Gleanings from the Journals: Dockrillia linguiformis 2006

This week’s blog is an extract from Volume 30 No 10 November 2006.  In this article of Len Field he gives not only cultural notes but also some interesting background including an orchid link with the infamous Captain Bligh.

Dockrillia linguiformis (Sw) 1800 Brieger

Dockrilla linguiformis
Dockrilla linguiformis

Len Field
Common names Thumbnail orchid, Tongue orchid, and in North Queensland the Tick
The name linguiforme is from the Latin lingu(a
) as in linguiforme (a tongue). It was also claimed for many years that this was the orchid that Olaf Peter Swartz the German botanist founded the genus Dendrobium in 1800, but this was wrong, although this was the first orchid seen by white man when they landed at the rocks area in Sydney cove, Port Jackson.  It was introduced into England by Rear Admiral Bligh of Bounty fame.
Other names it has been called are
Dendrobium linguiforme var. linguiforme Swartze 1800
Callista linguiforme (Swartze) Rev. Kuntze 1891
Dendrobium linguiforme (Swartze) var. huntianum Rupp 1942
There was another variety named from this species called var. huntianum by Rupp in 1942, which was named after T.E. Hunt and is a June or July flower and found near Ipswitch (sic) in Queensland, but as it reverts to type form it never reached true variety status and was considered just a variation of the type form.
This orchid has a huge range of habitat which stretches from almost the Victorian border up to North Queensland and West to the Great Dividing Range. It is very common throughout this area and equally happy as an epiphyte or a lithophyte but where as a epiphyte it likes swamp oaks (
Casuarina glauca), river oaks (Casuarina cunninghamiana), in fact it will grow on most trees that will hold there bark including the tea trees (Leptospermum species).  I have seen this orchid hundreds of kilometres inland from the coast still forming large mats on the rock faces, while in its more prolific growing areas these mats will cover huge areas of the rocks where it can survive and grow in extreme exposed conditions that would kill other orchids. In the dry times the leaves which are very thick, tough and numerous will shrivel and can last up to six months without water. This is a feature of a lot of Australian Dendrobium and Dockrillia
Flowering is from August to October with blooms that are long lasting, up to two weeks with one raceme per leaf.
Culture. If grown on slabs which is the usual way it should be hung up high and if grown in pots a very coarse open mix. In nature it likes plenty of sunlight although at times it will grow in shade. Whichever way it is grown it should have good light, humidity and air movement.

Den linguiforme drawing
Dendrobium linguiforme

Growing Dendrobium linguiforme 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.


Volume 7, No. 4, May, 1983


Dendrobium linguiforme (Tongue Orchid)

The plant is epiphytic or lithophytic, forming large masses on trees or rocks. Its range is from the extreme south-east of New South Wales to at least the Burdekin River in Queensland. It grows from sea-level to altitudes of around 1000 metres, but is confined mainly to the coastal areas, although it has been found up to 250 kilometres inland. The inland plants have smaller, tougher leaves than those of the coastal areas, due no doubt to the harsher conditions under which they exist. It is not confined to a specific host but is found on quite a large variety of trees.

The rhizomes are prostrate and branching with thick, tough ovate leaves, 3 to 4 cm long having distinctive longitudinal furrows on top.

The racemes, up to 15 cm long, grow from just below the base of the leaf and bears from six to 20 flowers. The flowers are usually white or cream with a number of faint purple markings on the labellum.

The flowering time is usually August-September here but earlier in the tropical areas.

It does not lend itself to pot culture but is very hardy and with a little care will grow freely on cork or hardwood slabs. I have had good success using pieces of Melaleuca on which it readily establishes itself. It receives approximately 75% shade. It should be protected from our frosts and can be fertilised using foliar fertilisers at half the recommended strength.

This is the variety of the species on which the genus Dendrobium was founded. It was first described by O. Swartz.

There are three varieties of this species, the best known of which is var. nugentii, which is a tropical form from about the Burdekin River north to Bloomfield River in the south-east of Cape York Peninsula.

This form has broader, thicker leaves which are more rounded at the apex and in addition to the longitudinal furrows it often has transverse furrows. The flowers of this form are slightly smaller and age quicker.

Dendrobium linguiforme
Dendrobium linguiforme

Confucius’ thoughts on Orchids

Confucius was an admirer of orchids and in this quote he captures the quality of the epiphytes in this eloquent translation*:

The orchid grows where others cannot enduring the hardships of hunger and thirst, and is loosely tied to the things that support it.  And, even with all the difficulty of its life, the orchid graces the world with beautiful colour and rare fragrance.  This is like the life of the true gentleman, who sets himself to learn self-discipline, and whose character shines no matter where he is or what he experiences.

Though he never saw an Australian epiphytic orchid, the description holds true as can be seen in these three pictures from among the many species found on the eastern seaboard.

Sarcochilus falcatus
Sarcochilus falcatus (Orange Blossom Orchid)
Dendrobium speciosum
Dendrobium speciosum (Sydney Rock Orchid)
Dockrilla linguiformis
Dockrilla linguiformis (Tongue Orchid)







*From The Fragrance of the Unread Poem by Jonathon Steffan Accessed 10:04pm 30th June 2014


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