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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'.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013


I recently received a request from a loyal reader for a posting on Ecuadorian orchids - I am flattered to be asked, so here is my offering on that daunting subject. 'Daunting' because Ecuador, incredibly, boasts some 4000+ orchid species, and there is no accessible guide to them that I'm aware of. Hence I can at best offer you genus names - bear in mind, if you will, that Sobralia, Elleanthus and Odontoglossum each have well over 100 species, Pleurothallis has more than 500 (though until recently it was more than double that) and Epidendrum more than a thousand. As ever, any suggestions you can make as to identification of what follows will be gratefully received and acknowledged. 

Unlike the situation in temperate Australia (and elsewhere) most of the species are epiphytes.

Probably the richest orchid habitats in Ecuador are the cloud forests of the slopes of the Andes.
Cool mountain cloud forest, El Cajas National Park. This is a superb park high in the Andes above the World Heritage town of Cuenca in southern Ecuador.
These forests grow from 2000 to 3500 metres above sea level and are rich in orchids.

Cloud Forest, Paz de las Aves, Mindo Valley. These forests of the north-west slopes of the Andes are part of the Choco Bioregion, recognised as one of the most biodiverse in the world.
Yanacocha Reserve, on the northern slopes of Pichincha Volcano, on the other side of which lies sprawling Quito. The cloud forests, including the high altitude 'elfin forests', are protected by a foundation. This photo was taken at 4000 metres above sea level.
To add to the complications, many of the species grow and flower high above our heads in the forest canopy. Anyway, enough excuses - enjoy some orchids with me!

Elleanthus sp., El Cajas NP.

Epidendrum sp., El Cajas NP, above and below.

'Mosquito Orchid' El Cajas NP. This was the only name I could elicit for this one, and I can't pin it down any further.
Odontoglossum sp., El Cajas NP.
This genus produces some huge sprays of up to hundreds of flowers on spikes a metre or more long.
Odontoglossum sp., Yanacocha Reserve.
Pleurothallis sp., El Cajas NP.
These delightful orchids have flowers which only appear to grow out of the leaf!
Sobralia sp., El Cajas NP.
Then there are some which I can't even assign to a genus; over to you, if you'd be so kind...
Unidentified orchid, Pacha Quindi, Tandayapa Valley, north-western cloud forests.
This was growing close to the ground in a magnificent area of regenerated forest - formerly cow pasture.

Unidentified orchid, Paz de las Aves.

Unidentified orchid, El Cajas NP.
In the Amazon basin I have seen surprisingly few orchids, but I'm sure that this is simply because they are far above our heads, as in the case of the one in the photo below growing on the branches of a huge old Kapok Tree. It is only accessible because Sacha Lodge has built a viewing platform in the tree, 45 metres above the ground. The photos that precede the orchid indicate both the distance above the ground that this orchid is growing, and the incredible richness of these epiphytic gardens, which support hundreds of orchid species generally unseen by human eye. 

Unidentified orchid, 45 metres above ground level in a Kapok Tree, Sacha Lodge.
I hope this brief and incomplete snapshot of a few of the Ecuadorean orchids gives you some pleasure, and ideally an extra reason to go there one day! And if you have any (sensible and polite!) requests for future postings, I'm very happy to consider them.



Susan said...

Is that large leafed plant in the foreground of photo 3 Gunnera do you know? The orchid with that huge spray of flowers is a definite Wow! A French friend is off to Ecuador in the new year -- he's just sold his business and is up for some fun and adventure.

Ian Fraser said...

Yes, it's Gunnera - a Gondwanan connection - but I don't know the species. The very similar G. magellanica is common in Patagonia.
I think your friend is going to be very happy with his decision!

Les Mitchell said...

Great orchid photos. That one growing from the leaf is extraordinary

Ian Fraser said...

They are Les! I couldn't believe it when I first saw them. Hopefully you'll meet them soon!

Rebecca Gee said...

Definitely a treat. I drove my husband nuts looking for orchids in Peru, your photos bring back some wonderful memories of that part of the world!

Ian Fraser said...

Hi Rebecca - great to hear from you again. Hasn't your husband worked you out yet? :}
I'll be doing a posting (in fact it will have to be more than one) on Peruvian orchids at some stage. And I've got more names for those!

Joselito said...

I want to kow the complete name of the 4th PICTURE.
I know it is an ELLEANTHUS.
And also what it is the best sustrate for this plant.
I have one but every day it is in bad condition.
I apreciate a lot if I can get any information.
I got this plan from PURACE PARK . COLOMBIA ABOVE 3.000 meters over sea level.
The flower it is the best at the world

Ian Fraser said...

Hola Joselito. Yes, I'd like to know that too - sorry I can't help. Also, I'm afraid I'm not a gardener, I just enjoy them in the wild. There is a lot of information on growing orchids on line however - good luck.