Where Have All the Growers Gone?


The following article is the longer version of the summary that will appear in the September 2021 NOSSA Journal. John Eaton, the NOSSA Speaker Co-ordinaor, has written passionately on his summary of Les Nesbitt’s talk given at the August General meeting. He completes his summary with an echo of Les’ appeal for the next generation of orchid growers whose expertise is so necessary for the continuting conservation of our unique orchids.


In one of NOSSA’s most significant and challenging meetings for many years, members were treated to a talk by our Patron, Les Nesbitt – whimsically titled – “Where have all the Growers Gone?” – after the 1955 Pete Seeger song-lament. Les integrated our NOSSA history into his talk.

Les was a founding member of NOSSA which was formed on 22nd March, 1977 – 44 years ago, with 44 very keen members. NOSSA membership had grown to 100 members by the year’s end.

The fledgling Native Orchid Society of SA first met at “Goody Tech” alias Goodwood Boys Technical High School. From then on – it was “All Go!” in those early years.

NOSSA’s second meeting soon saw the formation of the Seed Bank where new members were given Ptst. curta tubers from Roy Hargreave’s wash trough.

Our first three orchid displays – between 1978-1980 – were held in conjunction with the South Coast Orchid Club at Marion. The first (judged) NOSSA Show was held in 1981 – in the Supper Room at the September monthly meeting. By the following year (1982) it had expanded into the first NOSSA Public Show –held at The Orphanage, Goodwood.

The aims of the Public Show were four-fold

  • To educate the public
  • To raise Society funds
  • To exhibit members plants
  • To obtain new members

Over one thousand people attended this first public show! – almost ten times the number we would expect nowadays.

In 1983, these NOSSA Public Orchid Shows moved to The St Peters Town Hall where they remained for many years until the venue became too expensive.

Native Orchid “Rescue Digs” to preserve native orchid species threatened by development, occurred throughout the 80’s & 90’s. Les regarded these as the “golden years” for Native Orchid growers which continued until 1996 – the year that NOSSA sponsored the Australian Native Orchid Society (ANOS) Conference at Flinders University.

Thereafter the Shows were transferred to St Bernadette’s where they remained until 2019. Les then presented some pictures of these Native Orchid exhibits and pots from previous years and from the SAROC Fairs of 2017-2019 and 2021.

Les outlined NOSSA’s many efforts to create a new cohort of growers amongst members. Early members were growers, exhibitors, bushwalkers & photographers. However our current membership seems less interested in growing and exhibiting, preferring to focus instead on recording native orchids in the field – during bushwalking.

Les stressed the importance of growing in the preservation of indigenous native orchid species, especially as we face climate change. He then threw members a challenge, stressing the importance of growing native orchids to ensure their preservation in the hard years ahead – for all things green!

To support would-be growers, he referred members to some valuable references – such as NOSSA’s Green 1985 handbook: “Native Orchids of South Australia” – an invaluable guide to members interested in growing Native Orchids. There are also numerous articles on orchid culture in the early NOSSA Journals.

Lamentably, the emphasis nowadays is more on photographing and recording terrestrial native orchids in the field.

Les also mentioned the Tuber Bank, successfully run by Jane Higgs until severe frosts killed her orchids. Sadly, there are no members prepared to organise it now.

Les also mentioned other significant initiatives such as the New Members’ Group that met before General meetings, the 2016 “Flagship Orchids” 1-day orchid workshop initiative of the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators – in creating orchid-enhanced habitats.

Les also mentioned the $2.00 seedling plant-growing competitions with annual recalls until the first plant flowerings and the 2016 and 2017 Seed kits for the culture of – (mycorrhizal) fungus-dependent terrestrial orchids. These included detailed growing instructions –still available to those willing to “give growing a go!”

Notwithstanding the Covid-19 challenges, there were the most recent propagation initiatives of 2020-2021.

In a recent talk, Robert Lawrence has described the importance of indigenous native orchids as an indicator species of a healthy bushland. If we don’t respond to the challenges Les has thrown out to our membership – it may be a matter of “Where have all the orchids gone – long time passing”! There won’t be any orchids left for us to photograph. So it’s really up to us!

Who’s prepared to step up to the challenge?

I’m rapidly approaching 80! It’s too late for me to build space-demanding infrastructure such as a temperature-regulated shade-house/green-house and benching tables. But I do want to “step up to the plate” as a native orchid mini grower! I believe that the years ahead will be challenging ones for anything green, including me! Les reminded us that our common terrestrial are most at threat as the seedbanks of researchers tend to focus on the rare and endangered terrestrials.

Les’s talk has challenged me to establish a local (indigenous) terrestrial orchid presence in my native garden – where I’ve already got a burgeoning population of Microtis – dumped accidently in one of the loads of woodchips that replaced my lawn – 30 years ago. I’m hoping this indicates the presence of sufficient mycorrhizae to help me to establish some of the common greenhoods that Les said were most at threat from climate change. And hopefully, they will keep the microtis company! Dr Teresa Lebel, a speaker I’ve scheduled for March 22nd, 2022 is a fungi expert.

I hope Les’s talk – or if you missed it – this inadequate account of it – will challenge you, also – to become a mini-grower. As Henry Schoenheimer once said of our finite, depleting – and depleted – planet – in his book of the same name – “Small is Beautiful”!

John Eaton, NOSSA Speaker Coordinator, 28/08/2021

Monthly Terrestrial Orchid Culture – April

The following article by Les Nesbitt is taken from the Native Orchid Society of South Australia Journal, April 2019, Volume 43 No 3

Terrestrial Culture – April
Les Nesbitt

The days and nights are cooling down, evaporation rates are dropping and pots take longer to dry out so decrease the watering. If in doubt wait another day before watering. Regular rain usually begins around Anzac Day. There is nothing like a good rain to make terrestrial leaves pop up almost overnight. A few early flowers are out this month – Eriochilus species and possibly Pterostylis truncata. Keep up the pest control and pull out weeds while they are still small.

Sow seed on pots around mother plants of fungus dependent orchids this month. Mix seed & fine sand together to avoid wasting precious seed. A pepper shaker helps spread the seed evenly. Water gently to wash the seed into the mulch.

April is a good month to deflask terrestrials. Seedlings need to establish & harden up before winter so get deflasking completed by the end of April. Check out flask suppliers for that special species. The next deflasking opportunity is early spring.

Deflasking Terrestrial orchids

Prepare a suitable soil mix for the orchid to be deflasked along with labels & sheoak topping. Use the same mix as for adult plants.

Select a flask with strongly growing seedlings, preferably with small tubers but plants without tubers are OK. Remove the flask lid and tip the mass of plants and agar into a fine sieve. If you are nervous remove clumps of plants from the flask with tongs. Try to minimize breakages. The junction of leaf & tuber is very weak. Over a sink or lawn, use a jet of water to wash away the agar leaving clean seedlings behind.

Fill a pot with mix to within 2 cm of the rim and tamp down. Select small clumps of seedlings and stand them around the edge of the pot. Insert a label with the appropriate info as this pot will not be repotted for 2 years. Pour a handful of mix into the centre of the pot and gently squeeze mix out around the seedlings just covering the bases but not burying the leaves. Add more mix if necessary. Tamp down the mix in the centre of the pot. Add a layer of chopped sheoak needles. Water gently to settle the mix around the seedlings.

The pot can go into the shadehouse with other terrestrial pots although it helps to keep all the seedling pots together in a sunny place with good air movement. Ensure the pot does not dry out. If kept too wet the seedlings may rot. If the seedlings establish and grow strongly they can remain in the shadehouse over winter. At any sign of rot move the pots out of the rain under cover and water by standing the pot in a saucer of water.

Next dormant season as soon as the leaves have died down, add more mix to completely fill the pot. This helps to protect the tiny seedling tubers from drying up in the heat of summer. After the second growing season the tubers should all be large enough to find easily at repotting time.

CULTURE OF FAST MULTIPLYING (FM) TERRESTRIAL ORCHIDS

Recently, NOSSA updated the Terrestrial Culture Fact Sheet.  Instead of one sheet, it was decided to split it into three – Culture of Fast Multiplying Terrestrials, Culture of Slow Multiplying Terrestrials and Culture of Fungi Dependent Terrestrials.  Though much of the growing information is similar, there are some significant differences of which growers need to be aware.  The first of the fact sheets is Culture of Fast Multiplying Terrestrials.

FLAGBEARER SPECIES: Pterostylis curta

Pterostylis curta Labellum and column 92RL
Pterostylis curta (Blunt Greenhood) is rated rare in South Australia.  Ex situ conservation is another dimension to conservation.

Others include Chilogolottis, Corybas, Cyrtostylis, Diplodium, Microtis most Pterostylis and some Diuris. Most FMs are Autumn or Winter flowering. The exceptions are Diuris and Microtis. FM are the most common terrestrial orchids to be seen at meetings and shows. Once seedlings are established they are no longer fungi dependent.

GROWTH HABIT: FMs are the easiest terrestrial’s orchids to grow. They multiply by forming 2 – 5 tubers per plant each year. The annual growth cycle comprises 6 – 8 months as growing plants under cool (5 – 20⁰ C max, 0 – 14⁰ C min) moist conditions and 4 – 6 months as dormant tubers in hot (18 – 42⁰ C max, 12 – 30⁰ C min) dry conditions.  New tubers are produced in winter/spring. FMs are colony types, ie they multiply annually and will spread out over time if planted in the ground. Each tuber sends up a shoot to the surface in autumn and leaves grow rapidly in late autumn/early winter as temperatures fall and the rains set in. FMs mainly flower in Autumn and Winter. Diplodium & Pterostylis leaves are usually the first to appear in March followed by Diuris and Microtis in April, and Corybas in June to July. In October/November the leaves go yellow, then brown and dry as the days get longer, hotter and drier in late spring.

LIGHT/SHADE: In Adelaide, they thrive in a shadehouse of 50% shadecloth. Some species prefer heavy shade, others full sunlight but most will adapt to a wide range of light intensity. Sun loving species (Diuris & Microtis) prefer a brighter location for good growth. Corybas like the shadiest corner.  If the leaves and stems are weak and limp or if the leaf rosettes are drawn up to the light, then the shading is too dense and amount of light should be increased.

In very cold areas an unheated glasshouse may be required for frost protection although light frosts do not worry the majority of species.

AIR MOVEMENT/HUMIDITY: All species like good air movement and will not thrive in a stuffy humid atmosphere especially if temperatures are high.

WATERING: The soil should be kept moist at all times during active growth by watering gently if there is no rain.  Hand watering is especially necessary in spring as soil in pots dries out more rapidly than in the garden. Watering must be done slowly so that the matt of needles on the surface of the pot is not disturbed. Slugs and snails love these plants and must be kept under control. Raising the pots off the ground on galvanised steel benching is very effective in controlling these pests.

After the leaves have turned yellow, let the pot dry out completely to dry up the old roots and tubers otherwise they may turn into a soggy mouldy mess and rot may destroy the adjacent new tubers.

REPOTTING: They grow better if repotted annually otherwise the plants crowd together around the rim of the pot.  Repotting is normally done between November and January. The pots can be knocked out and the tubers examined without harm.  For best results repot the tubers in half fresh soil mix. A suitable soil mix is 40% loam, 50% sand and 10% organic matter with a little blood and bone fertilizer added. (They will also grow in native potting mix.) A 5 mm sieve is a useful tool for separating tubers from soil. Replant the dormant tubers with the tops 20 mm deep. Cover the soil surface with a mulch of chopped sheoak needles (20 – 50 mm lengths). This prevents soil erosion and assists with aeration under the leaves.

SUMMER CARE: Keep the pots shaded and allow the pots to dry out between light waterings until mid-February when they should be set out in their growing positions and watered a little more often. The tubers of some species will rot if kept wet during the dormant period, others will produce plants prematurely which are then attacked by pests such as thrip and red spider mite and fungal diseases in the warm weather.

FERTILIZING: FMs are very hardy and will benefit from weak applications of folia feed in the early growth stages.

OTHER CULTURE NOTES:

NB: IT IS ILLEGAL TO TAKE PLANTS (WHOLE PLANT, FLOWERS, SEEDS AND TUBERS) FROM THE WILD