Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Yes, Yes, Yes - The Bird Orchids are starting!

Yes, Yes, Yes - The Bird Orchids are starting! I am talking about the Wollongong Bird Orchid, Simpliglottis chlorantha (Chiloglottis chlorantha).
You will note that, as against the 50 cent coin which is 33mm (or 1.5 inches) in diameter, the leaves of this plant are relatively large, well, at least broad, compared to the related Chiloglottis species. But the stem is very short indeed. The flower is a mere 3 cm high. But the bud shows it is going to be a relatively large flower. Contradictions all the way round.

For the botanically inclined amongst you, dear readers, these are traditionally placed in the same genus, Chiloglottis, as the Wasp Orchids (Chiloglottis), and the Ant Orchids (Myrmechila). It is these latter plants about which I wrote two days ago. Those plants are both much finer in flower size, but their flower structure is clearly similar. The column, which in the flower image I published two days ago (with the spider in it) was 3mm wide. This one is closer to 12mm wide. The entire flower is 25mm wide, whereas the previous flower was a mere 10mm wide (or high).

But the labellum is in the same position relative to the column, and the pollinia, as in those related plants. And importantly, the labellum has a similar structure of glands (called "osmophores") which are there to produce the scent which is what attracts male insect to pollinate these flowers. Slight differences between each species in these related plants, but the similarities are obvious. These glands look like red blobs of jelly, and the green ones are transparent, and look like "blisters" on the Labellum. The petals are held wide, and nearly flat, whereas on the Wasp Orchids, they are held pressed vertically against the stem of the flower. The "clubs" (lateral sepals) stick straight out in front of the flower. In the Ant Orchids they are held widely divergent from, but in a similar plane as the labellum, whereas in the Wasp Orchids they are reflexed and held low under the labellum. This botanical sketch will show you the similarities and differences within this group of flowers.

I was first told about these plants by David Jones, (formerly of CSIRO National Herbarium, in Canberra) who is credited with describing the species - so he should know. As with most careful Orchid experts, he told me where they grew, but only in a very general way - two years ago. I first found these plants in flower (well a single specimen, anyway), in late September last year. Today, I decided to check on them, as I recalled David Jones saying they flowered "early" in the Southern Highlands. And after all, some of the winter-flowering related plants are now flowering just 20 Kms away, on Macquarie Pass.

At first I found a number of leaves, then I found two advanced buds, (with a few other tiny ones just starting). I was preparing to leave the area, (intending to come back next weekend). However, I decided to do one more circuit.

Yes, Yes, Yes!
There is an open flower.
I punched my fist into my hand, and did a little jump!
Nobody was looking, so it's all right.
Hiding under a low-growing Banksia bush, there was indeed a fully opened flower. Of course, it was facing into the centre of the bush, making a good photo impossible, but, hey, who cares? Lets record the back of the flower first. The dorsal sepal is very wide, and the labellum (which is even wider) is in the far side of the flower from my camera. If you look low down, at the shadow, you will see how the two green central structures are in fact separate. The petals are held wide. In the related small flowered Ant and Wasp Orchids, the petals are totally reflexed, held vertically, pressed against the stem of the flower.
Denis - talking to himself again:
"Down on the hands and knees, Denis.
Roll over on your side. Brush some sticks out of the way.
Manual focus on. Click.
Black image. Damn.
Press the flash button. OK.
Focus not quite right.
Try again, and again, and again, and again."

This photo reminds me to tell you the origin of the common name: "Bird Orchid". The first of these plants was so named because it reminded the early botanist of a baby bird sticking its head back, with its beak held wide open, begging for food. Certainly the posture is right for that idea. Denis - talking to himself again:
"Now try around the side of the flower,
and for the next one, can we get a bit more straight on?
OK. That'll have to do.
This is ridiculous."

The underside of the flower (as seen in this shot) is distinctly reddish.

Compare the photos above with this photo of Chiloglottis sylvestris.
to confirm the similarities and differences between the Bird Orchid and the other Chiloglottis types, especially the way the lateral sepals are held tight against the stem, and the clubs are held very differently.

Denis - talking to himself again: "And then, before I leave, I may as well look on the other side of the road as well. A few more leaves, but no buds.

Then a few Greenhood leaves - tiny things, maybe Speculanthas. Take a few "location" shots as clues for next autumn."

Denis - talking to himself again: "And then, what's that? A few more Bird Orchid leaves, right out in an open position, in moss over a rock shelf. Quite different from the other side of the road. No flower buds, but its good to find so many plants of such an unusual flower."Denis - talking to himself again:
"Have you noticed - It is nearly dark, and it is cold.
Go home, Denis!"


mick said...

Great photos again and good idea to put the coin in to give an idea of the size. I really appreciated your description of how you got the photos - reminds me of crawling along on hands and knees on a wide open beach to get closer to some roosting bird! Completely ridiculous but it gets the desired result!

Duncan said...

Great stuff Denis, I envy you. Still too cold down here for much action

Mosura said...

An interesting post - thanks.

I had wondered where the name bird Orchid came from as I couldn't see the bird (until now)

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks folks.
That post seems very clumsy and confused. Problem was I wanted to convey the excitement of the find, and the frustration. But I also wanted to do the botanical explanation stuff.
Hope it made some sense.
Mick. We all have to admit our follies - and share our embarrassments, as Duncan did last week.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

Denis, your orchid finds are just astounding. If I ever get to find half of these little gems, I will have some great posts of yours to help me out.

I love your enthusiasm !!


Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Gaye.
There is something personally special for me about these little flowers, having been told about them, and then having gone looking (several times) and eventually finding them.
As for enthusiasm, its the X factor, which make everything worthwhile, isn't it?
That and a love of sharing information, as teachers - a sentiment which I know you share.