Why use a mulch on your potted terrestrial orchids?

Here in South Australia, it is very common to see a covering of She Oak needles (Allocasuarina sp.) on pots of terrestrial orchids.  According to Les Nesbitt, NOSSA founding member and experienced terrestrial orchid grower, there are four reasons for this

  • It keeps the leaves up off the soil.
    • Provides good air circulation
    • Helps prevent leaf rot.
  • It provides nutrients to the fungi
    • This is very important for the fungi dependent orchids.
  • It stops pitting into the soil when it rains.
    • This is most likely to occur when pots are under the drip line of a shade-cloth.
    • Pitting exposes the root system.
  • It allows the leaves to readily come through because of its small diameters.
    • Other mulches, such as gum leaves, smother seedlings.

She Oak needles are the choice of mulch because it is

  • Long lasting and takes more than year to break down
    • which means that it lasts the whole growing season.
  • Does not become mushy or spongy
    • unlike pine needles and grass cuttings which breakdown more quickly into a wet soggy mass and contribute to leaf rot.

It should be noted that it is necessary to replace this mulch yearly.

These two pots were in the same area under the shadecloth.  Notice the damage to the pot without the mulch.
These two pots were in the same area under the shadecloth. Notice the rain damage to the pot without the mulch.

Remembering Bill Murdoch

On the eve of the  100th anniversary of ANZAC Day, this week’s post is taken from the NOSSA Journal April 2015 Vol. 39 No. 3.   The article is by Lorraine Badger.

William Hugh Murdoch, Anzac Veteran
17 September, 1885 – 24 July 1989

William Hugh Murdoch, known as Bill, was born at Poowong in Victoria’s Gippsland*.  Later in life he became an orchid grower, eventually becoming co-founder of the Australian Native Orchid Society (ANOS), after sending out letters in 1962, suggesting the formation of a Society, to fellow Native Orchid Growers.  

However, it is not for that reason alone, that we remember him in this journal.  This month  is the hundred year anniversary of the first battle of our new country, at Gallipoli.  Following several weeks training in Egypt, William landed at ANZAC Cove with the 17th battalion on 16  August**, just four months after the initial landing.   The battalion was mainly responsible for the defence of Quinn’s Post***. 

Conditions on the  Dardanelles peninsular ‘defy description.’  Water was scarce.  Food rations were limited to mainly bully beef and hard tack biscuits.  ‘The terrain and close fighting did not allow for the dead to be buried.  Flies and other vermin flourished in the heat, which caused epidemic sickness’****.  Under these conditions William, amongst dozens of men, contracted Enteric Fever, better known as Typhoid Fever, just three months after his arrival.  He was sent by hospital ship, SS Nevasa (sic), to Alexandria back in Egypt before being sent to the  Australian hospital in Helios on the outskirts of Cairo and then the Enteric Convalescent Camp in Port Said.

On 21 January 1916 he was declared fit to travel and was repatriated to Australia for three months of rehabilitation, leaving Pt Said on the Suez, via the  MAT Commonwealth.  Almost nine months later he returned to join his battalion, first disembarking in England.  Four days before Christmas Day in 1916, he left the UK to join his battalion which had returned to Etaples, France following a spell in a quieter sector of the front in Belgium following the battalion’s first major battle at Pozières between 25 July and 5 August.  In their new location they manned the front through a very bleak winter and William was again needed hospitalisation on several occasions for frostbite, diarrhoea, being wounded in action and finally Trench Fever a few weeks prior to armistice in 1918. He embarked for Australia in March 1916 reaching Australia in May where he was discharged.

Again when WWII commenced William re-joined the Army and was involved in training and later as ‘Voyage Only Officer’.

Bill Murdoch Trophy
Bill is also remembered by ANOS through the Australia wide, Bill Murdoch Trophy for Champion Australian Native Orchid Species of the Year.  It is not often that a South Australian wins this prestigious award but Kris Kopicki has become the latest recipient for his winning entry, Caladenia discoidea, in the NOSSA 2014 Spring Show.

This picture was taken in 2013, in 2014 it was the winner of the Bill Murdoch Trophy
Caladenia discoidea (Bee Orchid or Dancing Orchid).  This picture was taken of the 2014 winning plant in 2013.  Congratulations Kris for growing a winner!

References

*Birthdate gleaned from: http://www.irabutlertrophy.org/WRMurdoch.htm  However, on his enlistment papers of 2 February 1915 it states that he was  aged  19  years  and  4  months  –  which  would  suggest  he was born about October 1895.

**Taken from his  Army records  in the Australian Archives and
online at http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/

***The 17th Battalion https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U51457/

****Gallipoli http://www.1914-1918.net/Gallipoli.htm

Three Key Starting Points for Successfully Growing Australian Orchids

There is a lot of information on growing orchids so much so that it can become overwhelming.  As a novice, I’ve put together my observations which can be summed up in three key points.

One – Find a Mentor

The best and first thing to do is to join a local orchid club, such as the Native Orchid Society of South Australia (NOSSA), and find a mentor within the group.  There are many books but nothing substitutes for that personal interaction with an experienced grower who will know both the plant and the adaptions needed for the local conditions.  At the monthly meetings, NOSSA has a Grower’s forum where various aspects of growing orchids are discussed and questions answered.  It is well worth attending.

Two – Have an Equipment Kit

There are some things that are essential and it is good to have a basic kit to get started.  Later, more equipment can be added as one’s skill develops in growing orchids.  The necessary items would include:

  • Secateurs
  • Labels – these can be proper plant labels from a garden store or wooden lollipop sticks, so long as they are waterproof.
  • Pen – indelible ink pen or pencil (there are pencils that can write on plastic) as it is pointless having a labelled plant with the details washed off.
    • it may be necessary to use both current name and synonyms on the label eg Corybas/Corysanthes
  • Wettable Sulphur – necessary for guarding against diseases and is available from garden centres but Tomato Dust can be a good substitute although it is half the strength.
  • Sterilizing equipment
    • Good nursery hygiene techniques are important
    • Dilute bleach, tri-sodium phosphate (and possibly a small blow torch for metal tools)
    • newspaper
      • a different sheet for each orchid when dividing will help prevent transference of any disease, etc (don’t forget handwashing)
  • For Epiphytes
    • Ties and Stakes
  • For Terrestrials
    • Sieve for recovering tubers
    • Sheoak or pine needles for putting on top of the pots to stop soil and fungi splashing up on the undersize of the leaves
  • Pots – do not need to be fancy but the pot size will depend upon the species
    • Diuris prefer deeper pots; Corysanthes prefer wider, shallower pots whilst Pterostylis doesn’t seem to mind either

Three – Work within the Plant’s Growing Condition

This will require time, research, experiment and going back to the experienced growers.  Each one of us eventually needs to find what is the best setup for our individual location but some general guidelines would be:

  • Start with plants that are suitable for your current climatic conditions.  Obviously putting a tropical Dendrobium bigibbum under the patio in temperate Adelaide is not going to be successful.  For the terrestrials it is better to start with Pterostylis curta or a Microtis than a fungi dependent Arachnorchis tentaculata.
  • Research the plant you want to grow and then create the micro-climate necessary for the flourishing of the plant.  This will entail separating the orchids, don’t put shade lovers such as Corysanthes with those requiring brighter light eg the Thelymitra genus.
Dendrobium speciosum
Potted Epiphyte – Dendrobium speciosum
Thelymitra plants in pots
Potted Terrestrials – Thelymitra (Sun Orchids)

Why can’t I buy that pretty blue orchid? . . . or Purchasing Aussie terrestrial Orchids on the International Market

When noticed, Australian orchids capture people’s imagination and many want to be able to grow them.  As a result we often receive request for where to purchase them, particularly from overseas.  For people overseas we are unable to help them.  Recently I came across some comments from Philip Shin and he has kindly written about his experience with trying to purchase orchids from Australia.  I trust that his experience will help our overseas people understand some of the issues involved.

So let’s hear what he has to say …..

 

It has been brought to my attention that there have been many requests from international buyers who wish to purchase Native Australian Terrestrial Orchids from Australia. To give you all a basic idea of who I am and why I’m writing this brief article, I will tell you a few things about me.

Firstly, I am an orchid hobbyist just like you all. I live in the United States of America. My love for orchids stemmed from repeated failures of growing bromeliads, (which I eventually learned how to grow), after which my parents had suggested I try growing orchids instead, as they might be easier to cultivate. I took them up on it and for the most part, when it came to many of the more commonly available orchid hybrids, they were right. After a few tries, I managed to not only grow some orchids, but I also was able to bloom them as well! From here, my appreciation for the hobby grew to include species orchids. Then I learned about terrestrial orchids and how people were attempting to cultivate them in their gardens/greenhouses, and that lead to me wanting to grow them too.

Some of the terrestrial orchids that caught my eyes were those pretty little blue flowered orchids in the genus Thelymitra. I was always told that there were “no such things as orchids that were true blue”, but seeing photos of them contradicted that notion, and thus I was intrigued. Then, I started hearing about how some people were attempting to grow them. I thought to myself, “I must have some!” And that was when reality hit hard.

You see, I eventually learned that acquiring Thelymitras through legal channels was quite an endeavour here in America. I had to acquire a permit through our APHIS/USDA (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service/ United States Department of Agriculture) to import plants from other countries, (specifically, Australia and Europe in the case of Thelymitras and a few other Native Australian Terrestrial Orchids). Of course, there was also paying for the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) permit and phytosanitary certificate in order to have them make it through our US Customs. The difficult part wasn’t necessarily with the USDA permit, but rather paying for the CITES permit and phytosanitary certificate. When Australia was open for export, the fees for CITES permits and phytosanitary certificates were rather high in price, running at about $250 USD per shipment. But shortly after making two orders to be shipped out from Australia, the exportation laws had changed radically! During this time, CITES and phytosanitary paperwork now cost somewhere in the order of $1,000 USD. It was now clear that Australia was no longer in the business of exporting goods from small companies. Which then brings us to the next option, Europe…

Europe had somehow also managed to get a hold of Native Australian Terrestrial Orchids much earlier than America did, but they were still not very prevalent in the hobby.

It then bears the question, “if Native Australian Terrestrial Orchids are already on the market, why aren’t they more prevalent or more popular?” The answer to this question would be, although people have attempted to grow these orchids, they are not necessarily the easiest orchids to grow long term. Some may be easier than others, but they are still a novelty in the hobby, partially because of this. The difficulty lies in that they are plants that have a tight symbiotic relationship with fungi. I’m not sure whether or not the orchids started to develop smaller and smaller root systems because of the symbiosis, but these orchids do tend to have rather negligible amount of roots. This often makes it difficult to cultivate these orchids, because once the roots get damaged for any reason, they pretty much die. Hence, why these orchids are not more prevalent in numbers despite the demand.

In short, this article is an explanation of the difficulties of obtaining Native Australian Terrestrial Orchids. And this is also some insight on how it is trying to obtain these plants here in America. For anyone coming across this article, I appreciate the time and effort it took for you to read through an American hobbyist’s perspective on Native Australian Terrestrial Orchids. Thank you.

 

Philip Shin

Pots of Thelymitra nuda cultivated by Les Nesbitt
Pots of Thelymitra nuda cultivated by Les Nesbitt in South Australia

Just as a postscript, Philip mentioned that he could grow Diuris or Donkey Orchid “but that it takes quite a bit of trial and error before you can see anything that resembles success.”

 
 
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