Tag Archives: sun orchid

I’m alive

Yes, I am alive.  Unfortunately I’ve been very very busy over the last few months and have run out of time to post on OrchidNotes.  So today is a quick update.  Soon, I will try to post some pictures from early October, when the spring orchids were in full flower.  Here is a sample with a picture of Thelymitra grandiflora – one of the largest sun orchids.

Thelymitra grandiflora

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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.

Know Them

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

Orchids in the Technological Age

In the last few years, we have seen some incredible developments in technology, particularly with electronics and multi-media devices.  For instant, walk down a street, and how many people will you see either listening to music from on ipod, or looking down at their smart phone.  How many of you are reading this on a phone?  So there have been some massive changes, and these can be used to help us appreciate orchids, either through photography or identification.

There are plenty of advantages coming from this technological development.  I’ve seen people ask the identification of some orchid they found, and instead of printing the photograph, they just leave it on their tablet or phone.  It certainly saves on paper.  Another outcome is that field guides, or apps for identification can be on you phone or tablet, so instead of carrying around a library of books, you only need to take a phone.  At present, I have four orchid books on my phone, and can check the identification and know straight away what I have found!  I think it is great.

Glossodia major ~ Purple Cockatoo Orchid

I have been amazed at the quality of the pictures that my phone takes.  For those wondering, my phone is the Samsung Galaxy S2, and it has an eight megapixel camera.  I still have to coax it to get the macro shots in focus, but I tend to use my hand to focus, and  then remove my hand away when I take the picture.  However I still have to do that with my compact digital.  Since I bought my phone, I’ve found myself using it as my primary camera, partly because it is so much easier to see the phone screen in the sunlight than my camera screen.

Arachnorchis tentaculata ~ King Spider Orchid

Now, the smart phones also come with GPS.  I have not experimented much with this, but I suspect it may not be as good as some of the GPSs that are on the market.  This is probably an area that still needs to be worked on, but there’s potential.

Petochilus carnea ~ Pink Fingers

You might be interested that all the pictures on this post were taken with my phone.  None of the pictures have been edited.  I still take out the compact digital camera if I am planning to video orchids (phone tends to focus on background rather than flower when filming) or if I need to use optical zoom.

Orchids of the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens

Australia is a rich resource for orchids, especially terrestrial orchids which make up 82 percent of all the Australian orchids.  Terrestrial Orchids are found, mainly below the tropics in grasslands, heath lands, and eucalyptus forests.  Many are deciduous coming up in autumn/winter, flowering in winter/spring and dying down in summer.  Most rely on fungi to survive, and for germinated to occur.

What makes an orchid?

Orchids are always made up of five main segments: a labellum, column, two sepals and a dorsal sepal and two petals.

How do orchids reproduce?

Most orchids need to be pollinated by native bees, wasps and sometimes ants.  The introduced European Bee, because of its size, does not pollinate the flower, but can instead damage or destroy it.  Some orchids do not require a pollinator and are thus called self pollinating.

Orchids in South Australia

There are many different orchids; in fact, South Australia is home to over three hundred different species, some of which are yet to be described.  The Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens yields a variety of orchids, which will be covered in this leaflet.

Arachnorchis tentaculata King Spider Orchid

This species is relatively common in the Mt. Lofty Ranges, with flowers reaching ten centimetres across.  It can easily be distinguished by clubs on the end of its petals and sepals.

Diuris pardina Spotted Donkey Orchid

This attractive flower is distinguished by the spots on its sepals and labellum.  It received its common name as its petals reminded the English settlers of donkey ears.

Diuris orientis Wallflower Donkey Orchid

This distinctive orchid can be distinguished by its bright colours and particularly its labellum, which can be a shade of deep purple.  This species is also referred to as the Bulldog Orchid.

Diuris orientis x pardina Pioneer Donkey Orchid

It is not unusual to find hybrids of the donkey orchid.  It is often between these two species and can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from Diuris pardina.

Glossodia major Cockatoo Orchid

This purple flower is often found in fields, and is very common in the Mount Lofty Ranges.  It does vary in colour from purple to a pure white, with the different varieties growing together.

Pterostylis pedunculata Greenhood

This winter flowering orchid is often found in dense colonies which can number over a hundred plants.  It can be found in early spring in the Mt. Lofty Botanic Gardens.

Microtis arenaria Onion Orchid

This green flower breaks out of its cylindrical leaf.  Many people find the Microtis family difficult to identify due to its minute size.

Thelymitra rubra Sun Orchid

This pink sun orchid is one of three pink sun orchids.  It can be distinguished by the tufts on the top of the column.  It opens freely on warm days, when the temperature is over 25 degrees centigrade.

Thelymitra brevifolia Pepper Top Sun Orchid

This sun orchid has a distinctive red top on its column.  It can also be distinguished by red edges on its short broad leaf.  Its flower is smaller than Thelymitra rubra.

Thelymitra parviflora Sun Orchid

This common sun orchid has a blue flower and can be confused with a number of other blue sun orchids.  Like all sun orchids, it only opens on warm days, as this is when the pollinators are present.

There are many other types of orchids not considered in this leaflet.  However some field guides on orchids will enable identification of orchids which can be found in other parks and reserves around Adelaide or beyond.

Protecting Orchids

It is always a pleasure to find orchids but they do need to be protected and conserved.  Orchids can easily be eliminated by weeds which choke them.  Consequently, if orchids are found, it is an indication that the surrounding bush is good quality.  It is also important not to pick orchids.  Not only is it illegal, but orchids need their flowers to reproduce.

This is from a leaflet about the common orchids in the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens.  For the printable version, see here.

Free Orchid walks


Thelymitra rubra ~Common Pink Sun Orchid

There will be two free guided walks to see orchids at the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens in Adelaide.  These walks are led by the Native Orchid Society of South Australia and are a chance for the public to see some common orchids and get to know some other orchid lovers.  The walks are on:

  • Monday ~ 1 October 2012
  • Saturday ~ 27 October 2012

Walks start at 11am and are just over an hour in length and start at the Lower Carpark.  Please contact me if you are interested.


Click on pictures to enlarge.

All pictures were taken at the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens.

Orchids in odd places

Orchids generally prefer to grow somewhere like here:

However, I have found some orchids in some very different places.  For instant I’ve been areas that have been cleared and later planted out.  You must realize that orchids cannot cope with that much disturbance.  However I’ve seen orchids there, native Australian orchids and they have not been planted either.  There is a very logical reason.

Often these sites have had a layer of wood cuttings placed over the top of them.  The orchids have entered these clippings most likely as seed, and the seed germinates at the new location, and yes, you have some orchids.

The most common to do this is the onion orchid, Microtis arenicola.  This is probably one of the most common orchids.  This one also enjoys regular watering!

Another hardy species which does this is the Pterostylis pedunculata or the maroon greenhood.  This orchid was found very close to Adelaide’s CBD, and I’ve seen pictures of it growing in someone’s front lawn.

Both of these species are just coming out now.

Here is an orchid which did not realize that it was in a tennis court.  This is Dipodium roseum, the hyacinth orchid, a summer flowering orchid, which I will probably discuss in more detail closer to that season.

Then of course, there are those orchids which I have no idea why, or how they end up where they are.  Below are some leaves of Thelymitra (sun orchid) and Glossodia major (Blue Cockatoo orchid) growing in a tree.