November 2015 Winning Photograph

November’s theme was hybrids. Orchids, more than any other plant family, are likely to produce natural hybrids. Even though the overall occurrence of natural hybridisation in orchids is low, it occurs often enough to make some species identification challenging.

Hybrids mainly occur between species of the same genera such as Jenny Pauley’s Arachnorchis brumalis x A. conferta

11sm JP Arachnorchis brumalis x conferta
Arachnorchis brumalis x A. conferta

but, less commonly, it can occur between genera as seen with Pauline Meyer’s Caladenia latifolia x A. brumalis

11 sm PM C latifolia X A brumalis
Caladenia latifolia x Arachnorchis brumalis

and her Western Australian photograph of Caladenia x enigma; a hybrid between C. falcata and Drakonorchis barbarossa.

11sm PM Caladenia x enigma
Caladenia x enigma


Jones (2006) states that “Natural hybrids are more common in some genera, such as Arachnorchis, Caladenia and Diuris, than in others.” To this list could be added Thelymitra as seen with both of the winning pictures T. x truncata and T. x irregularis. Interestingly with these two hybrids, the parents are not always the same; the parents for T. irregularis could be T. ixiodies or T. juncifolia with either T. carnea or T. rubra.

11 sm RAL Thelymitra x irregularis.jpg
Thelymitra
x irregularis

A similar situation occurs with T. truncata with the parents consisting of T. juncifolia and any member of the T. pauciflora (including T. albiflora, T. arenaria, T. bracteata, T. brevifolia, T. cyanapicata, T. pauciflora) or of the T. nuda complex.

11 sm RWL Thelymitra x truncata
Thelymitra
x truncata

The conditions necessary for hybridisation are that the parents must grow in the same area, have overlapping flowering time and share the pollinator. Brown et al (2103) make the additional observation – Hybrids are more common between wasp and bee-pollinated species than between two wasp-pollinated species or two bee-pollinated species.   … However, rare hybrids between species using the same pollination strategies, do occasionally occur …

Obviously hybridisation is more likely to occur when there is an abundance of the parent species. This situation can occur when there is mass flowering following fires or good seasonal rains. Site disturbances either through natural causes or clearing can result in increased incidence of hybridisation.

Hybrids are often infertile and will only last for the life of the individual plant but some have the ability to reproduce vegetatively and, provided the conditions remain favourable, may persist for several years.

One situation that can occur is hybrid swarm. When these occur they can make orchid identification challenging. Hybrids share the characteristic of both parents and by careful observation this can be deduced but swarms introduce an added complexity because the hybrid can backcross with either of the parents or cross fertilise with themselves. The result is a wide range of variation which makes orchid identification difficult.

Finally, some orchids will not hybridise even though the conditions are right. This could be due to specific pollinator or possibly chemical or genetic barriers.

References:

Brown et al (2013) Field Guide to the Orchids of Western Australia, Floreat, WA, Simon Nevill Publications

Jeans, Jeffrey & Backhouse, Gary (2006) Wild Orchids of Victoria, Seaford Vic, Aquatic Photographics

Jones, David (1988) Native Orchids of Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW, Reed Books

Jones, David (2006) A Complete Guide to Native Orchids of Australia including the Islands and Territories, Frenchs Forest, NSW, Reed New Holland

Introduction to Australian Orchidaceae CD-ROM

https://www.anbg.gov.au/cpbr/cd-keys/orchidkey/html/intro-c_hybrid.html   accessed 7th December 2015

Bates, Robert (2011) South Australia’s Native Orchids NOSSA DVD Adelaide

Spotted Pink Sun Orchid – Beautiful, but Only a Hybrid

https://nossa.org.au/2014/09/26/thelymitra-x-irregularis-beautiful-but-only-a-hybrid/ accessed 7th December 2015

 

 

Spotted Pink Sun Orchid – Beautiful, but Only a Hybrid

This week, a local radio station introduced a segment with the phrase “our rarest sun orchid” and that it was called Thelymitra irregularis or Spotted Pink Sun Orchid.  However it certainly is not our rarest sun orchid.

Thelymitra x irregularis is typically a hybrid pink spotted sun orchid
Thelymitra x irregularis,  Peter Watton, 2009

True, it is not common, but that is partly because it is a hybrid and, correctly speaking, the name should be written as Thelymitra x irregularis (the “x” indicates that it is a hybrid).

For a hybrid to occur, the two parent species need to grow in close proximity, the flowers need to open at the same time that the pollinator is visiting flowers, either to collect or to deposit the pollen and, in the case of self pollinating species, before the individual flower has pollinated itself.

The majority of hybrids are sterile, but occasionally some are fertile.  When hybrids occur the majority will only last a few years before disappearing although sometimes colonies are formed which may last for decades.  Hence, it is not usual to name hybrids, but the more common and recurring ones have been named formally.  T. x irregularis is one of them.

Several species of Thelymitra have been proposed as parent species of Thelymitra x irregularis.  Jeanes & Backhouse (2006) give T. ixioides and T. carnea as parents; Weber & Entwisle (1996) and Jones (2006) suggest T. ixioides and T. carnea and/or T. rubra; Bates & Weber (1990) state that in South Australia the parents are T. ixioides and T. rubra, but T. ixioides and T. carnea in the Eastern states; in contrast, Bates (2011) states that in South Australia it is a hybrid between T. juncifolia and T. rubra.  However, without detailed genetic studies or breeding experiments these all remain suggestions.

Due to the transient nature of hybrids and the conditions needed to produce them, the named hybrids are not common, but since the 1890s specimens of Thelymitra x irregularis have been collected in every decade, which suggest that this hybrid readily occurs.  The 71 specimens held in the Australian herbaria have been collected from four states – which gives a good indication of the distribution but not necessarily the frequency of occurrence.  See Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (AVH) for details.  The AVH lists 12 herbarium records for South Australia with specimens collected from the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa Valley, Kangaroo Island and near Naracoorte.

Thelymitra x irregularis
This Thelymitra x irregularis or Pink Spotted Sun Orchid was photographed by Peter Watton in 2009 near Macclesfield, South Australia

The botanical name “irregularis” refers to the description of the column.  With many sun orchids, it is often necessary to observe the column to distinguish one species from another.  In this instance the top of the column is irregularly toothed.  Retired Aussie has some very good photographs with one in particular showing the column detail.

 

Thanks to Juergan Kellermann, State Herbarium of South Australia for his help with this post.

References

Bates (2011). South Australia’s Native Orchids. DVD-ROM

Bates & Weber (1990). Orchids of South Australia.

Jeanes & Backhouse. Wild Orchids of Victoria, Australia

Jones (2006), Native Orchids of Australia, 2nd edn.

Weber & Entwisle (1996). Thelymitra. In: Flora of Victoria, Vol 3.

Australia’s Virtual Herbarium accessed 24th September 2014