Sarcs – Growing without the Nonsense!

The following article is from Volume 42 Number 10 November 2018 Native Orchid of South Australia Journal. Marg Paech, editor, has written an excellent summary based upon Kevin Western’s detailed notes which he has kindly supplied and is available here.

1510 sarcochilus cropped

Kevin Western, this month’s guest speaker didn’t hold back. He exposed some of the myths pedaled by good growers who misinform naive newbies or other growers.
Until about 1960 or thereabouts, the only Sarcochilus orchids that existed were in the bush where they had evolved and grown for all time and the only orchids that existed in people’s collection were bush collected so therefore all were species. No doubt, at times in the bush, there were hybrids made accidentally by pollinators or by other natural chance events. 1968 was the first time we can say for sure that there were hybrid Sarcochilus in existence.

Sarcochilus are native to the east coast of Australian and to Tasmania. There are about 25 species recognized and the number has grown recently with the splitting off of S. minutoflos.

The easiest species to grow for hobbyists generally are Sarcochilus hartmannii and S. fitzgeraldii. From their physical appearance and flowering time, flower shape and nature, it can be seen that they are closely related. Their natural environment can be matched in a pot by using a range of different potting materials (either solely or a mixture of) – suitable size pine bark, Perlite, cut up tree fern fibre, rice hulls and or sphagnum moss. Remember, they will grow on rocks, rubble or on various types of natural and artificial mounts!

03 KK sm Sarcochilus falcatus Mt Banda Banda

Sarcochilus falcatus

Humidity

Sarcochilus grow naturally where they do because of the balance between the suitable amount of reliable moisture in the form of rainfall and or dew; and those unavoidable moisture losses due to sun, heat and wind. We can replicate that by just giving our Sarcochilus regular waterings, and ensuring that our potting medium is coarse enough. An extra layer of shade in really hot summers can help, and by reducing wind movement by the location and provision of shade houses, we can create suitable growing conditions for our orchids. Frequent watering is the trick – retirees by hand watering and workers by sprinklers, misters on timers or thermostats or similar. Air movement is a must but here in sunny Adelaide we get plenty of it and in fact, too much movement has a drying effect.

Potting Mixes

The best mix for Cymbidium (sic)* orchids is a coarse, non-retentive medium – far better because they can be watered frequently – even twice a day or far more, and plants do far better. Even standing the pots in water during summer works wonders! Trial and error is the best way to learn, as experienced by Kevin.

Sarcochilus can be potted into clay balls used by hydroponics growers. Good, clean coarse pine bark also is fine.

1510 sarcochilus x velvet

Watering and Fertiliser

It is generally considered impossible to grow plants on mounts in shade houses etc in suburban Adelaide. Yet another myth! They grow exceptionally well, a fact that Kevin found out thanks to Kris Kopiki. It is more difficult to overwater a plant on a mount.

There are lots of myths about fertilizing. Using far more dilute fertilizer applied to a dryish mix and roots, Kevin has found to be far more effective. His policy is to fertilise weakly and frequently. Despite the hundreds of fertiliser options and brands available – they all are only better or worse
sources of those few essential substances which an orchid requires. The seaweed extract products are probably good as they seem to promote root growth. Keep it simple is the best option.

Summary

Our Sarcochilus have roots designed to grow attached to rocks or branches or twigs and are designed to catch and hold quite small water opportunities and they may benefit from drying out from time to time and for periods of time.

Coarser and less water retentive media are advantageous by enabling the roots to experience some drying as would occur in nature.

We are then able to water and fertilise far more often and our plants will grow better. We need to better understand what our preferred fertiliser’s strengths and weaknesses are so that we can better supply their needs more simply, more effectively and at lower cost.

Regular watering, wind control and shade improvement to avoid drying stress is far more sensible than hoping to reproduce and sustain high humidity.

Thank you Kevin for such a candid, down-to-earth talk full of good advice for growers

*In Kevin’s note he discusses his experience with Cymbidiums but Sarcochilus can also be grown with a similar medium.

sarco nugget gold rush seedling (1)edited

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Growing Sarchochilus hartmanii in Adelaide 1983 and Now

In 1983, Ron Robjohns, NOSSA’s first treasurer, wrote a comprehensive series of articles about growing epiphytes in South Australia. Thirty years on Ron’s information for growing is still helpful and applicable for today. Any updates or extra information are in black text.

NATIVE ORCHID SOCIETY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA JOURNAL
Volume 7, No. 10, November, 1983
GROWING EPIPHYTIC ORCHIDS IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA – R.T. Robjohns
Sarcochilus hartmanii (Hartman’s Sarcochilus)
This has a range from the Hastings River in north-eastern New South Wales to the McPherson Ranges in southern Queensland, although some authorities extend this to the Atherton Tablelands in northern Queensland.
S. hartmanii is lithophytic and is normally found growing on rocks, sometimes forming large masses but usually in small clumps, however, it occasionally grows on trees. It varies in its habitat from bright sunny positions on cliff faces, above 600 metres, to shady seepages. It must be remembered, however, that this is an area of high summer rainfall and in late summer and autumn has considerable cloud cover with accompanying high humidity.

The leaves, 4 to 9 per stem, from 10 to 20cm long, 1 to 2cm across, are thick, fleshy, deeply channelled and slightly twisted at the base.

Racemes are 6 to 25cm long with 5 to 25 flowers usually sparse at first then crowded towards the apex. The flowers are 2 to 3cm in diameter and have petals and sepals of glistening pure white with deep maroon or crimson spots near the base, though sometimes all white.

The flowering period is September to November.

In 1979 a clone of Sarcochilus hartmanii “Kerrie” was awarded AM/AOC. It was a large plant with 16 spikes and approximately 320 flowers measuring 31mm across the petals.

It adapts well to cultivation and is not difficult to grow, doing well in a shadehouse with 60-70% shade and a good air circulation. I have it growing and flowering in a plastic pot in a bark, charcoal* and polystyrene foam mix and would suggest underpotting rather than overpotting. Good drainage is essential. Other growers recommend shallow baskets or rafts about 8 mm of stag-horn fern fibre as this allows the plant to spread more naturally. It likes to be kept moist (not wet), prefers a humid atmosphere and does not object to regular year-round (½ strength) doses of foliar fertiliser.

*Charcoal is not used today.
Sarchochilus hartmanii

Sarchochilus hartmanii

March 2015 Winning Photograph

Three winners; three very different orchids but that is typical of Australian Orchids, there is no one species that you can point to and say that is a typical orchid as illustrated by the the winners which were Sarchochilus falcatus (Kris Kopicki), Diuris palustris (David Mangelsdorf) and Simpliglottis valida synonym Chiloglottis valida (Pauline Meyers).

Sarchochilus falcatus (common name Orange Blossom Orchid) is an epiphyte.  03 KK sm Sarcochilus falcatus Mt Banda BandaThe cultivated plant in this photo originated from the Blue Mountains just north of Macquarie.  Epiphytic/lithophytic orchids are found across northern Western Australia through the Top End and from a narrow band down the east coast to Tasmania; that is in all States except South Australia.  About a quarter of Australian orchids are epiphytes and despite the widespread distribution, 90% of epiphytic orchids are found primarily in the rainforests of northeastern Queensland.

S. valida (common name Large Bird Orchid or Frog Orchid) 03 sm PM Chiloglottis validaand D. palustris (common name Little Donkey Orchid or Cinnamon Donkey Orchid) are terrestrial, the larger of the two orchid groups.03 sm DM Diuris palustris  Terrestrials are mainly found across the southern part of the continent with some occurring in the north and tropics.  Their optimal habitat is the various types of sclerophyll forests found in Australia.

There is some distribution overlap but the two groups mainly occupy different habitats.

Concerning the habitat of the two terrestrials, S. valida ranges from tall moist closed forest to shaded places of drier open forests to sphagnum bogs and in the mature pine plantations of the South East.  Whereas D. palustris occurs in wet and swampy habitats in the Eastern states (hence it is named from the Latin palustre meaning swampy), in South Australia it is not so. Instead it is found in open terrain of grassland, grassy woodland, mallee and shrubland.

Some Odd Facts:

S. valida is a small ground hugging plant the scape (flowering stalk) of which elongates to 10cm or more after pollination.  Click on this video link to see these plants ‘talking’.  In New Zealand it is described as a vagrant having been introduced from Australia.

Sarchochilus falcatus is the most common and widely distributed species of this genus in Australia.  Occassionally it is lithophytic (grows on rocks). Though it had been rated Endangered and downgraded to Vulnerable in 2005, it is still under major threat from illegal collecting, trampling, water pollution, weeds and fire. New Zealand has epiphytes and the common name for them is Perching Orchids.

D. palustris is uncommon in South Australia and Tasmania; and rare in Victoria.  D. palustris was one of the subjects painted by Adelaide colonial artist and cartoonist Margaret Cochrane Scott in 1890s who had an affinity for native orchids.

 

References:

All internet references accessed on 31st March 2015

https://www.anbg.gov.au/cpbr/cd-keys/orchidkey/html/intro-c_habitat.html

http://anpsa.org.au/APOL19/sep00-1.html

http://www.nativeorchids.co.nz/Species/Simpliglottis_valida.html

http://data.rbg.vic.gov.au/vicflora/flora/taxon/4cebc1f9-38da-4c61-9c3c-37c2efc6da32

Mark Clements The Allure of Orchids 2014

http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/44392876/0

Bates 2011 South Australia’s Native Orchids DVD

Australian Orchids & the Doctors they Commemorate Part 13 of 20

Thomas Lane Bancroft (1860 – 1933) son and Joseph Bancroft (1836 -1894)  father

Thomas Lane Bancroft is one of Australia’s greatest doctor-naturalists; he elucidated the life cycle of the lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri

Orchid Species

Sarcochilus dilatatus (= Sacrcochilus bancroftii) Brown Butterfly Orchid

Growing Epiphytes in a Dry Climate

By Kris Kopicki

Adelaide has the reputation of being Australia’s driest city, and with good reason. Despite our record setting weather, it’s not uncommon to see subtropical plants surviving our vicious summers if watering can be maintained. This got me thinking about how much extreme weather our subtropical orchids could survive, provided they were kept reasonably hydrated. That was back in 2008, and at that point, I had no experience growing epiphytes, with my collection comprising solely terrestrial species. Having just moved into a new house, I also had no orchid housing, so my epiphytic experiment was going to need to take place under our easterly facing veranda and surrounding trees. The veranda has a few clear sheets that provide some light throughout the day.

To explore lighting, I used a large piece of weld mesh curved to form a cylinder. A makeshift tree if you will. The idea being that plants favouring higher light can be placed on the north east, and plants favouring shade on the south west. Being quite portable, I could move it around as the seasons change. Species were placed according to my research on their favoured lighting conditions. This seemed like a reasonable starting point.

I chose to grow the majority of my plants on mounts, even though many local growers use pots culture for better water retention. The plan was to eventually construct a shade house for my terrestrial collection, and so any epiphytes were going to need to occupy the only remaining space, the roof and walls. Terrestrial orchids are the top dogs in my collection, so rather than adapting my conditions to suit epiphytes, I was investigating if they could fit in with my plans.

Water was always going to be the big problem with this setup, particularly in summer when the temperatures can be relentless. One of the things that kept coming up in literature was to avoid frequent watering in winter, and particularly to keep plants away from winter rain. I was most puzzled by the last statement, as research on the climate of central and northern NSW revealed that winter rains far exceed an Adelaide winter. Also notable were the temperature averages, which showed that while coastal areas were slightly warmer than Adelaide, temperatures in the hills were often much less. This was great news, as it meant many plants would easily withstand Adelaide winter minimums. I decided the best strategy was to water as frequently as possible, so long as the media was dry between watering. The drying was very important to avoid fungal problems and to avoid saturation of the roots. My watering strategy was going to need to make up for the total absence of humidity during summer, so watering 2-3 times a day would likely be a minimum.

Realising that summer would be the breaking point for my plants, fertilising became a key strategy. The idea being that plants with large healthy root systems could make better use of any available water to get them through our hot days. My search for the best way to fertilise lead me to the decision of feeding a little and often. The reasons cited seemed logical enough. Plants are only able to absorb a small amount of nutrients at a time, so infrequent applications of large amounts of fertiliser would lead to waste, so plants would essentially be starved. I chose to alternate between fertilisers which avoids any nutrient deficiencies that one brand may have over another. Applications were made daily, except one day a week where plain water was used. I used 10% of the recommended dose. The first mix was Manutec Orchid Food, replaced with Manutec Orchid Bloom Booster during spike development. The second mix was a combination of Seasol and Powerfeed. Rainwater was always used to avoid build up of salts, which could potentially be a problem with such a high watering frequency.

The majority of species selected were from central and northern NSW, though species from as far north as Cape York were also trialled. It seemed logical to trial plants that eastern states growers considered easy and progressively move to more difficult species. Some of the species purchased in 2008 include: Sarcochilus x Fitzhart, Sarcochilus falcatus, Sarcochilus olivaceous, Sarcochilus aequalis, Sarcochilus spathulatus and Sarcochilus hirticalcar. These species are quite diverse, some thick and fleshy, others very thin and delicate.

Plants were purchased through winter and spring. Initial results were promising, with good root growth and rapid leaf development once the weather warmed up. A few Sarcochilus falcatus and hirticalcar received sun burn during early spring. While they do like bright conditions, it seems even a mild spring sun can damage them. The plants were then moved to a more sheltered location where only very early morning sun was received. Most of the plants flowered well, with the exception of x fitzhart and hirticalcar, which were too small.

As expected, summer proved to be a challenge. Given that the plants had almost no protection from the record heat of the 2008/2009 summer, they seemed remarkably resilient. Growth came to a standstill, and some root tips burned. During an extended period of temperatures over 40°c, a couple plants of Sarcochilus olivaceous and spathulatus were found desiccated, and some leaf tips burned on Sarcochilus falcatus. I decided that this was probably the limit of what they would handle and brought the plants inside the house during severely hot days.

All things considered, the majority of plants made it through one of our hottest summers with little or no damage. With the onset of cooler weather, leaf growth resumed, albeit a bit slower than during spring. Roots recovered very quickly from the heat damage. With all four seasons now under my belt, my collection of epiphytes rapidly expanded, including species of Bulbophyllum, Dendrobium, Dockrillia, Sarcochilus, Plectorrhiza and Schistotylus.

In August 2009, I purchased a weldmesh shade house from Queensland. It offered a lot of bench space for my terrestrial species, while providing hanging space virtually everywhere. I covered the walls in 50% shade cloth, and 70% shade cloth for the roof. I chose to use white marble chip for the floor. Now at this point you’re probably thinking this sounds quite different to the typical structures used for subtropical orchids in a temperate climate. Typically they are designed with a solid roof or walls, keeping humidity high. The downside to that design is air movement is severely restricted, possibly leading to the well documented fungal problems. In my design, humidity is still quite low during summer, but the shade cloth does restrict airflow, offering some protection from hot drying winds.

The shade house offers better light than the veranda, while providing protection from sunburn. It also has the potential to function as a giant evaporative air conditioner by wetting the walls and floor. Summer soon arrived to test out my new growing conditions. Very minimal damage was incurred. Some placement changes were needed to provide more light for some species, and less for others. Most species incurred some root damage, but they quickly recovered after summer. I used a layer of 50% black shade cloth over the top for protection during summer. Terrestrial pots were no warmer than the ambient air, a good indication that the cover was doing its job.

It turns out there may be good reason why such delicate plants with no obvious water storage mechanism can survive such harsh conditions. It has the unfortunate name of Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM). Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis. To do this, they need energy in the form of light and carbon dioxide from the air. The leaves are covered in tiny pores called stomata that open during the day to acquire carbon dioxide. While the stomata are open, the plant is vulnerable to water loss through the leaves in hot and dry conditions. CAM plants have solved this problem by effectively delaying photosynthesis until night time, when temperatures are more manageable. A number of studies have been done on Australian orchids to show that many species employ CAM photosynthesis. Despite their resilience to day time conditions, CAM plants are still vulnerable to our extreme summer nights, like January 2009’s record minimum of 33.9°c. I’ve found that hosing down the plants and shade house at night helps to prevent or minimise damage.

The vast majority of species I’ve trialled are still alive and well today. Some are species that experienced growers have told me they find difficult to maintain year after year. Here are some of my observations on a range of species I grow.

Sarcochilus spathulatus

Climate Tolerance: Can be vulnerable to extreme heat, but once a good strong root system is established they seem to be quite hardy. They will show heat stress by dropping older leaves. Some root tip damage can occur in extreme heat, but is harmless.

Lighting: A northerly aspect suits them well. Keep them a good metre or more from the shade cloth to avoid sun damage to the leaves.

Watering & Feeding: They relish my feeding and watering scheme, producing roots twice the width of existing roots prior to purchase.

Growing Medium: Cork produces good results. I have also used Melaleuca species for their slightly better water holding properties and rough bark. Some sparse moss around the roots is helpful to protect them while they establish on the mount.

Growth Habit: Slow root and leaf growth over the coldest part of winter. Leaf growth is quite vigorous once temperatures start moving into the 20’s. Growth slows during very hot weather, usually sometime in January. Growth resumes again in autumn, with a burst of new root growth. Spikes appear around April and flowering occurs during September.

Comments: A fantastic miniature species with small sprays of beautifully fragrant flowers. Once established they are easy to care for if watering is kept up over summer.

Sarcochilus hirticalcar

Climate Tolerance: This species does not seem to adapt to our dry climate. I have achieved good results using a cheap mini hot house inside my shade house. I kept the door closed, but not zipped up to allow minimal ventilation. The temperatures get very hot during summer, but they seem fine with it as long as the humidity is maintained. They will show heat stress by dropping older leaves, and will die very quickly. Root damage can occur if the humidity is too low, even in cool weather.

Lighting: A northerly aspect suits them well. Keep them a good metre or more from the shade cloth to avoid sun damage to the leaves.

Watering & Feeding: They relish my feeding and watering scheme, producing good strong roots.

Growing Medium: Cork produces good results. I have also used Melaleuca species for their slightly better water holding properties and rough bark.

Growth Habit: Growth occurs over the whole year due to the warm conditions of the mini hot house. It is slower over winter, but still quite active compared to other species. My plants were too small to flower last year.

Comments: A challenging species to maintain in Adelaide. Once conditions are favourable, growth is vigorous.

Sarcochilus falcatus

Climate Tolerance: One of the most heat tolerant of the small Sarcs. They will show heat stress by dropping older leaves. Some root tip damage can occur in extreme heat, but is harmless.Lighting: I have grown them successfully in a range of lighting conditions, even with a southerly aspect. Even lighting over the course of the day will keep them from moving towards the strongest light. Keep them a good metre or more from the shade cloth to avoid sun damage to the leaves.

Watering & Feeding: They relish my feeding and watering scheme, producing roots twice the width of existing roots prior to purchase.

Growing Medium: Cork and Callistemon produce good results, but Melaleuca species seem to encourage an extensive root system. Some sparse moss around the roots is helpful to protect them while they establish on the mount.

Growth Habit: Slow root and leaf growth over the coldest part of winter. Leaf growth is quite vigorous once temperatures start moving into the 20’s. Growth slows during very hot weather, usually sometime in January. Growth resumes again in autumn, with a burst of new root growth. Spikes appear around February-March and flowering occurs during September.

Comments: My favourite Sarc. species, I can’t seem to stop collecting different forms. One of the hardiest species, they can be grown outdoors if watering is regular over summer. Regular feeding produces a vigorous root system and masses of sweet smelling flowers.

Sarcochilus olivaceous

Climate Tolerance: Can be vulnerable to extreme heat, but once a good strong root system is established and provided with a shady location, they are surprisingly resilient for a rainforest species. They will show heat stress by dropping older leaves. They can be nursed back to health from quite extensive heat damage, even from loss of the growth tip. Some root tip damage usually occurs in hot weather, but is harmless.

Lighting: A southerly aspect suits them well during summer, however brighter conditions may be needed in winter. Keep them a good metre or more from the shade cloth to avoid sun damage to the leaves.

Watering & Feeding: They relish my feeding and watering scheme.

Growing Medium: Cork produces good results. Moss around the roots is helpful to protect them.Growth Habit: Slow root and leaf growth over the coldest part of winter. Leaf growth is quite vigorous once temperatures start moving into the 20’s. Growth slows during very hot weather, usually sometime in January. Growth resumes again in autumn, with a burst of new root growth. Spikes appear around April and flowering occurs during September.

Comments: An interesting little rainforest species that adapts well to our climate with minimal protection. Plants are commonly sold and cheap, definitely worth a go.

Sarcochilus aequalis

Climate Tolerance: Very tolerant of extreme heat, showing almost no damage.

Lighting: A northerly aspect suits them well. Keep them a good metre or more from the shade cloth to avoid sun damage to the leaves.

Watering & Feeding: They relish my feeding and watering scheme, producing healthy roots.

Growing Medium: Cyathea (Tree Fern) mounts give good results. Some moss around the roots is helpful to protect them while they establish on the mount.

Growth Habit: Quite a slow growing species with virtually no leaf growth over the coldest part of winter, and minimal root growth. Leaf growth resumes once temperatures start moving into the 20’s. Growth slows during very hot weather, usually sometime in January. Growth resumes again in autumn, with new root growth. Spikes appear around May and flowering occurs during September- October.

Comments: A slow but hardy species. Not the most spectacular of flowers, but the foliage looks great against a black Cyathea mount.

Rhinerrhiza divitiflora

Climate Tolerance: Very tolerant of extreme heat. Some root tip damage can occur in extreme heat, but is harmless.

Lighting: I have grown them successfully in a range of lighting conditions, even with a southerly aspect.

Watering & Feeding: They relish my feeding and watering scheme, producing healthy roots.Growing Medium: Cyathea (Tree Fern) mounts give good results. Some moss around the roots is helpful to protect them while they establish on the mount.

Growth Habit: Quite a slow growing species with virtually no leaf growth over the coldest part of winter, however the roots remain active. Leaf growth resumes once temperatures start moving into the 20’s. Growth slows during very hot weather, usually sometime in January. Growth resumes again in autumn, with new root growth. Spikes appear around June and flowering occurs during October.

Comments: Not commonly sold or seen in collections, but quite a tough species. It’s a reliable flowerer, producing masses of spidery flowers. The only downside is the flowers only last for a few days. They have very unique raspy roots and tough leathery foliage.