The Beauty of Orchids

With kind permission from the Forward of the book ‘Start with the Leaves’

So often the greatest beauty lies in the smallest of things. We are easily awestruck by the stark ruggedness of the Flinders Ranges, the power of the Southern Right whales and sweeping beauty of the white sand expanse of Vivonne Bay.  It is easy to think of, and be impressed by, “Grand Nature”.  But, to me, the greatest beauty in Nature lies in the tiny, the delicate, the pastel-coloured and the elegant.   Perhaps this is why my family and friends hate bushwalking with me.  Whilst they march off tackling the rugged climbs of Mt Plantagenet, or the sandy expanses of little Sahara,  eyes peeled for the sight of an eagle, I lag behind.  Under my feet are the tiny jewels of extra-ordinary beauty that are just breathtaking.  Whether animal, plant or fungal, this “Miniature Nature” hides the real reason why we bond with the great outdoors.  However, of all the beauties in this small scale, it is the orchids that outshine all others.

We normally think of orchids as large and sometimes rather garish plants that hold pride of place in many floral assemblies so popular in Hospitals and at weddings.  But the Mt Lofty Ranges and Adelaide Plains are home to a staggering variety (over 200 species) of tiny, delicate, and absolutely stunning orchids.   They are invisible to the striding bushwalker intent on conquering the landscape.  However, for those of us who ramble about, heads down, peering at the leaf litter, these plants reveal a world just as impressive and engaging as cliffs or ravines.   Orchids are also more than just beautiful.  They are extra-ordinary plants.  Many have a special relationship with fungi, and most are highly endangered.  The greater Adelaide area is a biodiversity hot spot for orchids and yet they are the plant  family most endangered because of land clearance and habitat destruction.  So there is some sadness and a lot of trepidation for me, that we might be losing forever these tiny jewels, and not even notice they were here.

I am therefore absolutely delighted and greatly honoured to be asked to write the Foreword for  this beautiful guide to the Orchids of Adelaide written by Robert Lawrence.  Whilst it carefully and accurately describes the common species remaining in the region, it also does so much more.  The book is a real credit to the author.  The book tells us how to identify each species, describes its biology and the photography is stunning. In showing us what we have discovered, the guide opens up the world of the orchid to us all and draws us into the life of the most tiny, elegant, delicate and fascinating of all our plants.  Once you have seen their beautiful flowers and crafted leaves, these icons of “Miniature Nature” will change your bush rambling style for ever and you will understand the real reasons we must conserve our own backyard environment.

Prof. Chris Daniels

Director, Barbara Hardy Institute

Division of Information Technology, Engineering and Environment

University of South Australia


Presiding Member, Adelaide and Mt Lofty Natural Resource Management Board