Opulent Orchids

Skyrail Nature Diary: September 2007

September equals springtime in Australia’s Tropical Rainforests, which heralds the arrival of the warmer weather and a colourful array of dazzling blooms.

Of all the flowers in the world, orchids would have to be some of the most beautiful, elaborate and delicate. Varying in size, colour, scent and type, orchids represent approximately 10% of the world’s total flowering plant species, 660 of which are native to Australia.

Australia’s orchids are as diverse as they are beautiful: classified into approximately 107 genera, they represent 4% of our country’s total flora and 70% of them are unique to our country.

Of these, 30% can be found living in Australia’s Tropical Rainforests and this month, several of these are starting to bloom.

The King Orchid (Dendrobium rex) is a large epiphytic plant; its natural terrain covers most of Australia’s eastern coastline, extending from Victoria to Cooktown. It’s a very adaptable orchid, tolerating most weather conditions, excluding extreme cold and/or dryness.

The King Orchid can be found growing on the trunks and branches of large rainforest trees, or on rocks in the open forest. Living exclusively on the moisture from the surrounding air, the King Orchid does not have any roots in the ground and does not harm its host.

Growing in large bulky clumps, which can be up to three metres wide, the King Orchid flowers in the springtime and can boast up to as many as 60 racemes (stems) of fragrant flowers at any one time; the flowers can vary in colour from white to cream to rich yellow.

The Golden Orchid (Durabaculum undulatum var. undulatum) also has a wide natural terrain; it’s found growing along Queensland’s coastline from Gladstone to Cape York and up into the Torres Strait Islands. It’s not particular about its habitat, and can be found growing anywhere from lightly canopied rainforest to open forests, mangroves and even on exposed coastal rocks. Its one requirement is strong light.

The Golden Orchid can grow in extensive, interconnected colonies, joined by sprawling aerial growths. It flowers often and profusely. It used to be commonly found throughout its aforementioned territories, however, humans have impacted on those populations growing in the more accessible areas.

The Pencil Orchid (Dockrillia bowmanii) is a terete-leafed epiphyte which favours dry rainforest, wet sclerophyll forest and riparian areas (stream-sides). It grows in ‘straggly’ clumps up to 60cms long, with long (15cm) dark green leaves.

Although it can be found flowering at any time throughout the year, its white and green flowers are particularly prevalent in spring and autumn.