grow 150 to 450 mm high and have up to 20 green, brown or reddish-brown white banded flowers characterised by their, short, broad lateral sepals which are joined at the base and a small, insect-like labellum which flicks up when touched. In all species, flowering plants lack a basal rosette of leaves while non-flowering plants have a flattened, ground hugging, rosette of leaves.

Banded greenhoods are found over a wide geographic range between Binnu north of Geraldton and Eyre on the Great Australia Bight, growing in shrublands, woodlands, forests and shallow soil pockets on granite outcrops.

There are ten Western Australian species in this complex, seven of which are formally named. However, as two were named as species of Urochilus, a genus not recognised in Western Australia, only five of these names are currently recognised here. In Western Australia, all members of the complex are considered to be in the genus Pterostylis.

All are winter flowering.

Pterostylis concava

Pterostylis concava AB

Distinguished from other members of the complex by its prominently cupped lateral sepals and the upturned projection near the base of the labellum. Found between Bindoon and Mt Barker.

**********

Pterostylis crebriflora

Pterostylis crebriflora AB.jpg

Distinguished from the similar Pterostylis sanguinea by its often shorter stature and slightly larger flowers which are crowded in a dense spike near the top of the stem. Found on the Darling Scarp near Perth.

**********

Pterostylis sanguinea

Pterostylis sanguinea AB.jpg

A very common species that is also found in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. It was named from specimens collected in South Australia. The species is similar to Pterostylis crebriflora but is usually taller with smaller, more widely spaced flowers. Flower colour is variable and it is not uncommon to find brown and green flowered forms growing alongside one another. Found over a wide area between Mullewa and Eyre on the Great Australian Bight.

**********

Pterostylis sanguinea (Mallee form)

Pterostylis sanguinea mallee form AB.jpg

An unnamed member of the complex distinguished from Pterostylis sanguinea by its short stature and few flowered inflorescence. Found over a wide range from the Stirling Range to the north of Esperance.

**********

Pterostylis sp. Coastal

Pterostylis sp coastal AB.jpg

Some consider this to be a form of Pterostylis sp. small bands but it is usually taller with more widely spaced flowers. The sepals are also narrower and often slightly cupped. Found mostly in near coastal areas between Dongara and Bunbury. Similar looking plants have also been found further inland between Brookton and Mt Barker.

**********

Pterostylis sanguinea (green flowered form)

Pterostylis sanguinea green flowered form AB.jpg

**********

Pterostylis sargentii

Pterostylis sargentii AB

A common, widespread species, distinguished from other members of the complex by its smaller flowers and fleshy, tri-lobed, frog-like labellum. Found over a huge geographic range between Northampton and Mt Ney, north of Esperance.

**********

Pterostylis sp. Crowded

Pterostylis sp crowded AB

 

A widespread species named Urochilus atrosanguineus in June 2017. Distinguished from the similar Pterostylis sanguinea by its more robust habit and larger dark reddish-brown flowers. It is also similar to Pterostylis crebriflora but generally flowers earlier and has more widely spaced flowers in a longer spike. Found between Wongan Hills and Katanning with rare, scattered populations on the Swan Coastal Plain.

**********

Pterostylis sp. Eyre

Pterostylis sp Eyre AB

A distinctive member of the complex distinguished from others by its pale coloured flowers. Like Pterostylis sanguinea (mallee form) it has a short stature and few flowered inflorescence. Found along the coast between Toolinna Cove and Eyre on the on the Great Australian Bight.

**********

Pterostylis sp. small bands

Pterostylis sp small bands AB

A northern species named Urochilus orbiculatus in June 2017. It is regarded by some researchers to be a form of Pterostylis sp. coastal but is usually shorter with a more densely crowded spike of flowers. Its sepals are also broader, more rounded and flattened rather than slightly cupped. Found north of Perth between Cataby and Binnu.

**********

Pterostylis vittata

Pterostylis vittata AB.jpg

A widespread species distinguished from other members of the complex by its less fleshy, paler coloured, predominantly green flowers and narrower, elongated, slightly cupped sepals. The flowers also have a more translucent appearance. The typical form is found between Bindoon and Balladonia. There is a northern form with a shorter spike of often fawn coloured flowers found between Cataby and Binnu.

**********

It should be noted that in South Australia and Victoria U. sanguineus was originally called P. vittata but that species is now recognised as being endemic to Western Australia.

*As an aside, the common name Banded Greenhoods is used in South Australia for the subgenus Bunochilus (previously Pterostylis longifolia which is now considered endemic to New South Wales).

 

WHAT ORCHID IS THIS? HOW PHOTOS CAN HELP! – Part One of Two Parts

The following article is from the April 2016 Journal of the Native Orchid Society of South Australia.  The article is complete in itself but Part Two of this post will illustrate how images can help with images of Crytostylis robusta and C. reniformis.

Orchids are beautiful plants and many of us like to capture that beauty on photographs. And there are many beautiful pictures around.

Many times NOSSA, the Herbarium and other specialist groups receive images requesting identification but the vital information is missing.

When photographing for identification, it is necessary to take more than one image, particularly if you are unable to easily return to the site for more images. When in doubt, take several shots from many different angles highlighting different features of the plant and its habitat.

Another very important point to remember is, when there are several of the same plant, to photograph the orchid that is most representative of the group, not the atypical or unusual plant.

General Guide

As a general guide, it is helpful to take a picture of each of the following

  • whole plant
  • individual flower – both from the front and the side, occasionally the back.
  • flower head
  • leaf or leaves
  • habitat

Other helpful things to consider photographing are:

  • capsules of the finished flower – sometimes it can yield useful information.
  • for some genera, the stem can also be a helpful feature as between some species there can be a difference in the hairiness of the stem.
  • It is also worth including in a photograph an indication of whether the plants are growing in colonies with others or as scattered individual plants.

Importance of Size

It is also good to give an idea of size, this can be as simple as using a thumb or hand, a coin (show the reverse not the head) or any item that had an easily recognized size. It is important to have the object next to the feature being photographed. For example, a coin on the ground next to a leaf or a hand immediately behind the flower gives a clear indication of size. Remember to take another photo without the hand or coin.

Some Specific Identifying Features

Some species are distinctive and easily recognised, eg the Flying Duck Orchid, but others are not and it is helpful to know what part of the plant to photograph as different genera will have different identifying features.

  • Spider orchids – the tips of the segments (petals and sepals) and details of the labellum are important
  • Sun orchids – the column in the middle, the ovary at the base of the flower, and the number of bracts (leaf-like growth) on the stems
  • Pink fingers – the length of the leaf in comparison with the length of the flower stalk; also the back of the flower is helpful
  • Gnat orchid – the leaf is the best identifying feature, but also the bud can be helpful
  • Hyacinth orchid (of the Adelaide Hills) – labellum
  • Mosquito, Mayfly and Helmet orchids when not in flower – both sides of the leaf
  • Gastrodia – the flower spike
  • Rufoushoods – side view of the flower and close up of the labellum as the hairs on or surrounding the labellum are important features.
  • Leek Orchids – the labellum is very important, as well as part if not all of the flower spike as the distance between the individual flowers aids identification
  • Greenhoods – if present, the non-flowering rosette of leaves

The Australian Virtual Herbarium has some good tips for photographing flower. Click here to visit the site

 

Spider Orchid
Spider Orchid Photo: Robert Lawrence

This image lacks the ends of the segments to determine the identification.  The presence or absence of  clubs on the ends of the segments (petals and sepals) can often be the distinguishing feature with many of the Arachnorchis (Spider Orchids).

Atypical Cyrtostylis leaves

These leaves are an unusual shape and by themselves are not suitable for identification

When do I stop watering my Greenhoods?

This was the question posed to Les Nesbitt at the September monthly meeting.  Later there was some further discussion, of which see below:

When do I stop watering my Greenhoods?

The short answer is when the leaves go yellow and start to die off, usually in October- November. Allow the pot to dry out completely to dry up the roots and old tubers so that they do not go mouldy and rot the new tubers.

Australian terrestrial orchids form tubers underground. The mature plant dies back at the end of the growing season and enters a period of dormancy which for South Australian terrestrials is over summer.

A general principle of watering is to match the watering to the rainfall pattern. Whilst there is minimal rain over summer, when dormant tubers are in pots it is important to not let them stay dry for months and become desiccated. A light sprinkling every week or two is sufficient.

Unicode
Pterostylis ‘Nodding Grace’ This is an hybrid between P. nutans and P. curta. Obviously it is not time to stop watering.

When do I start watering again? 

For the cauline group (Diplodiums) from South-eastern Australia start watering at the end of January as the tubers are starting to shoot by then. For other greenhoods start light watering in late February and gradually increase the water until shoots appear usually in March-April. Do not let the pots dry out once leaves are visible.

Diplodium robustum - one of the cauline greenhoods
Diplodium robustum – one of the cauline greenhoods. Note difference the between the leaves of the non-flowering rosettes and the flowering plants.

Other cultivated Australian terrestrial orchids require a similar watering regime although leaves of some appear later in May or June.

Moving Labellums

The following article titled Moving Lablellums written by Helen Lawrence is reproduced from the NOSSA Journal Volume 36 (1) February 2012

Labellums are fascinating. Well I think they are fascinating, especially the ones that move.

Bunochilus viriosus labellum down
Bunochilus viriosus with the labellum down

Why do these labellum move? You may have observed that the orchids which have labellums often have “hoods” and inside these “hoods” are the pollen. It is quite simple, the pollinator lands on the labellum, triggers it and is held captive by the labellum. As it struggles to free itself it pollinates the orchid. Clever, isn’t it?

Bunochilus viriosus labellum up
Bunochilus viriosus with the labellum up

So that these labellums can capture the insect they need to be sensitive. Consequently they can easily be “set off.” This can happen with of a gust of wind, or if the plant is in a pot, the labellum may trigger if the plant is moved/knocked.

It is easy to see these labellums as they move up into their “triggered position.” They move reasonably quickly, so the insect does not have time to respond.

However, how does the labellum return to its “normal” position? Does it slowly return to the position, or does it happen in a sudden movement in the same manner as when it is triggered?

One day when I was travelling in the car with a Pterostylis curta (Blunt Greenhood), I observed something very interesting. When I looked at the flower, the labellum was up, but then when I looked at it a minute or two later, the labellum was down. The labellum had to move quickly. However was it the bumps in the road which caused it to move? I had to find out.

I devised an experiment to satisfy my curiosity, and find out what these fascinating labellums actually do.

First I had to find an orchid with a labellum that could be triggered. I ended up using an Oligochaetochhilus bisetus (Two-bristle Greenhood).

Oligochaetochilus arenicola
Oligochaetochilus arenicola

Second I had found a good camera that could take high definition video. I placed it on a “tripod” (a pile of books).

So I had set up my apparatus, set the camera rolling, triggered the labellum, and left the room.

So what happened?

For the first six minutes after I had triggered the flowers nothing happened. There was no movement that I could see.

In the next five minutes, the labellums of the two flowers slowly moved downwards until they were half way down.

After twelve minutes of the flower being triggered, the labellum returned rapidly to its original position. This final stage of the labellum moving lasted for less than five seconds, and appeared to move at the same speed as when it was triggered.

So it looks like the labellum returns to it normal position first moving slowly and then in a rapid final movement which returns the labellum to its original position.

Urochilus sanguineus
Urochilus sanguineus

If I thought it would be that simple, I was mistaken.

As I briefly looked through the fifty minute video I took, I came upon something that made no sense to me.

A minute after the labellum had returned to its resting position, one of the labellums suddenly returned to its “triggered” position. What’s more, there was nothing in the room to trigger the labellum: no wind, no insects, and no people. So what triggered the flower?

I do not know. Six minutes after the labellum was triggered it returned to its original position, and then two minutes later the other flower’s labellum moved into the triggered position. The first flower was triggered again for no apparent reason at all, four minutes after the second flower was triggered and still remained up.

Once the labellums returned to their original position, there was no more movement.

Maybe triggering the labellum causes a chain reaction. Maybe the labellums periodically “trigger themselves.” Well, I can’t give you any answers, all I can tell you is that it looks like this is an example of how we barely know anything about these wild gems. They are beautiful but bizarre and of course fascinating!

After 7 minutes, just before the labellum moved
After 7 minutes, just before the labellum moved
After 12 minutes, labellum about to fall
After 12 minutes, labellum about to fall
After 13 minutes, labellum in original position
After 13 minutes, labellum in original position

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a 50 minute video is a bit long to watch, Helen has produced a four minute video, so watch and enjoy the music!

The Great Orchid Pretender

Actually there is more than one.

Frequently NOSSA receives a request to identify an orchid in someone’s garden.  Often, instead of an orchid (but occasionally there are orchids), it is the Ariasrum vulgare (common name Friar’s Cowl Lily or Cobra Lily).

Native to Asia and Europe, notably the Mediterranean and introduced to Australia, it is often mistaken for one of the flowers of the Pterostylis (Greenhood Orchids) or Diplodium (Shell Orchids).  Some have called it a Blackhood orchid others Snake Orchid.  It’s resemblance to the Greenhoods and Shell Orchids is superficial as they have none of the orchid features.  The dark purple hooded part is not the flower; it is a spathe (bract).  The flowers are minute hidden on deep down on the “tongue”.

The hood of the orchids is the combination of a deeply concave dorsal sepal interlocking with the lateral petals; and the fusing of the two lateral sepals.  Tucked away within the hood is the labellum (a modified petal) and the column (the reproductive organs of the flower).  The leaves of Ariasrum are quite large and distinctly different from any of the Greenhood orchids.

Friar's Cowl Lily 93RL
Arisarum vulgare amidst its large leaves
Pterostylis pedunculata 92RL
Pterostylis pedunculata (Maroonhood Orchid)
Diplodium robustum 92RL
Back view of a Diplodium robustum showing the dorsal sepal and two lateral petals that make up the hood of the flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diplodium robustum labellum and column 96HL
Looking into the Diplodium robustum – the labellum is the brown tip just visible at the front of the flower and the column is the brown white and yellow structure at the back
Pterostylis curta Labellum and column 92RL
Peering into the hood of a Pterostylis curta, the labellum is toward the front and the white and yellow structure to the back is the column
Friar's Cowl Lily open bract 93RL
The bract of the Arisarum vulgare has been split open to reveal the knobs which are the flowers. The flowers are so small a hand lens or microscope is needed to see them.