Category Archives: Acianthus

From the past – to the future

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a tour of the State Herbarium of South Australia as part of the Open House Adelaide 2014.  Several years ago I had done volunteer work filing specimens away, so I was somewhat aware of how it runs.  However I did learn a few things from this experience.

Herbarium

The Herbarium lives in the first tram barn in Adelaide.

The herbarium houses over 1.2 million specimens, from species that have been collected within Australia as well as some specimens that are currently on loan from other herbariums in Australia and overseas.  There are also duplicate specimens from overseas in case they are lost in their country of origin.  These specimens are mounted on paper and stored in boxes within the vaults.

The important function of a herbarium is that they control the naming of new species.  In the collection there are type specimens.  These are the original specimen that was used for naming a species and thus will have all the distinctive features of that species.

Another aspect of the herbarium is that they contain specimens that are have been collected from over 200 years ago.  In a display cabinet, they had some specimens that were collected by Robert Brown who accompanied Matthew Flinders in 1802.  These specimens were then transported back to England before they finally make their way back home .  It is incredible that they are still around, because back in the 1800s herbariums did not exist as we know them now.  The amazing part of this is that the really old specimens don’t look that much older than the specimens that were collected within the last few years.

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Some original specimens collected in February and March of 1802

One of the problems that the herbariums face is a little beetle which seems to thrive on the dead plant specimens.  To prevent the spread of the beetle , the herbarium has in place some strict quarantine processes.  Before a specimen can enter the vault, it must be placed in the freezer for at least a week.  Also staff are encouraged not to take in any unnecessary items into the vaults.  This can make it quite a hassle when transporting plants between the herbariums.  To reduce this, they have recently established a database called Australia’s Virtual Herbarium with high resolution images of the type specimens that anyone can view.

When I was on the tour I asked if I could see the orchids which are kept in alcohol.  I was taken to a small room full of tiny little bottles with orchids.  They had lost their colouring but it was possible to see the 3d structure of the flowers – something that is lost in a pressed specimen.

Some of the orchids preserved in small bottles of alcohol

Some of the orchids preserved in small bottles of alcohol

Here is a comparison of the specimen in the herbarium and a species in the wild.  Most of these specimens were collected in the 1960s.

If you would like to know some more about the South Australian State Herbarium or some of their resources, check out the following links:

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Camera dies…

Finally, I was able to go and hunt for some orchids.  But my camera died!

So my camera for taking macro photography thinks that everything is white.  Fortunately, Dad very kindly lent me his camera, thank you Dad!  So I was able to take some orchid pictures to share with you all.  I saw lots and lots of leaves.  There were so many.  It could be that this is going to be a good year for finding orchids.  We will have to wait to see how the year unfolds.  Some of the different leaves that I saw included Arachnorchis, Glossodia major, Bunochilus viriosous and Thelymitra.  Below is a very nice field of Nemacianthus caudatus.  This orchid will be flowering in the coming month.

Nemacianthus caudatus

I also checked out my favourite little spot of Corysanthes diemenica.  The leaves were emerging, and there were some tiny little buds beginning to appear.

Corysanthes diemenica

I was also able to find some orchids in flower.  There were quite a few plants of Urochilus sanguineus.  This species will continue flowering for several more months.  It has a relatively long flowering time.  I have written about this species previously for the Know Them series.  The flowers were lovely and fresh, and I believe this is when they have the best colouring.

Urochilus sanguineus

And the other orchid I saw in flower was the tiny Mosquito orchid, Acianthus pusillus.  This species also has a long flowering time, and will be finishing in August.

Acianthus pusillus

Some of these trees where covered in the fungi pictured below.  I thought it looked quite pretty.  Enjoy your long weekend!

Fungi

I want/need a new camera now!  I would prefer a digital SLR, any suggestions?

The tiny Mosquito Orchid

Over the last week I have been frantically busy, and… well, wishing I had more time to go and hunt for some orchids.  So today’s post is going to be rather informal!  I do have some pictures to share with you, that were taken about this time of year, 15th May 2012.  They are of the Mosquito Orchid (Acianthus pusillus).  I have written about them before.

The flowers are very small, and the whole plant can stand up to 10 cm for a tall plant.  However, most seem to be closer to 6 or 7 cm high.  The following leaf shows the different growth stages.  If there has not been rain for some time, it generally stays the same size, but after a downpour, the leaf expands.

Acianthus pusillus

I thought the follow picture was quite cute.  It is so tiny, but as the buds open, it would probably become taller.

Acianthus pusillus

And here are some other, healthy specimens.

It is not uncommon, either to find fields of these orchids.

Acianthus pusillus

Enjoy your weekend, and hopefully I’ll see some orchids soon.

Growing terrestrial orchids

Some of my readers have asked whether it is possible to grow native orchids, or where they can get some to grow.  The unfortunate fact is that many of the orchids have not been propagated, and those that can be grown tend to difficult to keep alive.

Being an orchid enthusiast, and loving to see these flowers, I have tried to grow some of them.

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An orchid in the pot does have the advantage that you can choose the background…

Acianthus pussillus

...and sometimes allow you to take shots that are not possibly in the wild, as these orchids don’t grow in open areas, and are very small and difficult to get underneath them!

The unfortunate fact is that most of the time, it has not been entirely successful.  All the orchid growers say that it is easy to grown orchids, but… have you seen their greenhouses?  Virtually they are running a laboratory for growing orchids, with the right sunlight, and the right amount of water, and these aren’t usually cheap to set up.  Here is an article about setting up the right conditions for growing Epiphytes.

There are several species of orchids that I have never seen in propagation.  These include: the Hyacinth orchid (Dipodium sp.) or any other species that does not have leaves including the Cinnamon Bells (Gastrodia sp.), everyone’s favourite the duck orchid (Caleana major or Paraceleana sp.), any of the swamp orchids (Spiranthes and Cryptostylis) or even the bearded orchid (Caladenia).

Caleana major

Sorry, you can’t grow these! 😦

The difficulty behind growing orchids makes it even harder to re-introduce orchids into the wild, and stresses the point that it is important to protect the remaining bushland.  Unfortunately, because Adelaide is relatively flat most of the land has been cleared for agriculture, but there are still a few pockets of native vegetation left, and quite often these are threatened by weeds

But it is important to remember:

No part of an orchid can be collected from the wild!

So if you are really desperate to try growing orchids, start with one of the easier species like one of the green-hoods (Pterostylis nutans or P. curta) or a Microtis sp, except its flowers aren’t very obvious.

Terrestrial orchids won’t normally be found for sale in nurseries.  There are a few specialised growers in South Australia, and around Australia, so if you are interested, it probably would be best to contact your local Australian Orchid Club!  Often they will also provide information on the conditions you need, and will be able to help with any difficulties that are faced along the way.

Orchid shows can be a chance to see some of the orchids that the growers have succeeded with, but usually they show their best specimens.  Here are a few pictures I took at the Native Orchid Society of South Australian’s meeting in spring, so you can see what the “professionals grow”.  (This is the only time you will see me using a flash – indoor photography 🙂 )

My observation is that the orchids that are propagated tend to have larger flowers than those in the wild, but that is probably due to the growers providing favourable conditions for them.

It is now the beginning of March, and I was very delighted to find that my Microtis are up already. (They are a desperate attempt to hopefully keep some orchids alive for a few years.  I’m told they grow like weeds!)

Microtis leaves

Already up!
Hopefully they survive the season, don’t get over/under watered, eaten…