Sadly many of our orchids are under threat of extinction.
Fortunately, conservationists and researchers are putting in a lot of effort in an attempt to save them. Part of this work consists of caging and tagging individual plants.
Most people do the right thing and do not disturb the cages/tags. Unfortunately some, hopefully mainly through lack of knowledge, do move them. Sadly, too many of them are being moved. Sometimes they are re-positioned but not always.
There are a good reasons for the individual plants to be tagged/caged. And there are good reasons for not moving either the tags or the cages.
Tags are usually numbered. These numbered tags are reference locations from which the distance and bearing of plants are measured. If the pin is moved the record for that individual plant is invalidated. Position of pins are used to determine if plants reappear in succeeding years.
Replacing the pins can also result in inadvertently spearing, and thus destroying, the tubers.
Cages are used to protect individual plants from grazing. Moving cages, even if returned, can result in damage to the plant, as well as damage to any emerging juvenile plants.
NOSSA & Conservation
One of the main activities of NOSSA is conservation. Many of our members assist in the work of monitoring, caging and tagging of plants. They know of the time and effort required for this work. They know why it is important not to move tags or cages, not even for taking photographs.
But we are aware that there are those who do not know and so would ask that others pass this message onto friends who may be unaware of the significance of cages/tags.
So simply put, “Cages & tags are not to be moved under any circumstances”.
July is Helmet Orchid Season; and the theme for the July Picture Competition.
In Australia, the genus Corybas in the broad sense (sensu lato) has four segregate genera; three on the Australian mainland (Corybas, Corysanthes & Anzybas) and one (Nematoceras) on Macquarie Island. All three mainland segregate genera were represented this month. Robert Lawrence’s, Anzybas unguiculatus; Margaret Lee, Corybas aconitiflorus with Jane Higgs, Lorraine Badger and John Fennell all entering Corysanthes diemenica. Lorraine also entered Corysanthes despectans; and John an image of Corysanthes incurva. The clear winner was Jane Higgs’ Corysanthes diemenica (synonym Corybas diemenicus).
The flower of Corybassensu lato is characterised by a large dominant dorsal sepal and an equally dominant labellum. The other features associated with an orchid are not so obvious. The column is short and not visible. Even the ovary is barely visible whilst the other petals and sepals are but short thin filaments near the ovary. The base of the labellum wraps around to form a tube which hides the column; and the upper portion of the labellum folds back on itself and flares out. With this structure, two new features are introduced, the boss in the centre of the labellum and the auricles, two earlike openings formed from folding at the base of the labellum. Two growth features that are different from many other orchids are that the bud and leaf grow concurrently and once pollination has occurred the stem elongates so that the ovary can be raised up to 20 to 30 cms, thus allowing for seed dispersal.
Jane’s picture clearly shows these features as in the labelled image below.
Thank you to Greg Steenbeeke for reviewing this article.
Backhouse, G, et al (2016) Bush Gems: A Guide to the Wild Orchids of Victoria Electronic version
Bates, R. J., ed. (2011). South Australian Native Orchids. Electronic version, 2011. NOSSA
Jones, D. L., A Complete Guide to Native Orchids of Australia Including the Island Territories. Reed New Holland
Jones, D. L.; Hopely, T; Duffy, S. M.; Richards, K. J.; Clements, M. A and Zhang X, Australian Orchid Genera an information and identification system. Electronic version, 2006, CSIRO
Rules of entry:
The subject matter must have something to do with Australian orchids. Any format is acceptable including Photo shopped images, artwork, etc
May’s theme was miniscule, or less than 10mm. Of the eight entries five were Corunastylis, two Spider orchids from Western Australia and one an epiphyte. The flowers of the two spiders, Caladenia pachychila (photographer Rob & Jenny Pauley) and Caladenia bryceana subsp. bryceana (Pauline Myers) were the largest of the group being about 10mm across whilst the Bulbophylum globuliforme (Ros Miller) and C. despectans (Rosalie Lawrence) were the smallest being only 2mm across.
Of the remaining Corunastyllis entries the flower size ranged from 3mm for C. pumila (Rob & Jenny Pauley), 4mm for C. tepperi (Ricky Egel), 7mm for C. ciliata (Rosalie Lawrence) and 8mm for C. morrisii (Rob & Jenny Pauley).
The winning picture C. morrisii (Bearded or Hairy Midge Orchid) is one of the larger midge orchids. Other synonyms are Prasophyllum morrisii and Genoplesium morrisii. This common species is mainly found in Victoria but it does extend into southern New South Wales in the east and in the west just spills 50 km over the border into South Australia where it is rated endangered. It also occurs in the south east of Tasmania.
Flowering Times: Nov – May
With such a wide distribution range, it is not surprising to see quite a variation in flowering time from late spring through to autumn depending upon location.
Previously we have posted about photographing orchids for identification – see here and here. But sometimes all that is desired is a beautiful picture of these exquisite flowers. Recently, March 21, 2017, National Geographic published just such an article titled How to Photograph an Orchid. Author Alexa Keefe relates some tips from German photographer Christian Ziegler. Needless to say half of the images featured are Australian orchids.
Below is a selection of some of the entries to NOSSA’s monthly picture competition.
The first competition for the year followed a wet orchid theme with three of the orchids being South Australian swamp orchids and the fourth from Western Australia; though not a swamp dweller, it grows in shallow moist soil.
The outstanding winner was Claire Chesson’s Cryptostylis subulata, followed by Robert Lawrence’s Spiranthes alticola, Rosalie Lawrence’s Pterostylis falcata and Pauline Meyer’s Thelymitra villosa.
Known to South Australian’s as the Moose Orchid, elsewhere it is either Large Tongue Orchid or Cow Orchid. This tall (40 to 110 cms) evergreen orchid is common in the eastern states where it is commonly found in damp areas as well as swamps. but in South Australia it is limited to swamps and is rated as endangered.
Whilst not an easy orchid to grow it has been cultivated although seed set has not always occurred. Helen Richards, an experienced Victorian terrestrial orchid grower, shared in an email how she grows them.
“Cryptostylis species grow from brittle rhizomes which can be quite long and they resent frequent disturbance. Mine are potted into a pot therefore that is large enough for the long roots and which will accommodate further growth for several years. My mix is ANOS basic mix, the same as I use for Pterostylis and many other genera. They need to be kept moist all year round, especially in summer when they flower and new leaves appear, their active growing period. I grow them in an area of moderate light. Others have seen pollinators active on the flowers but I haven’t. However seed capsules frequently develop without my assistance with a toothpick. Richard Thomson says they haven’t had success germinating the seed.”
This month there were four very different species. Two were from Western Australia, Pauline Meyers’ Caladenia longicauda and Lorraine Badger’s Thelymitra pulcherrima, and the other two from South Australia, Rob Soergel’s Bunochilus viriosa and Robert Lawrence’s Corysanthes diemenicus which was the winning picture.
Corysanthes diemenicus is a very common winter orchid but this one is unique as instead of one flower as is normal there are two! So is it a new species? No, it is a freak; the technical terminology is teratologic.
Of the various plant families, the mint and orchid families (Theissen 2006) are well known for producing teratological plants, that is, plants that are grossly abnormal or deformed. Bates (2011) divides such abnormalities into five categories – peloric, teratological freaks, monstrosities, colour variants and throwbacks. All of them are congenital abnormalities which may be a result of unknown genetic malfunction or viral infection in the early developmental stages of the plant. Based upon this division, Robert’s picture is a monstrosity. This type of double flower is more likely to be found in self-pollinated plants for example Pterostylis foliata often produces more than one flower.
Most freaks are random, they come and go but peloric freaks are interesting. An early meaning of peloria was an irregular feature that becomes regular (Walker 1879) but in the orchids the meaning has been narrowed to refer to an “abnormality of the labellum that is of a similar shape and colour of the petals” (Australian Orchid Genera 2006) or more precisely an abnormality of the inner tepal whorl (the petals) wherein the petals can take on the appearance (in part or full) of the labellum, or the labellum takes on the appearance of the petals. One naturally occurring semi-peloric species is Calochilus imberbis. In recent years, orchid growers have cloned peloric freaks using a technique called mericlone to produce new cultivars eg Rhyncolaelia digbyana var. fimbripetala.
Freaks may be interesting but they are temporary so if you spot something unusual in the field look around at the surrounding orchids. If there is only the one or two individual or one colony, then it’s likely to be an abnormality rather than a new species.
Thank you to Greg Steenbeeke for checking this article.
Bates, R. J., ed. (2011). South Australian Native Orchids. Electronic version, 2011. NOSSA
Jones, D L et al, (2006) Australian Orchid Genera, an information and orchid identification system, interactive CD-ROM
It is always good to see other members submitting images for the competition. This month Rob Soergel entered Urochilus sanguineus growing with Bunochilus viriosus and Ros Miller a Caladenia cairnsiana. Others were Rob and Jenny Pauley’s mass flowering of short Urochilus sanguineus, Pauline Meyers’ Arachnorchis cardiochila hybrid (possibly with A. strigosa) and Lorraine Badger’s Diuris corymbosa.
The winning picture taken by Ros Miller C. cairnsiana (Zebra Orchid) is one of Western Australia’s unique and interesting orchids. It was first collected by Baron Von Mueller (Victorian Government Botanist 1857–1873) from the Stirling Ranges and subsequently named in 1869 after the Rev Adam Cairns a Melbourne Presbyterian minister who promoted “various philanthropic studies”. In the 2000’s various synonyms were applied to the name, most notably Jonesiopsis cairnsiana (2003).
Many of the distinctive features of this species are readily seen in Ros’ picture – the non-clubbed, equidimensional short lateral sepals and petals which are hard pressed up against the ovary; the smooth, upswept labellum. What is not seen is the leaf which is erect large pale green with the bottom third usually irregularly blotched with red-purple.
Flowering from August to November, occasionally in clumps, these orchids are distributed over an extensive geographic area from Lancelin approximately 130 km north east of Perth, to Israelite Bay near Esperance some 775 km south east. They grow in a range of habitats from forests, woodlands, to mallee heathlands.
Interestingly for such a widespread and colourful flower, they are often missed being seen as they are ‘small and hard to see’.
Brown, A., et al,(2013) Field Guide to the Orchids of Western Australia. Perth, WA: Simon Neville Publications
There were four entries this month with two from Western Australia Pauline Meyers’s Caladenia flava and Ros Miller’s Caladenia longicauda sbsp. eminens; one local Greg Sara’s Pheladenia deformis; and one from the Australian Capital Territory, Lorraine Badger’s Cyanicula caerulea. The winner was the Caladenia flava.
If I was to think of an orchid that represents Western Australia it would be hard to choose between the Queen of Sheba and this one.
With its long flowering season (July to December) it is Western Australia’s most common and widespread species; being found in the south west triangle of the state from Kalbarii to Israelite Bay; in habitat as variable as the coastal heathlands through to inland rocky outcrops; from forests to swamp margins. Being so prevalent, it is not surprising that it was amongst one of the first Western Australian orchids collected in September to October, 1791 by the ship-surgeon and naturalist, Archibald Menzies. It was subsequently named in 1810 by Scottish botanist Robert Brown.
C. flava is one of the five species belonging to the subgenus Elevatae. The other four being C. marginata, C. nana, C. reptans (all WA endemics) and C. latifolia which is widespread across southern Australia. All five species have the same characteristic feature of the calli joined together on a raised plate near the base of the labellum. C. flava is distinctively and predominately yellow whereas the others are pink or white.
C. flava has two pollinators, native bees which are lured deceitfully to the non-existent nectar and scarab beetles (Neophyllotocus sp.). As they share the same pollinators, C. flava often hybridizes with C. reptans and C. latifolia, producing very colourful offspring.
Observations have led orchidologists to divide C. flava into 3 subspecies. These differences are based upon floral morphology. but curiously they each have their own separate distribution.
Brown A, et al, 2013 Field Guide to the Orchids of Western Australia
Hopper, SD & Brown, AP 2001b Contributions to Western Australian Orchidology: 2, New taxa and circumscriptions in Caladenia (Spider, Fairy and Dragon Orchids of Western Australia), Nuytsia 14:27–314.
In the past week there has been some Facebook conversation on the identification of some Thelymitra (Sun Orchids) here in South Australia. Sun Orchids can be problematic particularly when there is only one photograph. If the photograph has a clear view of a diagnostic feature, then identification becomes simpler but there are many species for which careful observations are necessary to determine the correct one. This is important when considering some of the complexes, eg T. nuda and T. pauciflora which have several similar species. Colour is not always helpful as there can be either variation in colour or no colour at all. Further complicating identification is that Sun Orchids readily hybridise, far too easily sometimes!
When Robert Lawrence wrote his book, Start With the Leaves, he realised the difficulty in identifying some orchids, so he included a checklist of observations. The checklist is extensive but was developed to be used with the electronic version of South Australia’s Native Orchids by RJ Bates which covered all the known South Australian orchids in 2011.
To assist in orchid identification, take as many photographs as possible, showing different parts of the plant and habitat from as many different angles. But remember, photograph the typical plants.
At the bottom of the post is a picture showing the parts of the flower.
The following extract is from pages 185 – 187
Thelymitra species (Sun Orchids)
Describe the habitat where the plants are found
Is the species confined to swamps or very moist sites?
Was the site burnt in the last year or two? (Find out when if possible)
Are the plants restricted to a particular habitat or is there a range of situations where it grows?
Has it multiplied following disturbance?
Does it prefer wet or dry sites?
What other plants are growing with the orchids, including the trees forming the canopy?
Number of plants
Estimate the number of plants or describe the distribution of the plants at the site
Do plants occur in small clumps?
Do plants occur in colonies and if so how large are they?
Size of the plant
What is the height of the flower stem and width of the flower stem?
What are the length, width and shape of the leaf?
Is the leaf flat, channelled (u-shaped) or tubular in section?
Does the leaf change shape along its length?
Does the leaf have parallel ridges?
Is the leaf thick and fleshy or thin and papery?
What colour is the leaf?
Does the leaf have a reddish base and is the red colouration in parallel lines?
Are there any hairs on the leaf and are they confined to the margins?
Is the leaf rigid and upright or is it weak at the tip and falling under its own weight?
What is the tip of the leaf like and does it have a pointed apex?
Are the leaves shiny or to they have a powdery covering?
What is the diameter of the stem?
What is the colour of the stem?
How high is the fistula, the point the point where the stem separates from the leaf?
(Bracts are leaf-like structures along the flowering stem)
How many bracts are there on the stem (ie those that are not immediately below a flower)?
How long is each of these bracts?
What colour are the bracts?
Are the bracts tightly or loosely wrap around the stem?
(Fertile bracts are leaf-like structures at the base of each flower)
How long are the bracts?
What colour are the bracts?
(The ovary is the structure immediately below the petals and sepals that becomes the seed capsule after the flowers are pollinated)
What colour are the ovaries?
How long are the ovaries?
How wide are the ovaries?
What time of the year are the flowers open
What is the length and width of each flower?
Do the petals and sepals open widely, or does the flower remain almost closed?
What colour are the petals and sepals?
Do the petals have spots or darker coloured veins?
Is the labellum larger or smaller than the other segments (petals and sepals)?
Are segments rounded, pointed or cup shaped?
What colour is the outside of the buds?
What conditions are required for the flowers to open? Are they only open in hot, humid conditions?
What colour is the main part of the column?
Describe the post-anther/mid-column lobe
Is there a tubular structure on the top of the column? What colour is this and does it have a collar of a different colour?
Does the lobe have a cleft in the apex and how deep is this?
Does the column have lateral lobes (arms) reaching in front of the column?
Are there trichomes (hair-like structures) in a mop or toothbrush arrangement?
Is there a sharp bend in the column arms?
If there is not a tubular lobe, are there three levels of structures on the column?
Are there papillae (rows of narrow bumps)? How many and what colour are they?
What colour is the crest, if present?
Describe the fragrance of the flower or whether there is none
Five entries were received, again spanning the country from east to west. John Badger entered a Chiloglottis reflexa recently photographed in Tasmania, Pauline Meyers an unidentified Western Australian Spider orchid, Judy Sara had two entries from the latest field trip, Eriochilus collinus (previously phrase name Adelaide Hills) and Leporella fimbriata and Claire Chesson’s Thelymitra benthamiana.
T. benthamiana, the winning picture, is a beautiful sun orchid that is found across the southern Australia from Western Australia through South Australia to Victoria and Flinders Island. More common in west than elsewhere it is the only one of the seven species in the T. fuscolutea complex to be found in the east.
Since the early days confusion, which persisted into this millennium, has occurred. In 1871 Reichenbach recognised 3 species one of which was T benthamiana but Bentham after whom the orchid was named disagreed and consider it but a synonym of T. fuscolutea. There were many twists and turns in the names but in effect, for over a hundred years, most authors followed Bentham’s taxonomy rather than Reichenbach’s until 1989 when Mark Clements after studying the drawings, literature and orchid type material came to the same conclusion as Reichenbach that T. benthamiana was a distinct species from T. fuscolutea. Since then, authors have followed Reichenbach/Clements taxonomy.
Over the decades, the number of species in this complex varied considerably. By 1938 three separate species were recognised, but between then and 1989 it fluctuated between recognizing one, three and four species and in 1998 the orchidologist were considering a possible seven species. These were all confirmed and named in Jeans’ 2006 paper. Today, according to Orchids of Western Australia there is potentially an eighth member in this group.
Jeanes highlights some of the issues involved in determining which species is which. Some of the issues are lack of accurate/detailed information such as location, type of terrain, habitat, surrounding plants, date of collection, etc. Dried specimens by themselves are inadequate as important features may be lost in the drying process.
This complex is but an example of a widespread problem across many of our Australian orchids indicating not only the need for careful observations in the field but meticulous record keeping that others can access.
Jeans J A, Resolution of the Thelymitra fuscolutea R. Br. (Orchidaceae) complex of southern Australia. Muelleria 24: 3-24 (2006)
Brown A, et al, Field Guide to the Orchids of Western Australia, 2013
Thank you to Juergen Kellermann, (senior botanist for the State Herbarium) for critiquing this article.