Mayfly Mystery

The Mayfly Orchid is a small orchid with very dark reddish brown flowers with long, hair-like sepals.  It flowers from late July to August.  One might question what sort of insect was behind the naming of this orchid, which does not even flower in May.  Mayflies are an insect with which many of us are not acquainted.

Nemacianthus caudatus

Close view of a typical flowering Mayfly Orchid

One source attributed the naming or the orchid being similar to the long legs of a Mayfly.  However, a quick search in the Internet revealed that Mayflies have fairly short legs, as in the image below:

It turns out that it is the appendages on the end of the abdomen that the sepals of the Mayfly Orchid resemble.  Mayflies usually have three tails (two cerci, one middle filament), although the middle tail is rarely reduced or absent.  All the tails are longer than the body, thread-like and similar in size.  Thus the three tails correspond with the three long sepals of the Mayfly Orchid flowers.

This is only half of the story; mayflies occur in swarms and these resemble colonies of Mayfly Orchids.

Nemacianthus caudatus

A colony of Mayfly Orchids in the Adelaide hills

Mayflies are a sign of summer in parts of the United States of America Source: http://www.severnsound.ca/SSEA_Mayflies.htm

Adult Mayflies are short-lived.  Most live for one or two days, but some for only a few minutes.  They form mating swarms.  Some swarms are quite impressive, even on Doppler weather radar.

So you may want to keep a lookout for colonies of Mayfly Orchids in August and see if you can imagine a swarm of insects with three long tails on their abdomens.

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.

20140503_140820

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:

Autumn orchid flowers

The orchid season has started – well actually it started last month.  I’m a bit late sharing these pictures with you, but they were taken on the 29th of March.

One of the first orchids to flower is Corunastylis sp. Adelaide Hills.  It has such tiny flowers with the whole plant often being less than 10 cm high.  This does make it quite challenging to photograph, but they are still very delightful plants.

Corunastylis sp. Adelaide Hills

From the picture you above, there is a small fly sitting on the top flower.  This is most likely the pollinator.  On a warm day there will be plenty of these little flies buzzing around the orchids.  This species does have quite a range of colour varieties.  Below is a yellow form.

Corunastylis sp. Adelaide Hills

Another species that is flowering at the moment is Eriochilus cucullatus.  This is also a very small orchid with the flower not being much larger than a thumb nail.

Eriochilus cucullatus

As we move into winter we will start to see more of the greenhoods in flower.

More than orchids

Orchid hunting is not all about finding the most interesting, rarest and amazing orchids.  It’s an opportunity to immerse myself in the bush, and relax.  There are many beautiful things to see and enjoy.  Recently I saw this Egret with its mating plumage.

Egret

The bush has many beautiful and amazing areas that are such a pleasure to see.  Below are a few pictures of the patterns created by the trees.

DSC02953Sometimes I am fast enough to capture birds, but since most of the time I have the macro lens on, that is not very possible.

Misitlo birdThere are some days when I return home to look through my pictures and find something unexpected such as a mosquito captured in frame!

Jonesiopsis

Orchids are beautiful but there are so many other surprises in the bush that are waiting to be found.

Ducks

Currently there is not a lot happening in the orchid world.  So today’s post is all about duck orchids.

As I had a bit more spare time over the last couple of months, I decided to try and capture the beauty of the Small Duck orchid in a pencil drawing.  The flower would easily fit inside a thumb, so my drawing is substantially larger than the actual orchid.   I did draw from a photograph that I had taken.

There is somethings so beautiful when you meet someone who is truly excited about learning.  And what’s more a teacher learns from their students.  Recently at an orchid society meeting, one of the members was very excitedly telling me about recently seeing the duck orchids and discovering how the flowers behaved and were pollinated.

I was able to point out that the duck orchid actually has a sensitive labellum, a feature that is common is several species of Pterostylis and in Bunochilus, Urochilus and OligochaetochilusThe ‘head’ of the duck orchid flips down into the ‘body’ of the flower trapping any pollinator.  This can be seen in the centre right picture.  However I had never really thought about where the pollen of the flower is, until the member asked me about a yellow spot on all his photographs!  The pollen sits at the base of the body which means the pollinator has to pass over it to escape out of the orchid and thus pollinates the orchids.  It can be seen on the duck on the far left.

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!

Announcement!

Greetings everyone!  My next post will be my 100th, so I planning on doing something different: a questions and answer post.  I’m welcoming questions on a variety of topics: from anything on orchids to about OrchidNotes.  My aim is that it will be an interactive post, where hopefully we can have some interesting discussions.  I have not done this before, so I hope it works out!!

You can submit your questions a variety of ways: write them in the comments below or through the Contact us page, or any of the social media, Google+, Facebook, or Twitter.  I’m really looking forward to this.  It would be good if I could receive your questions by 21st February.

Jonesiopsis