Last summer, La Niña’s wet weather brought with it both floods and a recharge for our catchments and forests resulting in beautiful displays of flowering orchids throughout SEQ. Australia has an estimated 1,900 described orchid species that vary from evergreen epiphytes (in trees), lithophytes (on rocks), climbing orchids and terrestrial (ground) orchids.
This article splits orchids into three main groups: epiphytes, lithophytes and terrestrial orchids and describes a few common species that hopefully you may see this summer.
Orchids are easiest to see when they are in full flower and are easy to forget, or undetectable, when not in bloom. If conditions are unfavourable, ten years can pass between flowering events. Almost all terrestrial orchids are seasonal and deciduous with an annual dormant period where the plants are not visible above the ground. After flowering, most terrestrial orchids dieback to a tuber or rhizome, which persist in the soil. The exceptions are Christmas orchids (Calanthe spp.), tongue orchids (Cryptostylis spp.) and swamp orchids (Phaius spp.), which are evergreen with leaves present throughout the year.
Sadly, terrestrial orchids account for 15 species in the top 100 Australian plant species at risk of extinction according to the Action Plan for Australia’s Imperilled Plants 2021. Land clearing, urbanisation and inappropriate fire regimes are known key threats to epiphytic and terrestrial orchids. As we protect and conserve our forests, wetlands and heathland, it is important to observe and understand some of the more cryptic, unique and sometimes invisible species that make up ecosystems. I hope we will continue to see this diverse family of plants flourish.
Article and photos by De-Anne Attard Land for Wildlife Officer Sunshine Coast Council
References and Further Reading
Copeland LM & Backhouse GN (2022) Guide to Native Orchids of NSW and ACT. CSIRO Publishing.
Jones DL (2021) A Complete Guide to Native Orchids of Australia. 3rd Ed. Reed New Holland.
Leiper G, Cox D, Glazebrook J & Rathie K (2017) Mangroves to Mountains. 2nd Ed. Logan River Branch, Native Plants Qld.