Category Archives: Growing orchids

100th post: Questions and Answers

Wow, 100 posts, and I was never keen on writing those English essays!  So as promised this post will be a Questions and Answer post, and thank you to everyone who submitted a questions.  They are good questions and I will try my best to answer them.

Do Australian Orchids have one season?

In Australia one or more orchid species will be flowering at any given time of the year.  Currently our summer orchids are in flower, although many of the summer orchids actually grow in swamps and thus are rare.

The moose orchid only grows in swamps in South Australia and flowers

The moose orchid only grows in swamps in South Australia and flowers between November to April

As I was curious as to the number of species flower per month, I took all the species that grow in South Australia and plotted them for each region.  In the northern parts of South Australia due to desert there are only one or two species present, which tend to flower in spring.  However in the southern, wetter regions, there is more likelihood of finding an orchid in flower any time of the year.  From the averages of all the regions it can be seen that the peak in the orchid season is at September to October (the beginning of Spring).

The number of species flowering per region

The number of species flowering per region – Click on image to enlarge

As a keen photographer, I would love to know – in a general sense – where you find a lot of your orchids?

Generally I don’t say where I find orchids partly because some of the sites that I visit are sensitive and it is not wise to have a large number of people visiting the locations.  Also with some of the rarer species, in particular the Duck Orchid, are prone to digging because people do not realize how difficult they are to grow.  No one, not even the experts have been able to grow it.  It is also illegal to take any plant (even picked flowers or capsules) from the wild without a licence.

The duck orchids can not be grown

The duck orchids can not be grown

However there are a lot of locations were you can find orchids.  Where there is native habitat in good condition, there should be orchids.  These include the Mt. Lofty Botanic Gardens (I was up there last Saturday and Dipodium are still flower – even some in bud!), Morialta Conservation Park (take the track on the left to the second falls as it has numerous winter/spring orchids growing along the edge), anywhere in Belair National Park which is a hive for orchids and actually has a few rarer species growing there.  There are many other locations in the Adelaide Hills where they can be found.  Pretty much it comes down to having quick eyes and knowing what habitat the different orchids like.  Anywhere where there are few weeds, there will generally be orchids growing.

A really good way to discover more locations and orchid species is to join an orchid club and go on an excursion with others.  I personally would recommend the Native Orchid Society of South Australia, but have I mentioned that I am their Assistant Editor?!

Arachnorchis tentaculata

The King Spider orchid – Arachnorchis tentaculata – found at Scott Creek Conservation Park

There has been a fire in the Belair National Park, is it likely that there will be a flush of orchids in the fire location come Winter/Spring?

Fire and orchids is such a complex topic.  For those who aren’t local there was a bush fire which occurred a couple of weeks ago in a national park pretty close to the city of Adelaide.  This coming season I would expect to see more orchids flower in that area, in particular the fire orchid.  I will be checking it out later this year to see what happens.  I’ve written about orchids and fire previously.

However there are long term effects of fire that are still being researched.  The following article is highly recommended reading:

Black Saturday Victoria 2009 – Natural values fire recovery program by Mike Duncan

Why some orchids have the trigger mechanism and some don’t?

What a lovely questions – I wish I knew the answer!  There are a number of species that have labellums that can move, from Pterostylis which flowers in the winter to the Duck Orchids which flower in late spring.  They all have different pollinators and the flowers look different.  The trigger mechanism is just one method for being pollinated.  Other orchids use different methods such as imitating a female insect or imitating another flower.  This article could be of interest:

Notes on the Anthecology of Pterostylis curta (Orchidaceae) by Peter Bernhardt

The labellum of the Bunochilus viriosous (also known as Pterostylis viriosous) can be triggered. Photographed in Hardy Scrub

The labellum of the Bunochilus viriosous (also known as Pterostylis viriosous) can be triggered.
Photographed in Hardy Scrub

What is the meaning of life?

The meaning of life is…             [unable to compute]

Thank you everyone for your questions.  I learnt a few things from writing this post and I hope you did to.  Orchids are so complex and amazing!

Orchids in the City Part 2

So today I got my hands dirty at the Vale Park open day.  (See here for Part 1)  I had the privilege of planting out some orchids, namely Thelymitra antennifera, also known as the Lemon Scented Orchid or the Rabbit ears sun orchid.  The orchids I planted were very young plants, only just beginning to grow.  They had been propagated from seeds, and grown in a flask.  Some were just tubers, while others did have some leaves just beginning to emerge.  Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph any before planting.  After we had finished planting, this is what they looked like.

Thelymitra antennifera plants

This species has nice yellow flowers, which gives of a soft lemon scent.  They only open when it is warm enough, as this is when the pollinators are about.

Thelymitra antennifera

A nice specimen of Thelymitra antennifera found in the wild

During the last fortnight, many of the Caladenia latifolia had been pollinated and were forming nice capsules.  This means there should be lots of seeds, and will help these orchids spread.

Caladenia latifolia

Some other orchids which had opened during the last fortnight included Diuris behrii and Diuris orientis.

Vale park is not the only place in Adelaide where orchids have been successfully introduced.  On Gilbert Street in North Adelaide there are some more Caladenia latifolia which are thriving.  This is a smaller site, and did not have as many species.

Caladenia latifolia

So I’ll finish today’s post with a picture that I took near these orchids, right in the centre of the city!

Adelaide Australia

Orchids in the City Part 1

Normally you would not expect to find orchids growing and thriving in the heart of the city.  The scene below does not very suggest that there is the right habitat for orchids, yet growing on the hill side are about ten to twenty different orchid species.  These orchids have been planted here.

Vale park

This is a small site in Vale Park, next to the Torrens River and just off Ascot Avenue.  It is a public site, with many cyclists and pedestrians passing it on a daily basis.  To cater for the public there are small paths that wander through the planting.

Vale Park Orchids

All the orchids are marked out with small signs which give tell the name of the plant and show the leaf and flower.  This made it very easy to find the orchids.  Surprisingly, not many of the orchids have been dug up.  This is because it is a public place, and the community wants to protect it.

When I visited the site yesterday, there were a few species in flower, and many in leaf or with buds.  There were a lot of Caladenia latifolia (white form – also known as pink fairies) in flower.  I only saw one plant which had the normal pink flowers, all the rest were white.

Another species that I saw was Pterostylis curta.  There were quite a lot of these orchids in flower as well.

Other species seen, included Diuris orientis, Diuris behrii and Diuris pardina, Glossodia major, Leptoceras menziesii which was in bud, Thelymitra pauciflora and Thelymitra antennifera, and Diplodium robustum.

What is unique about this site is that they have focused on restoring the under-story, which includes successfully establishing some native orchids which have been increasing in numbers.  Often it is very difficult to reintroduce orchids. However in this project, there was an existing woodland before planting.  One orchid was successfully pollinated within a week of planting, indicating that the correct pollinating wasp was present.

This project did have a few difficulties to overcome when it started, such workers inadvertently spraying the orchids, but now the weeding is left to the Vale Park Our Patch group.  There is another site at Gilbert Street, in North Adelaide, and I will leave that one for next week.

If you are interested in seeing this site, there will be an open day on the 14th September from 10am to 3pm.  It is on Ascot Avenue on the Vale Park side of the Torrens River.  It will be interesting seeing how this site develops over time.

The little fellow

Pterostylis pedunculata – Maroon-hoods

Pterostylis pedunculata

This is an attractive little greenhood.  It has a distinct maroon top on the flower and its sepal.  I’ve only seen this orchid with a single flower per stem.  It is a reasonably common orchid, growing in most regions of South Australia, as well as in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Pterostylis pedunculata

It can often be found in open areas of woodlands, and colonizes easily.  It has a relatively long flowering time, first appearing in late July, and sometimes still flowering up until November.  There is a small rosette of leaves at the base of the plant.  The leaves are crinkled on the top, and spaced wider apart than on other Pterostylis species, such as P. nutans or P. curta.

This is one of the easier orchids to grow.  It is quite a hardy little fellow.  Often this orchid can be introduced to sites through mulch.  The picture on the left shows a maroon hood which was found last year (2012) in the heart of the Adelaide city CBD.

Below is a pretty amazing colony growing in someones front lawn.  So for those who really want to grow orchids, this is one of the easier ones to grow.  (But don’t remove them from the wild, as that is illegal.)

An unusual colony growing in a suburban front lawn. Special thanks to Gordon Ninnes for permission to use his picture.

An unusual colony growing in a suburban front lawn.
Special thanks to Gordon Ninnes for permission to use his picture.

Pterostylis pedunculata

Know Them

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.

Home 20080901 027

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…