Orchids of & in New Zealand David Menzies

David has been to talk to us on many occasions and is well known to us, and throughout the orchid world. His career in the UK has taken in Kew and the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, but he is still a native New Zealander – a country he returns to every 2-3 years to visit family. In particular this is New Plymouth in the North Island, and his last visit there was towards the end of 2013 to coincide with an orchid show.

There are over 100 native orchid species in New Zealand, most are terrestrial and spring flowering. There is quite a climatic variation with the tip of the North Island being over 1000 kilometres from the bottom of the South Island. It has a similar land area to the UK, but with a population of just 4.5 million there are more open spaces and parks to ensure that the species rich flora isn’t under undue pressure.

Auckland in one of the main cities towards the top of the North Island, and is very pretty with a lot of colourful street planting and parks. The climate is quite benign being frost free, with plenty of rain and sunshine to provide humidity and ideal growing conditions. Many of the parks have large conservatories/orangeries dating back to the 1930s where many of the more tender plants will thrive in ‘unheated conditions’ – where the extra few degrees make a big difference overnight. One heated greenhouse provides for the warmer growing plants. A lot of orchids have been here probably since that time, and are sadly no longer labelled with a lack of knowledge passed down over the years. The display plants are used for formal civic displays. It is easy to put names to the plants – for those who know what they are. There is a huge group of Den. densiflorum with 9 specimen plants. Vandas are grown over 2m tall. Externally in the parks there are wooden shade houses which grow Phrags and cymbidiums that are use as foliage when out of flower.

Moving about 100 miles south east we arrive at Rotarua which is at the southern end of the large Lake Rotarua. This is in one of the island’s volcanic locations, and there is an odour of sulphur that hangs around the pits of boiling mud. It isn’t an area noted for plants, especially orchids, but is well worth visiting for its native Maori heritage. A further 100 miles south west brings us to the west coast of the north island, and to New Plymouth. It is an area that gets more weather with the westerly wind. The city has grown somewhat over the last few decades with an artificial port that supports the offshore oil industry. The city is dominated by Mt. Taranaki just to the south (It is described by Wikipedia as ‘an active but quiescent stratovolcano’) which has defined the coastline as well as providing rich fertile volcanic soils. The fertility has allowed this smaller city to be well planted and colourful. David has seen Pleione formosana growing epiphytically. Many orchids are grown in unheated conservatories – both in the parks, and by amateurs. This area is a real hotbed for native orchids. Many are related to others in Australia by genera, although they have mostly evolved into endemics. There are around 18 species of Thelymitra, most are blue, with others paler, and some white ones. These ‘Sun orchids’ grow up to 1’ tall. As in Australia the plants have interesting names – or group names. There are the ‘Potato orchids’ of genus Gastrodia, the ‘Leek orchids’ of Corunastylis & Prasophyllum, the ‘Onion orchids’ of Microtis which grow with a hollow leaf through which the flowers come (like the onion). These can apparently grow like a weed! The ‘Bird orchids’ are the genus Simpliglottis. Many species of Pterostylis are to be found, and are known as the Greenhoods. Pter. curta however isn’t one of them! The Greenhoods also include the genus Diplodium, which are slightly different. The Drymoanthas have flowers that resemble small fleshy Phals, and are actually epiphytes. Up in the mountain the helmet orchids grow in loose leaf litter on clay banks. These are quite short plants, sometimes just 1” tall, and include several species of Corybas, generally of a reddish colour. Closely related to these are the Anzybas with flowers more tubular shaped. Also related are Nematosera species which have spikier petals, and are known as the spider orchids. Many of these species have evolved/adapted to the different sides of the mountain and what else grows there.

David’s sister, and brother George still live in the area, and he grows a lot of cool orchids in shade including lots of Masdevallias – ignea, falcata, and the hanging caesia grow well alongside homemade hybrids. Sarcochilus hartmannii has grown into a huge specimen plant, and Cym. tigrinum stays a relatively compact plant. Plants were being readied for the upcoming show in the local sports hall, with particular emphasis on grouping individual Pleiones into large display pots, all facing the same way (no, it’s not cheating…). There were a lot of Society displays in the centre, mainly at floor level, and most contained cool growing plants such as Masd, Pleuros, Coelogynes, Pleiones, and seed grown Epidendrums of all colours. A deep red Cym. devonianum hybrid was excellent. Masd. Gold Purse (veitchiana x Notosibirica) was one of the best, with the huge Cym. Cricket (devonianum x madidum) being the Grand Champion. NB. The website http://www.nativeorchids.co.nz/ has a lot of information on native species and a few natural hybrids. A few questions were asked, and a hearty round of applause followed. Thank you David.