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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Monday, 25 March 2013

March of the Orchids

I don't generally think of March as being a good time for orchids around here, but when I started to go through my records, I decided that I might be wrong. In this part of the world at least, it's not so much a time for colourful ones, but there are quite a few fascinating and beautiful orchids (sorry, tautology!) to be found in this first month of autumn. As I've mentioned before, Australia uses the Meteorological definition of the seasons, according to which autumn officially began on 1 March.

Several species of greenhoods can be seen now. A brief word on the somewhat fraught state of Australian orchid taxonomy to explain oddities relating to genus names. Traditionally all greenhoods - some 200 or so of them - were placed in the genus Pterostylis, and for probably the majority of people they still are. However, as part of their gargantuan task of re-examining nearly all the Australian orchid genera, David Jones and Mark Clements of the Australian Herbarium split Pterostylis into 16 genera, mostly based on already recognised sub-genera. Their work was thorough and largely based on biochemical criteria. Jones, recently retired, is widely regarded as the doyen of Australian orchid taxonomists and conservationists; Clements is also well-respected. Unfortunately they chose to publish in The Orchadian, the journal of the Australasian Native Orchid Society - which does not peer-review its articles. In large part due to this, much of their conclusions have not been accepted by other taxonomists.

However, the only comprehensive identification guide to Australian orchids is written by Jones - so you see our problem... Around here it's even trickier as he also authored an excellent Field Guide to the Orchids of the Australian Capital Territory, which we all rely on. All of which is a long-winded way of explaining why several of the species which follow have two genus names; given that my audience is international, I'll use the most widely-accepted names, with Jones' names in brackets. (The same issues arise with some other genera, but they are not relevant to this posting other than the last species featured.)

All these photos were taken in March, but not necessarily this year. Except where specified, the locations are all in the Australian Capital Territory.

Summer Greenhood Pterostylis (Diplodium) decurvum, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
Dainty Greenhood Pterostylis (Diplodium) reflexum, Black Mountain, Canberra.
Below, part of a large colony.

Little Dumpies Pterostylis (Diplodium) truncatum, Black Mountain, Canberra.
I do like such quaint folk names, whose origins are now lost to us.
Blushing Tiny Greenhood Pterostylis (Speculantha) rubescens, Black Mountain, Canberra.
The rest of the featured orchids are not greenhoods, though there are certainly other greenhoods to be found. Dennis Wilson of The Nature of Robertson features a rare one here.

Large Midge Orchid Acianthus exsertus, Black Mountain, Canberra; above and below.
These were probably atypically early, but were well within March.
('Large' is relative, it's worth pointing out!)

Parson's Bands Eriochilus cucullatus,
above (Smith's Road near Angle Crossing) and below (Mongarlowe, New South Wales).
These delightful little orchids flower from late summer well into autumn; they range from rich pink to white.

Mountain Spiral Orchid Spiranthes alticola, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
This a truly exquisite little orchid, with each flower being no more than 5mm long;
there can be dozens of them twisting up the stem.
This used to be regarded as one species, S. sinensis, found all the way to China, but Australian plants are now known as S. australis; the species illustrated is recently described by David Jones and is widely accepted.
Tiny Strand Orchid Bulbophyllyum (Adelopetalum) exiguum, Nowra, New South Wales.
Another delightful miniature, flowers only 5mm long, growing on logs and rocks in rainforest.The splitting of Bulbophyllum by Jones is also contentious
For a couple of other March orchids, see my recent post on my visit to Monga National Park.


1 comment:

Susan said...

There's nothing wrong with how you have expressed the scientific names, if the new names are considered by some to still be subgenera. Putting the subgenera in brackets like that is correct protocol, and under the circumstances the easiest way to deal with the issue.

Spiranthes is the only genera Australia and France share. Sadly, ours are rare and declining -- one species is now extinct in my d├ępartement (an administrative area like a super shire). I'm happy to report I found a new previously unrecorded colony of the other species last year though -- it is also autumn flowering and exquisite.