Category Archives: Know Them

The pretender

Lobelia gibbosa – False Orchid

“It’s summer, and not a lot of orchids are about, but wait, who is that pretty blue flower over there?  Is it an orchid?  I’ve never seen it/read about this flower before.”

Lobelia gibbosa

It might be a pretty flower that is fairly easy to stumble across in the bush, but sadly it is not an orchid, and many have confused it as an orchid, thus enabling it to gain the name “False Orchid.”  It is not even a lily, but is in the family of Campanulaceae.  Since I do not know a lot of information about this plant, I’ve been doing some research and it is really a fascinating plant!

There are several reasons why it can never be an orchid.  It is an annual and orchids are not annuals.  Although the flower may look like it has five segments, it does not have the distinctive column found in all orchids.

DSC03004a (2)It generally has two to four purple/blue and sometimes white flowers that grow from a maroon coloured stem.  The flowers may have a stripe down the center of the petals.  Flowering begins in early summer.  Interestingly, at flowering time, the plant’s leaves have begun to die down.  The plant no longer depends on its roots for survival and can be uprooted and continue to grow.  Consequently it is one of the few flowers that can be found following a 40C heat wave!

It is a fairly widespread plant and can be found in all the states of Australia and even as far as New Zealand and South Africa.  It prefers a slightly open area for growth and seems to be able to cope with a variety of weather conditions.

So while it is not an orchid, or even a lily, enjoy it as it is quite a nice flower!

DSC03010a (2)

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Sources:

Archer, W. 2011. Esperance Wildflowers: Lobelia gibbosa – Tall Lobelia. [online] Available at: http://esperancewildflowers.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/lobelia-gibbosa-tall-lobelia.html [Accessed: Jan 2014].

Friends of Black Hill and Morialta Incorporated. 2013. Lobelia sp. in Black Hill, Morialta and Horsnell Gully Conservation Parks. [online] Available at: http://www.fobhm.org/noframes/lobelia.htm [Accessed: Jan 2014].

Lemon scented

Thelymitra antennifera – Rabbit Ears

The genus of sun orchids can be quite daunting to identify, but thankfully in South Australia Thelymitra antennifera is the most commonly encountered yellow sun orchid with its distinctive column.  It has two common names.  Rabbit ears describe the dark red “ears” that sit on top of the column.  The second name is Lemon Scented Sun orchid, which describes the soft scent emitted by these flowers.

Thelymitra antennifera

This sun orchid has thin grass like leaf with a dark purple base.  The plants quite commonly have several flowers on them.  The flowers are relatively large compared to the small, short stem that holds them.

The Rabbit Ears sun orchid can be found right across Australia from Western Australia into Victoria and Tasmania.  It tends to enjoy a slightly opened woodland, and can be often found on the top of ridges and further down in the valleys.  It is common, and has a long flowering range.  Depending on the region, it can be seen in flower from August to November on any warm day.

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The King

Arachnorchis tentaculata – King Spider Orchid

A hairy leaf of the spider orchid

A hairy leaf of the spider orchid

The king spider orchid is one of the largest orchids, and the most common spider orchid that grows in the Adelaide Hills.  It can stand nearly a foot high, with the flowers nearly ten cm across.  Generally, they have one flower per plant, but sometimes there can be up to three flowers on one stalk.  This species is distinguished by having clubs on the end of its three sepals, as there are other orchids such as Arachnorchis stricta, which are very similar, but don’t have any clubs.

The orchid has a hairy bluish-green coloured leaf, with a slightly purple base.  The leaf is generally fairly rigid and can be four to five cm long.  On one occasion, I saw a leaf that was nearly 10cm high.  The plant had put a lot of energy into the leaf, and would not flower that year.

These spider orchids are pollinated by a native wasp.  The flower tricks the male wasp into believing it is a wasp, by giving of the scent of the female wasp, and through its deceptive (but beautiful) labellum or lip.  Once the male wasp lands on the labellum, or the lip of the flower, it dislocates the pollen on to its head.  After realizing that it has been tricked, it flies away from that flower with the pollen.  After picking up the scent of another spider orchid, the same story happens again, and the second spider orchid is successfully pollinated.  Sometimes the wasps can damage the labellum of the orchid, and this can be seen by it hanging lower than normal.

This is an albino form of Arachnorchis tentaculata.  I have only seen this once, several years ago, even though I've returned to that site more recently.  This is a rare form.

This is an albino form of Arachnorchis tentaculata. I have only seen this once, several years ago, even though I’ve returned to that site more recently. This is a rare form.

Several growers in Adelaide have been able to successfully grow these orchids.  One grower told me that the young seedlings tend to require an adult plant to be present, for survival.  This helps ensure that there is fungi there.  From seed, the spider orchids take about five years to mature and be able to flower.  The plant can live for up to nine years, and should put up a leaf each year, but it may not flower each year.

Personally, this is one of the more delightful orchids, as it has pretty colouring, and is one of the larger orchids.

Arachnorchis tentaculataKnow Them

The Mayfly

Nemacianthus caudatus – Mayfly Orchid

Acianthus pusillusThis little orchid is very similar to Acianthus pusillus but flowers in spring instead of autumn.  It has similar heart-shaped leaves to Acianthus pusillus, but the flowers are very differentThey are often found growing together.

The Mayfly orchid has graceful long sepals compared to a relatively small flower.  The whole flower stalk is a dark red, which makes it a challenging subject to photograph in low light.

It is often found growing at the base of tress in the leaf litter, in small colonies.  The flowers attracts its pollinator, a small gnat, by giving off a musty odour which we can also detect.  Once pollinated, the ovaries (pictured left) swell with many tiny seeds within.

Nemacianthus caudatus.docx

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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

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Small Wonder

Corunastylis sp. Adelaide Hills – Midge Orchids

This genus would have to be one of the most frustrating orchids to identify (at least I think so), and when found in the wild only looks like a twig sticking out of the ground, but when looking at a picture is a surprisingly beautiful flower.  However Bates 2011 said, “Basically if one finds a woodland species in the Mount Lofty Ranges it will be this taxon,” so I guess it is not that hard to identify.

The variety of colourings

The variety of colourings

So it is the Corunastylis sp. (Adelaide Hills), an unobtrusive flower showing itself from late February to May.  The distinguishing feature of this orchid is its labellum which is so tiny, and so difficult to get under to see!  The whole plant stands under 10 cm, with many small brown and green flowers along the stem.  It is fairly widespread in South Australia, growing from Eyre Peninsula across to the Flinders Ranges, and down to the South East and Kangaroo Island.

2009 036a

Note: this is the Mt. Billy species

This orchid does have a leaf which wraps around the stem of the plant.  However it can be difficult to see.  The flowers are pollinated by a small little fly.  It is quite common to find the little pollinator sitting on the flower, with pollen on its back.

Mostly the orchid is found in sandy soil, or open areas.  Quite often it seems to enjoy living dangerously, growing in the middle of tracks and paths.

This genus is not just unique to Australia, as there are other species which can be found in New Caledonia and New Zealand.

A remaining captual

A remaining capsules

Often the finished capsules of the orchids can be found quite some time after flowering, right into spring.  The above picture shows that this plant was pollinated and has produced some swollen capsules.

Corunastylis sp copy

Reference:
Bates, R. (2011) South Australia’s Native Orchids. Native Orchid Society of South Australia Inc, p.455.

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Nice and Early

Eriochilus cucullatus – Parson’s Bands

The Parson’s Bands is a small white flower that appears from late March to May and is reasonably common.  The flowers always appear before the leaves, which can then last some time after flowering has finished.  The whole plant can stand up to fifteen cm high, and usually has one flower per stem, and on rarer occasion can have up to three flowers on one stem.  This orchid appears to like growing in small open places, including rocky places and old tracks.

Eriochilus cuculata (1)

Within the Eriochilus cucullatus species in South Australia there are several subspecies with Eriochilus sp Hills woodland being the most commonly found.  In Victoria only E. cucullatus exists, but there are several other species found in Western Australia.

Eriochilus cuculata (19)

This orchid is believed to be pollinated by a small native bee, which the orchid attracts through its flower’s colouring and scent.  The picture above shows some pollinia on the flower’s labellum.

After it flowers, or towards the end of flowering, the leaves of this orchid begin to appear.  They are a dark green-grey colouring, with a textured top.  If leaves are found at a site, it is probably a good idea to check these areas next autumn for any flowers.

Eriochilus cucullatus

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