Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A new Orchid - for me.

My friend Lucy and her son George drove past, when David Young and I were out taking photographs of Ground Orchids this morning. The sight of two grown men lying on the ground, beside the road, caused some comment from Lucy. For the record, we were taking photographs, separately, of different plants, at the time. But that did not stop Lucy from raising an eyebrow. Oh dear, how we photographers and plant enthusiasts are misunderstood!

Well, Lucy knows full well what we were doing, but she could not resist teasing us. Fair enough. I tease her, from time to time, too.
Today I found a rare Orchid which I have been on the lookout for. It is called the Wollongong Bird Orchid, Simpliglottis chlorantha. This plant is known to grow on the Budderoo Plateau, but that is a very large area, adjacent to the Barren Grounds. Anyway, today I got lucky, and found the distinctive paired leaves of these plants, and one of the plants (one only, mind you) was in flower. It is quite a thrill to find a plant, in these circumstances, when you have been given a bit of a clue as to where to look, but not much more than that. I think it was the fourth time I have gone out to this area, looking for these plants. As I said, today I was lucky enough to find them (or it).
That plant is related to the far more common "Ant Orchids" which feature below. If you compare these photos (above and below) the first impression is that the plants are very different, and indeed they are. One is wide, and green, the others narrow and dark reddish. However, if you concentrate on the structure of the flowers you will notice some obvious similarities. Note the "column" like a broad tube held above the labellum, with the pollinia prominently positioned above the scent producing glands. Unlike the Ant Orchids, which have glands resembling an insect in appearance, this Bird Orchid has some red, and one prominent green scent gland, of what looks like a soft jelly-like substance.

Until very recently, all these plants were classed in the same genus, Chiloglottis. The Botanic Gardens website has not yet formally recognised these new names, so the link above takes you to "Bird Orchids" and Wasp and Ant Orchids - all under the same genus name.
Earlier in the day, I had gone out with David to try to photograph some of the little Ant Orchids which are found out in the tall Eucalypt forests (on sandy soil) in the Kangaloon area. These tiny little plants are very hard to see on the forest floor, for they are perfectly camouflaged, amongst the leaf litter.

This one is the "Diamond Ant Orchid" (Myrmechila trapeziformis)- a reference to the diamond shaped blade or "labellum" of the Orchid flower. Their lateral sepals are held wide and flat, beside the labellum. They arc back, as can be clearly seen in this photo.
This second plant, growing in a small colony, just about 20 metres away from the other plants, is of a different, but closely related species. This is the "Common Ant Orchid", Myrmechila formicifera, which means "ant-bearing" - a reference to the structure on its "labellum". In this case, there is a line of small glands behind the "pseudo-insect", which glands reach down in a line to the furthest edge of the labellum. How far these glands extend on the labellum is the easiest way to distinguish these species. These differences in the two species were quite consistent amongst the individual plants in each group. In other words, all the plants in one group were basically the same. And the other group were all basically consistent too. These plants have a series of glands on the labellum which have the appearance of an insect. It is referred to as a "pseudo-insect" by Orchid experts and those few entomologists who study this process. In fact these plants emit a scent which mimics the pheromone of a female wasp, prompting male wasps to seek to mate with this "s.x-toy" on the Orchid's labellum. In so doing the male wasp might end up with a dob of the Orchid's sticky pollen stuck onto his back, which, hopefully, he will take off to another flower, and will accidentally pollinate it, as he once again attempts to mate with the other flower. This is the process known as "pseudo-copulation".

I went out in the bush with David, who has a very good camera, which allows far closer camera positioning than mine does. Here you can see how low the dedicated photographer has to get down, in order to take photos of these plants. I have placed a ring of light around the flower which David's camera is focussing on - just to highlight exactly what it is that David is photographing on the forest floor.
You can see some of the results of David's handiwork over on his blog, where he has photos of some other plants and some amazing photos of the Hover Flies which were buzzing around the flowers of the Hardenbergia violacea, the so-called "Native Sarsaparilla". David's blog is called "Focus on Nature", which is exactly what he was doing in this shot.

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