Orchids of Western Australia Gianpiero Ferrari

This was Gian’s first trip to Australia just over a year ago, and was a change to the original plan which was to visit Queensland. However at that time that region was suffering from very serious flooding. A bit of re- planning saw a different flight to Darwin in the Northern Territories followed by a drive down the west coast to Perth. Whilst that might sound straightforward it is an enormous distance through mainly desert.The area around Darwin is more tropical forest and you can find crocodiles etc. there. Once out of Darwin you are more or less on your own. Gian travelled by campervan, and in places the tarmac runs out and dust tracksbegin. Often you will only see a handful of traffic all day, and the secret to travelling is to fill up the tank and then venture on to the next town to stop overnight and take some pictures. You can stop just about anywhere, but camp sites are better as you can plug into the electric and use shower facilities. You are likely to encounter large road trains of freight up to 70 metres long. Much of the land is aboriginal, and sometimes out of bounds. This is mainly due to keeping natural habitats where humans don’t interfere by introducing non-native animals or plants as well as pests and diseases. The winter is very dry, and with desert conditions there aren’t many orchids around – until you come to the south. Fortunately Gian is at home with wildlife just as much as plants, and we were treated to a colourful array of birds. Azure and Forest Kingfishers were stunning, and almost put the Kookaburra to shame. Others include the Lily Trotter, Herons, Musk Lapwing, Bandit Lapwing, and around 70 species of Finches – with the crimson a brilliant colour. The Emu is seldom seen, but is around – as are the ubiquitous Kangaroo. There are 29 species of pigeon, and the Rainbow Bee Eater is a flash of colour. It is worth noting that the weather is usually either very windy (the Freemantle Doctor) or full of insects. In the southern hemisphere October is the start of spring, and flowers were starting to bloom in profusion. Kapok, Cassia, and Acacia were common, as was Sticky Kurrajong which had scarlet flowers prior to leaves growing. A plant that the Aussies know as Poison Morning Glory contains toxins that help to control introduced feral cats and dogs (the native animals are immune).Moving down the coast to Shark Bay you will find a World Heritage site. This is a shell beach fronting a very dry bay. Many types of Banksia and Anenomies are found here. The banksias need fires to clear the ground and open the seed capsules for sowing. In this area there are lots of parrots and cockatiels.Finally the long drive reached Perth. This is a very pretty city with lots of interspersed parks and lakes, and a good base to explore the hinterland. South of Perth the land is more of a scrubby woodland, and these contain the orchids that the trip set out to find. The custard orchid (Thelymitra villosa) is a yellow terrestrial – as are almost all of the local orchids. The Dancing Bee orchid (Caladenia discoidea) is a slender plant that sways in the constant breeze, and the lip mimics a dancing bee. the Blue China orchid (Cyanicula gemmata) was blue, and the Cowslip orchid (Caladenia flava) is yellow. The Dense Mignonette (Microtis media subsp. densiflora) grows in the thousands covering the forest floor.  The Midge orchid (Cyrtostylis huegelii), Praying Mantis orchid (?) has an interesting shape as does the Pink Fairy orchid (Caladenia latifolia). The Rabbit orchid (Leptoceras menziesii) has 2″ flowers. Various Sun orchids (Thelymitra sp.) include a bright blue one, and there are 84 species of Spider orchids. This was followed by a 10 minute slideshow of local flora and fauna including pea family, bottle brush, Freesias etc.. Many plants have thick leaves, or are succulent, and hairy leaves helps reduce perspiration. All in all a very good talk despite being low on actual orchid content. Gianpiero is an excellent photographer and we were all captivated. NB, I found the following list of SW Australian orchids on the web, and this helped me to put botanical names to the common names that Gian used – Ed. – www.atoz-visual.com/downloads/CompleteOrchid-List.pdf