Orchids, the latest obsession…

Lenah Valley Sept 2015

Fungi season finished a while ago, which was sad. Not massively sad to the point of sinking into a pit of depression, but sad enough. I think a big part of the sad is also that being the end of fungi season means the end of the winter season. I’m very much a winter person. The cold, the wet, the misty, the non-snakey kind of weather. I tend to get a bit ‘bleh’ when the weather warms up and the sun comes out hotter than usual. I’m not a massive fan of it. It’s good for going to the beach with the kids, and that’s about it for me. Oh and night-time adventures, when the sun isn’t out but it is still warm, not too warm though, just warm enough. Point being I much prefer the horrible weather to play in.

Peter Murrel Nov 2015

All that aside, spring and summer does bring with it loads of awesome stuff that I love. It’s that time of year when majority of flowers bloom and all the bugs and stuff come out to play. Birds too I guess, but I don’t know birds. I don’t really know bugs either, one day I might. I’m starting to know Orchids though. Very slowly, but getting there none the less. Just like fungi, and pretty much everything else in the entire universe, the more you start to learn about things the more you realise that you know nothing really and things start to get confusing before they start to get unconfusing. I quite often feel like I am in a constant state of confusion, especially with Eucalypts, there is something about them that really get me stumped and I seem to struggle learning those. I’m not talking about Eucalypts right now though, I am talking about Orchids. I’ll tackle the Eucalypts another day.

I’ve learnt a whole bunch about Orchids already, I can even identify a few of them without the assistance of books or Orchid experts, at least to the genus level, not always species though, and sometimes not always to genus. Orchids are pretty damn brilliant. We have about 200 species here in Tassie, with about a third of them (so going on 200 species about 66.66666) being endemic. They grow in all kinds of places, from roadsides, by the beach, through the rainforests right up to the alpine areas. You name it and there is pretty much an Orchid that will grow there. Some are fairly to easy to find, others aren’t so easy, but once you have an idea of where to look and roughly the time of year then you will wonder how on earth you used to wander past and miss them. The main ‘Orchid season’ starts around early spring and heads through to summer, however at any point in the year there is probably at least one species in flower somewhere.

The tricky bit about finding Orchids is that majority grow from tubers and spend a lot of their time under the soil with no visible vegetative parts where we can easily spot them. The other frustrating bit is that quite often you will stumble upon a massive colony of very distinct orchid leaves, there will be gazillions of them lining the track and disappearing into the undergrowth, but no flowers. You will go back and keep checking on them, but still not find flowers or buds. I’m unsure as to why. If I find out I will add a foot note. I am thinking that there are sterile plants that maybe just reproduce vegetatively or they are just young plants which haven’t reached flowering stage yet, or maybe they just flower every few years. I’m not sure, but there are certain species which seem to be very dependent on fire to induce flowering, and a lot are quite prominent along fire trails which get fairly regularly slashed, I am sure there is a clue in there.

Peter Murrell

I don’t think I have a favourite, maybe I do, but I’m just not sure which one it is yet. Perhaps it’s like all the places I want to live when I grow up… Which is usually always the latest place I have been… Orchids are probably like that, possibly my favourite Orchid is the one which is in front of me at the time. Having said that, I don’t have an Orchid in front of me now, so they are all my favourite.

The Orchidaceae family is pretty huge, and has such a huge variation in ecology and form. Even when it is narrowed down to just the ones which grow in Tasmania there are still so many that are so different. Generally when most people think of Orchids they think of the Orchids people grow in their gardens, the Cymbidiums and the like. The ones that are exotic and are hybridised and bred for garden plants. Tasmanian Orchids are quite different. Perhaps the closest we have to a ‘traditional’ orchid is Sarcochilus australis, also known as the Gunn’s Tree Orchid. It is Tasmanias only epiphytic orchid, which means it is the only one that grows in trees rather than in the ground and has more of a traditional orchid looking flower. All the others are terrestrial, which means they grow in ‘soil’. I use the term soil loosely, because in some cases, such as Townsonia viridis they will grow on dead and rotting logs. Which is effectively a soil type substrate, and Townsonia doesn’t really look like an ‘orchid’. The other exception to the rule is Dockrilla sp, which I don’t know a lot about, other than it grows on granite rocks and is pretty restricted to a few spots on the east coast and Flinders Island. The point I am getting at here, is that native Tasmanian orchids don’t look like the ones your grandmother grows, they are loads smaller and have some pretty different flower shapes. I could have said that a lot quicker, but I like to ramble on, can’t help it.

Flower form is still pretty much the same as the traditional orchids, but with a few differences. Sometimes the dorsal sepal (the top petal looking bit) is bent right over like a hood, such as in Pterostylis, and other times it just sticks up and almost just looks like a normal kind of flower like in Glossodia. The lip, or labellum (modified petal) is quite often very distinct and can be quite showy. Sometimes there are little glands which can be different colours and shapes and by using the markings on the labellum and the characteristics of the column (where the reproductive bits are) identification can be made a bit easier, or a lot easier, depending on who you are and how well you know orchids!

Are you bored yet? Have you learnt something? If you already know orchids then possibly not, except that I ramble on a bit and use a lot more words to get a point across than I need to.

Anyhooo… I have finally catalogued all the orchids I have found and photographed to date. I have so many more to find, hopefully one day I will be able to say I have seen them all, yet that will be a bit of a long shot I reckon. You can find them all in the Tasmanian Flora section. To the right you will find a list of plants sorted by families. Although I have only done the orchids yet…

If you are interested in learning more about all the orchids of Tasmania make sure you hit up the Tasmanian Native Orchids group on the Facebook. The folks on there are pretty awesome people and have not hesitated in helping me locate specific orchids and pointing me in the right direction. Not to mention just been utterly brilliant at sharing all their knowledge about all things orchid. Worth their weight in gold those people. It’s their fault that orchids have become my latest obsession and I am very thankful for it.

Ridgeway Sept 2015


Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: