Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Two more little Ground Orchids.

These little Ground orchids are not rare. In fact they are quite common, if you happen to be looking where they like to grow. But for one of them, it is the first time that I have found the flower open.

Corunastylis fimbriata (Variable Midge-Orchid) is one of those fussy little things which forms its buds, matures, opens very briefly, then sits there while it ripens its seeds. Throughout all that process, one can easily find the flower stem. But to find the flower open takes some degree of luck, and much perseverance.To start with it is grass-coloured and grows amongst grass. It is very short, about 5 or 6 inches high (generally) (100 to 150mm). The main thing you need to know is that the local plants are opening just now.

A point of clarification of the structure of these flowers. These Orchids are not upside down, as most Orchids are. What this means, is that the dorsal sepal is the lowest part of the flower, in this group of Orchids. The two wide-spread parts of the flower are the lateral sepals. The purple labellum is opening, but is not fully reflexed (yet).

An underneath view of the flower
(I have tilted the flower back about 60 degrees)
to show the fringed edge of the labellum (which is just opening up)
and part of the un-fringed dorsal sepal - the striped part of the flower.
See next image for more detail.
These flowers are just hard to find OPEN. Today I went to an area of about 100 m by about 50 m, where last week I had seen lots of these plants developing their flowers. It took me an hour to find the one open flower stem in this area.

In this next photo I have lifted back the little fringed "labellum" (held in my fingers), in order to look for one of the diagnostic features of this plant (or not to see it, in this case). This is very fiddly, for the entire flower is only 8mm across when open (about the size of my little fingernail). My thumbnail is visible, while I am holding the uppermost (lateral) sepals and the labellum, exposing the dorsal sepal underneath and the two petals on either side.Supposedly the dorsal sepal is meant to be heavily fringed. This specimen was not fringed there. You can clearly see the yellow dots of the "pollinia" (the sticky grains of pollen), but the boat-shaped dorsal sepal, while clearly marked with red stripes, does not have the fringed edges which it is supposed to have.

Graeme Bradburn's photograph
Corunastylis fimbriata,
nicely fringed and fully reflexed purple labellum (top part).
The two petals on on either side,
and the dorsal sepal (the lowest part of the flower) are all fringed.
I shall persevere with my identification of my specimen as C. fimbriata (as it is the most common species of this genus) until I can get scientific clarification (if ever). But it does not have the fringed edges to the dorsal sepal and petals as shown in this PlantNET illustration.
While I was there, lying on the ground, taking these photographs, an Electrical Contractor working for the Sydney Catchment Authority approached me, to check that I was all right. We had a bit of good natured banter about the damage which might be inflicted if the SCA puts power-lines through this area. But that's OK, I was very touched that he bothered to inquire about my welfare, for, indeed I might well have been having a heart attack, or something.

I thanked this guy for his concern.

I must say, I have been impressed with the good natured behaviour of the SCA contractors I have had to deal with. There was only one exception, when a bunch of local school children were inspecting the SCA's handiwork, and an SCA contractor took all our photographs (even the children and their parents). But I got over that, by making a point of quite obviously taking her photograph, (with a better lens than the lady was using!). But at least I pixellated her face!

Back to the Orchids.
This is the cheerful little "Parson's Bands" Orchid or "Bunny Ears" Orchid. Eriochilus cucullatus. It is also a small flower, but fortunately it is easy to see, because of the stand-out quality of its white "lateral sepals" - the white parts which earn it the name for the old-fashioned collars with protruding bibs which were once the height of fashion in clerical attire.

These flowers stand out amongst the short tufts of grass where they grow, because of their white or pale pink colour of the two "bibs". Also, they can be quite prolific, if you find yourself amongst these flowers. They have only just started to open, for I checked this same patch last week, (looking for the "Tiny Greenhoods"), and did not see a single opened Eriochilus flower. Today there were about 20 in flower. Next week, there might well be hundreds in flower in this same small area.
I know I am anthropomorphising, but I find these flowers to be quite cheerful.That is in contrast to the Midge Orchid species discussed to day, which is so tiny, and so unco-operative in its flower opening that it is just plain hard work! Mind you, I always find the Eriochilus flowers difficult to photograph. The depth of field is hard to manage with such a small, dark centre to the flower, contrasting with the bright coloured, but protruding sepals. It is hard to get the entire flower in focus, but keep close enough to capture the important details.

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