Growing Leek Orchids – Is it Possible?

The Native Orchid Society of SA has been involved with the Threatened Orchid Project which is attempting to propagate some of our most threatened orchids.  There has been some success such as Thelymitra epicaptoides (Metallic Sun Orchids) but others are proving elusive.  Marc Freestone, from the Orchid Conservation Project, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, is a PhD student who is researching one such difficult to grow orchid genus, the Prasophyllum.

Prasophyllum murfettii sm
Prasophyllum murfettii (Denzel’s Leek Orchid)

To assist with his research Marc has the sent the following request.

CAN ANYONE GROW LEEK ORCHIDS?

South Australia has about 40 species and Victoria about 74 species of the native Leek Orchids, Prasophyllum.  Some are on the brink of extinction.

A major problem hampering efforts to prevent our Leek Orchids from going extinct is that they have proven next to impossible to grow in cultivation.  They have proved extremely difficult, usually not germinating at all, or germinating but then dying soon after.  Occasionally some success has been had (particularly with symbiotic germination) but successful germination trials to our knowledge have so far proved un-repeatable.  Working out how to grow Prasophyllum is critical for the survival of many species at risk of extinction across southern Australia.

To try and change this, I will be studying Prasophyllum and their relationships with symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi.

But I need your help!

I am wanting to hear from as many people as possible who

  • have tried (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to grow Leek Orchids or the closely related Midge Orchids (Corunastylis).
  • have observed Leek Orchids (or Midge Orchids) recruiting from seed in the wild.

If you can help, or know of anyone who might be worth talking to, please contact me at: marc.freestone@rbg.vic.gov.au or 0428 304 299.

(Funding and support for this project: Australian National University, Federal Government National Environmental Science Programme, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, University of Tasmania).

I would encourage people to contact Marc with whatever information that you have, no matter how insignificant you may think it is.  Every little bit helps including unsuccessful attempts.

His eventual aim is to be able to work out how to grow them reliably from seed in cultivation.

September 2016 Winning Picture

Spring is here and it was reflected in the variety and large number of entries.  Lorraine Badger and Ros Miller entered Western Australian species – Caladenia x ericksoniae (Prisoner Orchid) and Paracaelana nigrita (Flying Duck Orchid) respectively.  The other six entries were all from South Australia, Diplodium robustum (Common Green Shell Orchid), Caleana major (Flying Duck Orchid) both from Jane Higgs, Greg Sara’s Oligochaetochilus sp (Rufoushood), Judy Sara’s Arachnorchis leptochila (Queen Spider Orchid), Claire Chesson’s Diuris behrii (Cowslip Orchid or Golden Moths) and the outstanding winning picture Pterostylis cucullata by Bevin Scholz.

 1609-sm-bs-pterostylis-cucullata

In many ways, Bevin’s picture of P. cucullata (Leafy Greenhood) is a special picture because it represents some of the conservation work with which NOSSA is involved. For many years NOSSA has worked with the Threatened Plant Action Group (TPAG) to weed the areas in Belair where this species is located and to see such a good show of plants is encouraging.  It is a tribute to all who have contributed with their time and labour.

P. cucullata is rated Vulnerable both in South Australia and Victoria, and Endangered in Tasmania. It is also rated Vulnerable under the EPBC Act (Federal). Nationally it is known from about 110 sites with most of these sites being in Victoria and only a few sites in South Australia with Belair National Park having the largest and most important population for the state.

Historically this species covered an area of 2107 km2 in the Lofty Block region but that has now contracted by 82% to only 366 km2 with few locations. With such a reduced range, recovery plans were developed, both at state and federal level.  The plans examined the risks and threats to the survival of the different populations.

One of the threats to this orchid is fire, including proscribed burns.  Unlike some species such as Pyrorchis nigricans, Leptoceras menziesii or Prasophyllum elatum which flower well after fire, P. cucullata is fire sensitive; populations decline substantially.  There does not seem to be a safe time to burn for this species.  Should a population survive a burn, it would take it many years to recover.

Fire also leaves the population vulnerable to another threat, that of weed invasion.  Unfortunately, it is weedy where this species survives but over the years, a consistent, targeted weeding program has resulted in a declining weed population.  NOSSA and TPAG have appreciated the work and effort of volunteers and gladly welcome anyone else who would like to join. And one of the rewards? A beautiful, sunlit display of flowers as seen in Bevin’s picture.

Reference:

Duncan, M. (2010). National Recovery Plan for the Leafy Greenhood Pterostylis cucullata. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/14e1ae30-5cf7-4be6-8a35-2c752886c14f/files/pterostylis-cucullata.pdf

Nature Conservation Society of South Australia (2009) DRAFT RESPONSE ON THE BELAIR NATIONAL PARK TRAILS MASTERPLAN: PRELIMINARY ISSUE January 2009  http://www.ncssa.asn.au/images/stories/ncssasubmission_belairnptrails_masterplan_jan09_final.pdf

Quarmby, J.P. (2010) Recovery Plan for Twelve Threatened Orchids in the Lofty Block Region of South Australia 2010. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Australia https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/e362cfd2-a37b-443a-b007-db3a2b7b64dd/files/lofty-block-orchids-recovery-plan.pdf

Understanding the Conservation Status of South Australia Orchids

Endangered, Threatened or Rare?

Sometimes a particular species of orchid is said to be rare or endangered, for instance Thelymitra circumsepta* is listed as endangered in South Australia but has no listing federally whilst the endemic Prasophyllym murfetii* is listed as Critically Endangered federally but only Endangered in South Australia.

Prasophyllum murfettii (Denzel's Leek Orchid)
Prasophyllum murfettii (Denzel’s Leek Orchid)

What do these listings mean and why are they different for the same species?

What are the Conservation Categories?

Conservation listing by governments gives species a legal status, which can then be used to determine the type of consideration to be given to individual species in decision-making processes for species conservation.

In South Australia, the two main legislations affecting native orchids are the state National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (NPW) and the national Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPB). There is also the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List which is used for international treaties. Each has their own set of categories resulting in terms with slightly different meanings.

The IUCN classification is quite detailed but in summary the conservation status used are

  • Extinct – not seen for fifty years or despite intensive searching not seen at a previously known site
  • Extinct in the Wild – no natural populations exist; only surviving in cultivation
  • Critically Endangered – known only from a single non-viable population
  • Endangered – in danger of extinction unless the factors causing decline are arrested
  • Vulnerable – likely to become endangered if the only large populations is wiped out for whatever reason
  • Near Threatened – close to qualifying or likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future
  • Least Concern
  • Data Deficient
  • Not Evaluated

The Australian Federal government, under Section 179 of the EPBC Act, has six categories

  • Extinct – no reasonable doubt that the species has died out
  • Extinct in the Wild – no natural population existing, surviving in cultivation
  • Critically Endangered – faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future
  • Endangered – faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future
  • Vulnerable – faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium term future
  • Conservation Dependent – if the cessation of a specific conservation program ceased the species could become vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered

South Australia uses three categories based on the categories from the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.

  • Endangered (Schedule 7) – includes Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild and Extinct
  • Vulnerable (Schedule 8)
  • Rare (Schedule 9) – this is a South Australian term not recognised elsewhere but the criteria are consistent with the IUCN Near Threatened category and refers to uncommon species that are naturally limited in location or are in decline. Hence it is possible for a species to be common interstate but threatened in South Australia, for example Anzybas unguiculatus* is rated rare.
07 sm JP Anzybas unguiculatus 2
Anzybas unguiculatus (Little Pelican or Cherry Helmet Orchids)

Another term that is frequently used is Threatened. For the IUCN Threatened encompasses the three categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable. It means that a species rated as threatened with extinction under these three categories may have different degrees of threat – note the adjectives in the IUCN definitions above. This serves as a guideline for its usage in South Australia. It should also be noted that Threatened and Rare are not interchangeable but a species rated Rare may be threatened by outside influences.

There is another level of conservation which is the regional status. This level does not have any legal standing but it is helpful in managing the species. The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria are used to assign a regional conservation status. This is helpful in managing species at this level.

Why does a species have different Conservation Categories?

Looking through Part Two of South Australia’s Native Orchids 2011, it is not uncommon to find a species with two different conservation statuses. It is not surprising when they have the same status eg Arachnorchis behrii* is rated Endangered both state and nationally but why are the others different? Some of this is due to the different number of categories – six federally but only three at the state level so Diplodium bryophilum* is nationally Critically Endangered but only Endangered in South Australia as there is no critically Endangered category. Others have a state status but no national status, for example the endemic Diuris brevifolia* is rated Endangered. Curiously there are no endemic species with the combination of a national status but no state status, although there are five non-endemic species found in South Australia that do have this combination.

Diuris brevifolia (Late Donkey Orchid)
Diuris brevifolia (Late Donkey Orchid)

This comes about because there are two different bodies determining the statuses through two very different processes.

Nationally under the EPBC Act any individual can nominate a species which is assessed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, put out for public comment, changes adjusted as necessary and then the recommendations are passed onto the Minister who approves or rejects the nomination.

In South Australia, DEWNR (Department Environment Water and Natural Resources) initiates the process by asking the experts, compiling data, holding workshops with the experts. A report is written for the National Parks and Wildlife Council outlining the changes under the NPW Threatened Species Schedules. Once the changes are approved, it is sent to the Minister for approval before being released for public comment. After any necessary adjustments the report is then sent to the South Australian Parliamentary Cabinet for final approval.

Both processes check the species under consideration against the IUCN criteria.

How many South Australian orchids are under threat?

On 22nd July 2014, Doug Bickerton presented a talk at the Native Orchid Society on the conservation status of South Australian orchids. The comparison between the State and Federal listings was as follows:

Number of Orchids with a Conservation Status under the NPW Act (State)

  • 77 species Endangered
  • 33 species Vulnerable
  • 32 species Rare

A total of 142 species or 49% of all South Australian orchids are recognised to be under threat.

Number of Orchids with a Conservation Status under the EPBC Act (Federal)

  • 4 Critically Endangered
  • 22 Endangered
  • 19 Vulnerable

A total of 45 species for the State have a Federal government legal conservation status.

The fact that one authority recognises a species and the other authority does not doesn’t mitigate against the seriousness of the threat to that species. The fact that a species does not have a conservation status from either authority does not mean that it is not under threat. It could still be in danger of extinction.

Cryptostylis subulata (Moose Orchid)
Cryptostylis subulata (Moose Orchid) State Conservation Status: Vulnerable National Conservation Status: not listed

Currently in South Australian there is a State-wide assessment underway and the results will be published in 2016.

This article was inspired and is based upon notes taken from a talk given by Doug Bickerton in 2014 at the Native Orchid Society of South Australia. I would like to thank Thelma Bridle, Conservation Officer, Native Orchid Society of South Australia, for her help.

*Based on information found in South Australia’s Native Orchids 2011

References:

South Australia’s Native Orchids Bates 2011

http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species#categories accessed 13th November 2015

http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/managing-natural-resources/Plants_Animals/Threatened_species_ecological_communities/Conservation_status_of_threatened_species/State accessed 13th November 2015

IUCN RED LIST CATEGORIES AND CRITERIA Version 3.1 Second edition Prepared by the IUCN Species Survival Commission As approved by the 51st meeting of the IUCN Council Gland, Switzerland 9 February 2000

 

NOSSA and the Lofty Block Threatened Orchid Recovery Project

In the NOSSA Constitution (2007) the aims of NOSSA “are to promote and engage in activities for the promotion and furtherance of :
  1. the culture, propagation, conservation, knowledge and scientific study of the native orchids of southern Australia and the Australasian region;
  2. the preservation of orchids as a species and their preservation within their native habitat.”

The article following is about one of the ongoing conservation activities with which NOSSA members were and are currently involved.  Quoted verbatim from SA Veg on the Edge, Vol 7, No. 1, 2007

Recovery Plan for 12 Threatened Orchids in the Lofty Block Region released
Since 1998, the Lofty Block Threatened Orchid Recovery Project (LBTORP) has been implementing recovery actions for threatened orchids in the Lofty Block region of SA. In late 2006, a draft recovery plan was completed for the following twelve species:
  • Caladenia argocalla (White Beauty Spider-orchid) – ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
  • C. behrii (Pink-lipped Spider-orchid) – ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
  • C. gladiolata (Bayonet Spider-orchid) – ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
  • C. sp. ‘Brentwood’ (Ghost Spider-orchid) – Nominated as CRITICALLY ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
  • C. macroclavia (Large-club Spider-orchid) – ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
  • C. rigida (White Spider-orchid) – EPBC Act – ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
  • C. woolcockiorum (Woolcock’s Spider-orchid) – VULNERABLE (EPBC Act)
  • C. xantholeuca (Flinders Ranges Spider-orchid) – ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
  • Pterostylis bryophila (Hindmarsh Valley Greenhood) – CRITICALLY ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
  • P. cucullata (Leafy Greenhood) – VULNERABLE (EPBC Act)
  • P. despectans (Lowly Greenhood) – ENDANGERED  (EPBC Act)
  • P. sp. ‘Halbury’ (Halbury Greenhood) – ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
The recovery plan describes each of these twelve species in detail including their morphology, distribution, population size, habitat, and ecology.  Importantly, it also outlines the threats to each species and prescribes recovery objectives, targets, and actions for the next five years.
  • Determine population size and trends
  • Determine current extent of occurrence and number of sub-populations
  • Mitigate threats to sub-populations.
Recovery actions will be implemented for each of the twelve species in accordance with the recovery plan over the next five years by the LBTORP.  Community involvement is recognised as a key factor in the successful delivery of on-ground recovery actions.
Fact sheets and a webpage that provide up to date information on the program were recently completed … Joe Quarmby, Lofty Block Threatened Orchid Recovery Project Officer , SA DEH
(NB Joe Quramby now is the Threatened Flora Ecologist Natural Resources, Adelaide & Mount Lofty Ranges Partnerships and Stewardship and DEH is now Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, 2014)

The article may be seven years old but it is a good overview of some of the conservation work that NOSSA members have done with Joe Quarmby.

The full 176 page report can be found here.

 

Arachnorchis behrii (Pink Lipped Spider Orchid)
Arachnorchis behrii (Pink Lipped Spider Orchid)