Tag Archives: Identification

What makes an orchid an orchid

Recently, I have been surprise by the number of “likes” I have received for a post I published several months ago: Parts of an Orchid.  I’ll attempt to write some more posts along these lines, as this seems to be what you (my readers) enjoy!

The origin of the name “Orchids” comes from the Greek word orchis.  This is because the orchids tend to have two tubers shaped like a pair of testicles.  These distinctive tubers separate it from its sister plant group, the lily family.  However when identifying orchids I do not recommend looking at the tubers as it is illegal to dig up orchids in Australia.

Another distinctive feature of an orchid is that both the male and female parts for reproduction are combined on a column, while in other plant families these are separated with sometimes one plant being either the male or female plant.  The column is also an important feature for identification, in particular Thelymitra, sun orchids.

Orchid reproduction

Many orchids rely on fungi for survival.  This makes them challenging to cultivate, with some being impossible to grow, and thus difficult or impossible to re-establish after habitat loss.  Consequently, the number of orchids species present on a site tends to indicate the quality of the site.

Something you may have or may not have noticed is that the flower of an orchid is symmetrical and this is not always applicable to other flowers.

Calochilus cupreus
Bearded orchid

Arachnorchis stricta



Oligochaetochilus arenicola – Sand-hill Rufoushood

As well as introducing you to this fascinating orchid, I will use it as an example for some tips in orchid identification.  However, later on, I do have an interesting tale to tell on this species, but I’ll leave that for another post (i.e. when I get around to writing it – and put the video together!!)

Detail of the bristles on the labellum

This would have to be one of my favourite orchids, not because of any vivid or striking colours.  It has a slender flower, and when it cachest the sunligh, it is quite spectacular.  It tends to grow in sandy soil, and more arid areas, growing in drier sites where other orchids would not be able to survive.  It is listed as rare.

Its unpronounceable name refers to some small bristles which grow on the labellum (lip) of the flower.  The number of bristles is used to determine which species it is, so it doesn’t help identification when the photograph is of the flower with the labellum triggered as seen below.

Oligochaetochilus arenicola with a triggered labellum

This is a spring flowering orchid so it won’t be seen flowering until September to November.  However, its leaves are up in late autumn.  The leaves grow as a rosette (or several leaves growing from one point.)  In this genus, the leaves will begin to die during flowering.

With shorter sepals

Upon first glance the above picture might look like a different species.  Its sepals are shorter than the other orchids photographs in this post.  This was my first reaction upon looking at this picture when I returned home.  This is an example how anyone can be fooled while identifying orchids.  If you look closely, you will see that in fact the sepals have been chewed.  Most likely this happened while the orchid was still in bud, as seen on the left flower.

Across different flowers in this species, there is quite a lot of variation meaning no two flowers are exactly the same.  Maybe this makes them so different and special.

Here are a few more pictures because I like showcasing these flowers!

Know Them