Orchids of SW Australia

David Menzies

David is now quite well known to us from previous talks – mainly on some of his travels to the far flung corners of the world. His orchid career has been varied, being born in New Zealand, starting at Kew, and eventually becoming assistant curator at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens for over 24 years before his retirement. He also holds the national collection of Dendrobiums. He started by saying that today’s talk was on more than just the orchids of SW Australia, but including a look at the Perth orchid show, and touching on a few from New Zealand. He went to Perth last Autumn (Sept. – Oct. 2012) to attend the Australian National Conference, and then went to visit his native New Zealand. This period is Spring in Australia, and is when most plants are in flower – they tend to grow as terrestrials during the cooler winter, flower in spring, and then become dormant ‘bulbs’ under the summer heat. Perth is the west coast, and is actually nearer to Singapore than any of the major cities such as Sydney from which it is isolated by vast deserts. It is situated on the Swan river, just upstream from the sea port of Freemantle. the temperature is very benign, and although it can get cool in winter it is frost free. The soils are fairly thin and poor, and subject to wild fires. Despite this the local area has around 9000 species of plants. One of the commonest Orchid genus is the Caladenias of which there are over 100 species. most are known by their common names by the locals. They are quite spectacular, whilst still of a modest size. The cowslip orchid (C. flava) is of course yellow. latifolia is known as the pink fairy orchid, and ranicula is also pink, but of a spidery shape. Many of this group are collectively known as the spider orchids. georgei (Tuart spider) is a bit bigger with a 3″ sepal that actually attracts bees. discoidea (dancing spider) is a plant that bends over. The colours range over to the blues as well with the ‘china’ orchids of Cyanicula, and the enamel orchids (Elythranthera) have very glossy leaves. The donkey orchids Diuris are named for their petals that resemble donkey’s eras. Often these plants are found in large colonies. The mignonette orchids – Microtis – all have a single hollow leaf and stem with a flower around 1mm in size, and these resemble Spiranthes in shape and form. The Pyrorchis genus only flower after a fire, and are known as the beak orchids. Pterostylis is a genus that comes from this area, and curta is one that is frequently seen in the UK. Most of the group are a similar green and hooded. They grow in open woodland and have names like the jug orchid (P. recurva) or the bird orchid (P. barbata). Most however are called a variety of ‘greenhood’. The trips to visit these habitats were on days out from the conference. This moves around Australia in the same way as a BOC, EOC or WOC. Despite being the same country, there are strict rules governing the movement of plants (and animals) to protect certain habitats from ‘weeds’ as well as introducing hidden bugs etc. As a result most of the plants were from the Western province, although flasks were available from NSW and Queensland. Cymbidiums grow well in this climate, and there were plenty on show. The overall GC at the show was a very nice red Lycaste One of the largest nurseries in the area is Ezi-Grow, and they have several huge Den. speciosum with numerous spikes of pale yellow flowers. Their nursery is a huge shade house with Cymbidiums, Cattleyas, Dendrobiums and Sarcochilus species and hybrids. the Sarchochilus are native to Queensland as are some of the Cymbidiums such as the 6′ tall species madidum. From here David moved on to Melbourne to visit a nature reserve of open woodland with many trails. There are a lot of orchids here, many similar to the west coast, but also several others that have evolved separately. Pterostylis curta grows here in huge colonies alongside Pt. longifolia. The Caladenias have more interesting colours with yellow and burnt shades. A local nursery specialises in Australian native species (and some hybrids) and sell plants just through the internet! Over to New Zealand to see his sister and to Auckland which is built on extinct volcanoes that creates fertile soils. Many locals grow Bletilla striata (from China) and these grow extremely well in colours from white to pink as well as some hybrids. Paph. insigne is a unexpected species that has been here for dozens of years and is planted mainly in soil where it grows undisturbed for several years between ‘repotting’. Auckland has its own Winter Gardens, and has many orchids in flower most of the year to add colour. These include Cymbidiums as well as oddities like Vanda teres hybrids. Sarcochilus also grows well in the better light conditions. There is an old quarry situated just outside of the city, and volunteers have taken it over for planting with whatever comes along. Whilst sometimes plants may simply be getting ‘off-loaded’, there are good plants including orchids that get donated. Many have now become established in the soil, and these include Cymbidiums as well as reed stemmed Epidendrums and Dendrobiums like kingianum and delicatum. One of David’s old orchid growing mates – Ron Maunder – used to have a nursery near the city, and in the remains there are 8′ tall Sobralias and some great old hybrids without labels. ‘Tis a great shame. Along the east coast there are plantations of Vanilla springing up due to good prices and soaring demand, and the habitat is just about perfect. Members of the local orchid societies all tend to meet at their houses where they grow lots of orchids under shade or unheated greenhouses. David finished by showing us some pictures from around New Plymouth which is where his own roots are buried… This area is just about frost free, and there are Cymbidium lowii growing in an old tree fern stem, and Masd. falcata growing up in the trees as well as an odd Pleione formosana 10′ up a tree! Great pictures and a wonderful talk. Many thanks David.