Category Archives: Other orchids

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:

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)

Know Them

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].

Orchids are amazing

I did not really need to tell you that, because you already knew it.  However, since I started OrchidNotes twitter account, @OrchidNotes, I’ve gained an appreciation of some of the other orchids which grow beyond the shores of Australia.  True, in Australia, we probably have the greatest diversity of orchids, with over 193 genera, over 1300 named species, with 95% being endemic to Australia.  82% of our orchids are terrestrial.  (Jones 2006, pp. 12-13)  So today, I’m going to do something that I have not done before, and share some pictures of orchids which I have never ever seen (but would like to see, maybe one day).

Monkey Face Orchid

The Monkey Face Orchid is so realistic, and I’ve seen so many pictures of this orchid.  It appears to have a lot of variation across the flowers.

Source

Source

Bee Orchid

So there is the bee orchid, ophrys apifera.  I love the little smile that it has.  It grows in Europe.

File:Ophrys apifera (flower).jpg

Source

Source

Lady Slipper’s Orchid

This is another European orchid.  It has quite spectacular colouring, especially captured by the sun light as seen in this picture below.

Source

Source

The Flying Orchid

This flower actually has an intreging was of making sure it is pollinated.  See here for more information.

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Helmet Orchid

Many of our orchids are also found in New Zealand.  I found this rather cute picture of a helmet orchid.  None in Australia have antennae!

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Bearded Orchid

This is an Australian orchid, which I have not feature here much, sadly.  It is another incredible orchid.  I love the beard.

 calochilus robertsonii

Duck Orchid

Probably the most popular and amazing orchid in the world would be the Flying Duck Orchid, and I have seen this flower.  It is incredible.  This is the most popular orchid according to OrchidNotes stats.

Duck 2 copy

What is you favourite orchid?

References

Jones, D. 2006. Native Orchids of Australia; A Complete Guide to native orchids of Australia including the island territories. pp. 12-13.

Also, here is a link to an article showing some of the orchids from the world which look like animals and birds.

Dormancy of some terrestrial orchids

Philip Roetman, who is also interested in citizen science, directed me to a paper by Nancy Sather summarising 25 years of monitoring of a species of terrestrial orchids in Minnesota, in central North America next to Lake Superior.  I have picked out some points of interest that could be relevant to understanding terrestrial orchids in Australia.

Link for image

The plant monitored was the Platanthera praeclara (Western Prairie Fringed Orchid).  This is a species with up to 24 showy, white flowers on a spike reaching 1.2 metres tall.  It grows in remnant prairies and sedge meadows and sometimes emerges while areas are covered with water.

The paper was published at a conference in August 2012.  It summarises results from 1985-2010.  The number of plants counted peaked at over 10,000 with high counts in the years between 1993 and 1996.  Average counts in 2006 to 2009 were at 15% of those in the high years.

Dormancy is a fascinating feature of these orchids.  In one study, up to 12% of plants were dormant each year and 30% experiencing dormancy of one to three years.  At two sites the average life spans were 4-8 years with individual plants surviving 22-26 years with episodes of dormancy.

I have heard that individual plants of Calochilus cupreus (Copper Beard-orchid) in South Australia do not come up every year.  The remaining population is monitored once every year.

Figure

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources uses the nested orchid monitoring protocol depicted in Figure 1 (above), with decreasing numbers of sites as intensity of monitoring becomes greater.  These Levels show the possibilities for monitoring for Australian terrestrial orchids.  Those interested in studying orchids will find want to read the detail about these levels and how the data were collected.

A study by Quintana-Ascencio et al. (2004) is cited in which dormancy is reported lasting “as long as eight years, with more than half of all dormancy episodes as short as one year. Rates of dormancy can be quite high. Across the full 25 years of the study at Burnham WMA, 57% of plants that ever flowered and 70% of plants that lived more than three years but never flowered exhibited at least one episode of dormancy.”

Sather (2012) reports that it was possible to observe plants enter and emerge from multiple periods of dormancy.

“Periods of extended dormancy may also help explain the well-recognized tendency for the locus of flowering plants to shift geographically within populations from time to time and the resurgence of orchid populations after near-disappearance or periods of low numbers. Variations in demographic characteristics of populations between sites and years exhibited in preliminary analyses of our data (Quintana-Ascencio et al. 2004) suggest that it is unwise to draw conclusions from short-term studies or to extrapolate between sites. Studies of 3-5 years are insufficient to frame development of recruits to flowering plants and periods of dormancy that last for three or more years.”