Tropical Rainforest Orchids


In Tropical North Queensland there is a small, lush area known as the Wet Tropics World Heritage rainforest which is bursting with a rich abundance of biodiversity, and a plethora of tropical rainforest orchid species to admire when in bloom.

Orchids are known for their exquisite beauty, delicate fragrance, and colourful flowers.

A white Moth orchid with five flowers in bloom

Dendrobium orchid white

The orchid family (Orchidacea) is considered to be one of the oldest family of flowering plants and some of the most diverse of all plant species with approximately 28,000 different varieties.

From the deep dark forest floor to the upper reaches of the tropical rainforest there is an abundance of microhabitats to nurture a variety of different orchids. Home to over 230 species of tropical rainforest orchids.

Their evolution in the tropical rainforest has allowed them to adapt a remarkable growth habit of where they grow and how they survive. Clinging to trees (epiphyte), rocks (lithophytes) and in the ground (terrestrials), with intricate aerial root systems that allow them to absorb moisture and nutrients from the humid tropical rainforest air.

Thriving in the tropical climate through unique relationships with bees, butterflies and other insects to ensure successful reproduction despite their dense environment. Mimicking shapes, colours or scents to attract male pollinators ensuring their pollen is transferred to other flowers for fertilisation.

An orchid’s leaf structure is dependent on its habitat. Epiphytic and Lithophytic orchids will have thick leaves with a waxy feel to them. This is to help them retain water when their host tree branch or rock face eventually dries out.

Many tropical rainforest orchids exhibit bilaterally symmetry, meaning they have mirror image halves!  Examples of orchids that have this symmetry are the subfamily Epidendroideae, which includes the popular orchid genera like Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis), Cattleya orchids and Dendrobium.

Additionally, some orchids may display irregular shapes and have evolved unique floral structures, such as the Slipper orchid (Cypripedioideae).

The vast array of tropical rainforest orchid shapes reflect the remarkable ability of evolution on this diverse plant family to attract specific pollinators.

A purple Moth orchid with four flowers in bloom

Dendrobium – Moth orchid

Tropical rainforest orchids at Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Skyrail’s Smithfield terminal is home to a variety of epiphytic orchids, some great examples of which can be seen in the front garden that borders the entry ramp into our ticketing lobby.

The Dendrobium is a huge genius of orchids and today contains about 1,800 species varying in forms, sizes and colours. Most plants will produce 10-12 flowers per stem, with each orchid measuring 1-2 inches across in beautiful shades of white, red, pink and purple. It flowers in the gardens around Skyrail’s Smithfield and Kuranda terminals.

tropical rainforest orchid. A king orchid clings to a tree branch bursting with yellow small flowers

King orchid at Red Peak

At Red Peak, meandering the rainforest boardwalk, if you look up you may notice the impressive King Orchid (Thelychiton speciosus) clutching a tree branch above your head – between the large Kauri tree and the lookout.

The King Orchid is an iconic species native to Australia with impressive size and beauty. It has long arching stems and large clusters of fragrant flowers when in bloom. The King orchid at Red Peak blooms on average every three years and is a stunning sight to see!  


Tropical rainforest orchid. A king orchid clings to a tree branch bursting with yellow small flowers

King Orchid in bloom at Red Peak

The evolution of tropical orchids is a continuous process with new orchids emerging and adapting to their surroundings. Studies continue of these captivating plants. They serve as a testament to the age of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest and the incredible story through evolution of this Tropical North Queensland region.

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