This article is a completion of the Thelymitra Column article which appeared in the NOSSA Journal, Volume 42 No 8 September 2018. Click here for Part One.
The first part looked at the features and terms used by botanists to describe various parts of the column, a major identification feature of the sun orchids.
And as previously stated we cannot physically dissect an individual flower, but we can make use of photographs to spot the various features.
The diagram below is that of T. nuda (based on the taxonomy of 1984) column whilst the photographs are that of T. glaucophylla column (as T. glaucophylla is one of the T. nuda complex). The column of these two are similar.
2019 Winning Photograph Competition
Welcome to our first competition for 2019. For February we had five entries which included Pauline Meyers’ Prasophyllum species from Western Australia, Lindy McCallum’s Glossodia major and Leptoceras menziesii, Lisa Incoll’s Thelymitra antennifera.
The winner was Rob Pauley’s photograph from the south east of Thelymitra malvina (Mauve Tufted Sun Orchid) which is found in only a few places in the South East but does occur in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and even ‘across the ditch’ in New Zealand where it is considered “an Australian species now established in the North Island”.
According to the Atlas of Living Australia, it is endangered in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania; of Least Concern in Queensland and there is no listing for New South Wales.
This species has been included in both the T. nuda and T. pauciflora complex for, as Jeanes has observed, it has characteristics of both complexes such as the smaller flowering forms are self-pollinating, and the larger flowering forms are insect pollinated
Though the common name, Mauve Tufted Sun Orchid, indicates that its most distinctive feature are the purple tufts on the post anther lobe, it is possible to find them with white tufts and there are other species that have purple tufts (eg in SA T. azure and T. occidentalis may have purple tufts but it is obvious from their other features that they are not at all similar to T. malvina). There are no other closely similar species in South Australia, but on the other hand, in the eastern states, it can be confused with Thelymitra atronitida, so it is worthwhile considering some of the main differences between these two.
Although there are no other closely similar species in SA, in the eastern states it can be confused with Thelymitra atronitida, so it is worthwhile considering the differences
|T. malvina||T atronitida|
|Stem||3 sterile bracts||2 sterile bracts|
|Height||25 – 75 cms||30 – 50 cm|
|Flowers||Slightly larger (but can have smaller flowers)||Smaller flowers|
|Inflorescence||3 – 25 usually loose||2 – 8 ( – 16)|
|Column||Reddish to dark brown with yellow apex||Glossy black with yellow apex|
|Post anther lobe||Moplike tuft of pink or mauve (rarely white) trichomes||Moplike tuft of white trichomes (hairs)|
Across the country, there is some variations of flowering times with New South Wales having the longest flowering time from August to November and South Australia along with Tasmania having the shortest of October and November.
Bates RJ, 2011 South Australia’s Native Orchids, electronic
Backhouse G, Bush Gems, A Guide to the Wild Orchids of Victoria, Australia, 2016, electronic
VicFlora, https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au/flora/taxon/0de4b1c5-3f1f-43ea-9464-c713a12d5758 Accessed 6 March 2019
VicFlora, https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au/flora/taxon/748b23b6-4779-4a93-89fc-8ec2a8b05a06 Accessed 6 March 2019
Atlas of Living Australia, https://bie.ala.org.au/species/NZOR-4-76548 Accessed 6 March 2019
New Zealand Native Orchids, https://www.nativeorchids.co.nz/Descriptions/Thelymitra_malvina.html Accessed 6 March 2019
Jeanes J, 2013 An overview of the Thelymitra nuda (Orchidaceae) complex in Australia including the description of six new species https://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/documents/MuelleriaVol-31-p3-Jeanes-PDF-Accessibility.pdf Accessed 6 March 2019
Natural Value Atlas, https://www.naturalvaluesatlas.tas.gov.au/downloadattachment?id=14596 Accessed 6 March 2019
The following article is the beginning of a series of discussions on identifying features of various orchid species/genera.
A previous blog (see here) referred to the importance of the column in Thelymitra but did not give details of the parts of the column which is the subject of this blog.
The columns in a Thelymitra (Sun Orchid) may be one of the main identifying features of a sun orchid and so this article looks at those features that botanists will often refer to in their descriptions.
Though we cannot physically dissect an individual flower, we can make use of photographs to spot the various features.
The diagram below is that of T. ixioides (based on the taxonomy of 1984) column whilst the photographs are that of T. juncifolia column (as T. ixioides is now considered to be limited to the eastern states). The column of these two are similar. One photograph will not give all of the features hence in this article the three photographs show all of the features except the viscid disk where the pollinia is stored. The stigmatic plate is sticky and receives the pollen for fertilization.
Most of the variations between the Thelymitra columns occur within the upper portion of the column. The post anther lobe can be quite varied. For instance, with T. ixioides/T. juncifolia the post anther lobe is not hooded. Some with hoods may have deep splits, whilst others form a broad fringe. Yet again, others have variations within the column arms such as having no cilia. This will be dealt with in further articles.
With two sun orchids entered this month it is not surprising that one of them should be the winner which was John Fennell’s Thelymitra azurea a lovely blue flower with hints of pink. The other sun orchid taken by Pauline Meyers was one of the lovely pinks, T. rubra. She also entered a picture of Pyrorchis nigricans with a spider quietly waiting for its next meal! The final entry from Trevor Williams was that of a double headed Diplodium robustum which he found at Spring Gully Conservation Park.
An advantage of entering a photograph is that it does not need to be in season. This month John Fennell entered an autumn flowering Corunastylis fuscoviride and a late spring/early summer flowering Diuris sulpherea, Robert and Rosalie Lawrence both entered the winter flowering Diplodium robustum and the winning picture, John Badger’s Thelymitra epipactoides is an early spring flowering orchid.
Sun Orchids are another popular winner of the competitions and as there was a comprehensive article written on Thelymitra epipactiodes and as some have asked “what, actually, is a sun orchid?”, it is time to answer the general question about Sun Orchids.
Of all the Australian terrestrial orchids Thelymitra or Sun Orchid is the one that looks the least like an orchid as all the segments – the sepals and petals including the labellum – are very similar in appearance. They mimic the flowers of the Lilliaceae and Goodeniaceae families.
Nevertheless, it is an orchid as evidenced by the column. Columns are a unique feature of orchids. They are the combination of the reproductive organs into one structure. Between the different Thelymitra species, it is the column that is often the main distinguishing feature used in identification. Because, the column is quite detailed and so important in identification, we plan to feature this in future Journals.
Other general features of Thelymitra are single, non-hairy, mainly linear leaf (of course, there are always exceptions) with a single flower stem. Flowers range from being singular to having multiple flowers which come in a range of colours from yellow to pinks to blues. Despite the lack of nectar, most Thelymitra are bee pollinated but there are some that are self-pollinated. The pollinia instead of being yellow are white and it is not unusual to see the white pollen on the self-pollinating flowers.
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
Thelymitra https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelymitra Accessed 4 July 2018
The following article appeared in the Native Orchid Society of South Australia Journal September 2017 Volume 41 Number 8. It is a longer and expanded version of the article as George Bentham was one of most influential botanists of the 19th century making it difficult to summarize his life. Even this article barely scratches the surface of this most interesting man.
The theme for the August competition was Striped or Blotched orchids.
Blotches or stripes, which one? An interesting collection was entered. Representing the stripes were John Fennell’s Dipodium pardalinum, Shane Grave’s Cyrtostylis robusta labellum, Helen Lawrence’s Thelymitra cyanea, Robert Lawrence’s Diplodium dolichochilum and Lorraine Badger’s T. campanulata. There were less blotches; Ricky Egel’s Diuris pardina and John Fennell’s T. benthamiana.
T. benthamiana (Leopard Sun Orchid) is a popular orchid to photograph and it is not surprising that it is again (see April 2016) a winner in our competition. It was named after the Englishman George Bentham (1800 – 1884) one of the foremost and influential systemic botanists of the 19th century. At about the age of 16 or 17 years he was introduced to botany, and despite training as a lawyer, he devoted his life to the study of botany.
Though never visiting Australia, he produced the world’s first completed continental flora, Flora Australiensis, a seven volume work produced over 15 years (1863 – 1878). As monumental as this was, at the same time he was working on his greatest work, co-authored with Joseph Dalton Hooker, Genera Plantarum (1862 – 1883) in which is introduced the Bentham & Hooker system of plant classification. This system is still in use by many herbaria around the world. It involved the study of actual plant specimens, a practice which Bentham used himself. For instance, in the production Flora Australiensis, he would examine, critique and describe over a 1,000 species each year.
This practice harkens back to his early days when in his Flora of the French Pyrenees (1826) he adopted the practice of citing nothing second-hand. He never deviated from this. It did help that he was able to read in fourteen modern European languages plus having a good command of Latin, the language used for many botanical writings. This enabled him to access original material which he did by visiting every European herbarium when preparing for his first major work Labiatarum Genera et Species (1832 – 1836).
A shy and unassuming man, Bentham had the respect of the botanical world as was reflected in the various awards he received. Described as a genius, [a man of] indefatigable industry, the premier systematic botanist, he considered himself an amateur botanist, never a professional, even though he donated his extensive collection of more than 1,000 specimens to Kew Gardens in 1854 where he worked full time until his death in 1884. Bentham lived in, and contributed to, the transitional period from the dominance of the gentleman botanist to the government being responsible for collections of national and scientific significance.
He was responsible for introducing into orchid taxonomy (1881) a new classification recognising Subtribes, which precedes Genus in the classification system; introduced the word ‘orchidologist’ to the world in his Notes on Orchideae, 1881. Although there is only one Australian orchid named after Bentham, he has a whole genus of 29 species named after him: Benthamia which is endemic to Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion. Worldwide, Bentham was directly involved in naming over 200 orchid taxa.
Thanks to Greg Steenbeeke for critiquing this article.
N. T. Burbidge, ‘Bentham, George (1800–1884)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bentham-george-2979/text4345 , published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 29 August 2017.
George Bentham Retrieved August 31, 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bentham
The Taxonomy of the Orchidaceae Retrieved 31 August 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxonomy_of_the_Orchidaceae
Bentham, George (DNB00). (2012, December 29). In Wikisource. Retrieved August 31, 2017, from https://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Bentham,_George_(DNB00)&oldid=4211195
Bentham and Hooker system of Classification. Accessed August 31, 2017 from http://vle.du.ac.in/mod/book/print.php?id=13270&chapterid=29150
Notes on Orchidaea (Journal of the Linnean Society)
English Oxford Living Dictionary. Accessed 31 August, 2017 from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/orchidologist
Orchids are unique in the floral world. Two distinctive characteristics that set orchids apart from other plants are the labellum and the column.
The labellum is a modified petal. It is extremely varied in appearance; “often lobed, spurred, adorned with glands, appendages of calli (callus, a hardened swelling or thickening of the skin), sometimes mobile and highly irritable and often brightly coloured”. * The labellum is important for pollination.
The column (as described by Bates and Weber) “is a distinctive feature of all orchids and a unique structure in the plant kingdom. It is formed by fusion of the male parts ‘stamens’ and female organ ‘pistil’.”*
Below are examples of the various types of labellums and columns in some South Australian terrestrial orchids. Each genus has its own characteristic labellum and column.
*Bates and Weber Orchids of South Australia 1990
This month’s theme for the photo competition was blue and white. White flowers can occur as a result of lack of colour such as Rosalie Lawrence’s Caladenia latifolia (Pink Fairies) which is normally pink. White orchids can also occur naturally such as the Arachnorchis argocalla (White Beauty Spider Orchid) and Arachnorchis intuta (Ghost Spider Orchid) both photographed by John Fennel, or as a dominant colour such as Lorraine Badger’s Eriochilus collinius (syn Eriochilus sp Hills Woodland).
Of the blue orchids, both Ricky Egel and John Badger entered pictures of Thelymitra x truncata (Blue Spotted Hybrid Sun Orchid) whilst Robert Lawrence entered a Thelymitra grandiflora (Giant Sun Orchid) which was the outstanding winning picture.
Blue in the floral world is unusual colour in the floral world for it is not a naturally occurring colour. In fact, “[t}he key ingredient for making blue flowers are the red anthocyanin pigments. Less than 10 percent of the 280,000 species of flowering plants produce blue flowers.” (Lee, 2010 as cited in Oder 2014).
Whilst blue orchids occur outside of Australia, their “colour cannot rival” … “the intensely blue flowers” … “especially [are] unique in the orchid world” … “of their Australian counterparts. The sun orchids (Thelymitra) in particular are famous for their sky blue flowers.” (Ronse 2008: 103)
Based upon Jones 2006 tome, the following genera have true blue orchid species – Cyanicula (9 species), Pheladenia (1 species), Epiblema (1 species) and the largest group Thelymitra (about 65 out of potentially 118 species) plus one hybrid, XGlossodenia tutelata. Of the epiphytes, blue is almost non-existent except for three which Jones lists that rarely might be bluish and they are Vappodes bigibba, V. lithocola and V. phalaenopsis*.
With such rarity, is it any wonder then that the Chinese attached special significance to it as a plant that could cure lung disease and the Aztecs saw it as a symbol of strength.
*Names used as they appear in Jones 2006 tome
Jones, D. L., A Complete Guide to Native Orchids of Australia Including the Island Territories. Reed New Holland
Lee, David (2010), Nature’s Palette: The Science of Plant Color< Chicago, University of Chicago Press
Oder, T, The Science of Blue Flowers https://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/the-science-of-blue-flowers accessed 6 July 2017
Pretty Zesty All About Blue Orchids http://www.prettyzesty.com/2012/11/all-about-blue-orchids.html accessed 6 July 2017
The following article by Les Nesbitt was published in May 2017 Native Orchid Society of South Australia Journal Volume 41 No 4. The article relates to Australian Native Orchids.
Suggested potting mixes for potted native terrestrial orchids have changed greatly over the years as some ingredients such as peat moss have become too expensive or difficult to obtain. Basic requirements are that the mix should be free draining yet retain moisture and should have an organic component that breaks down slowly and does not go mushy in winter. Most species are not too fussy and will grow in a variety of mixes.
Those tubers that desiccate in summer do better in a heavy mix that contains clay. Examples are Diurus behrii, D. punctata and Pterostylis nutans.
Tubers that rot easily in wet soil in Spring prefer an open coarse sandy mix. An example is Thelymitra antennifera.
A dry mix containing a higher proportion of sand is usually recommended for Caladenia and Glossodia species grown in pots. In contrast these orchids grow in clay soil on my property in the Adelaide Hills but there excess water can run off. In pots, excess water has to drain through the potting mix.
An organic component is vital to feed orchid fungi.
Some Basic Ingredients:
- Washed sand with rounded particles. (Not sharp sand as this sets hard in summer.)
- Soil (sandy loam, clay based loam, mountain soil)
- Native seedling mix (Bark based – sieve to remove splinters)
- Native potting mix (can be sieve* to remove larger particles)
- Chopped and sieved* gum leaves
- Perlite or isolite (but will make tubers harder to identify at repotting time)
- Composted leaf mould & buzzer chips (but needs to be gathered now for use next summer)
- Cauarina (She-oak) needles chopped for surface mulch
Some Suggested Potting Mixes
- ANOS-Vic dry mix – 2 parts coarse sand, 1 part coastal sandy loam, 1 part composted buzzer chips, 1 part leaf mould
- 100% native potting mix. (Works for drought resistant tubers, viz. Pterostylis curta & P. pedunculata)
- Native potting mix (sieved*) and isolite
- Native potting mix and sand
- Les Nesbitt’s current mix of 50% sand, 20% hills soil, 25% seedling potting mix (sieved), and 5% chopped & sieved* string bark gum leaves.
- Dry mix, 50% coarse sand, 25% perlite & 25% native potting mix
- Heavy mix, 50% clay soil, 30% sand and 20% organic matter
* Use a 5mm sieve
Thelymitra in cultivation