Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cryptostylis hunteriana - a rare Ground Orchid

Today I was shown some specimens of the rare ground orchid, Cryptostylis hunteriana, the "Leafless Tongue Orchid".This plant is one of those Orchids which gather their food supply by having a relationship with a fungus in the ground, rather than through photosynthesis. They are commonly described as "saprophytic", however, as Wikipedia points out, given that fungi are no longer regarded as part of the plant kingdom, these plants ought technically be classed as Myco-heterotrophs. That name refers to "a symbiotic relationship between certain kinds of plants and fungi, in which the plant gets all or part of its food from parasitism upon fungi rather than from photosynthesis. A myco-heterotroph is the parasitic plant partner in this relationship".

Plants which do not rely on photosynthesis generally do not have leaves, which means they live underground for nearly all the year, emerging above ground only in order to be pollinated, and to spread their seeds. So, without leaves, it is very hard (if not impossible) to locate, except when it is in flower. But Alan tells me that many plants which have been recorded in previous years, are not flowering this year. So, any survey for these plants is always subject to the vagaries of irregular flowering behaviour.

Under-side of the labellum, which is held vertically.
It has rolled edges, in a vertical plane, almost rolled back into a circular shape.
But it is not reflexed, unlike its closely related Cryptostylis leptochila.
This plant is a threatened species, listed as "vulnerable" under the Federal EPBC Act. Alan Stephenson, who showed me around several known locations for this rare Orchid today, has written several articles about his on-going battle to protect this Species, and several others also threatened by development proposals in the Shoalhaven Shire (near Nowra and Jervis Bay).

The Tongue Orchids, as a group are popular with researchers from many fields - entomologists, botanists and bio-chemical researchers who have worked to define the chemicals involved in their scent production, in order to confuse male wasps into the pollination process, involving "pseudo-copulation". One such researcher is Anne Gaskett, from Macquarie University, who is studying these plants from the point of view of examining their mimicry and sexual deception.

Labellum seen from side-on.
This particular Tongue Orchid has an extremely hairy labellum, with fine bristles all over the exposed underside of the labellum. Here you can seethe fine bristles covering the labellum. You can also see the pollinia within the "column" of the Orchid.
My friend Colin, from "Retired Aussies dot com" has a set of very good photos of this species, from East Gippsland, Victoria. According to Colin, this plant is also known as the "Furred Tongue Orchid" which seems an appropriate name.

5 comments:

mick said...

Beautiful flower - and photographs too!

mick said...

That's a beautiful little flower and your photos are great as usual.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Mick.
Shame it is rare and endangered. If the researchers who know about its existence cannot find it, then it makes it so much easier for the "developers" with their bulldozers to just clear the "bush" with a clear conscience.
Cheers
Denis

Anni said...

Very nice close-ups, Denis. (Catching up with your blog here... I don't know what happened to January!)

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Anni
Welcome back.
I was very happy with this series of photos, especially as the plant is so rare, and so seldom seen.
Cheers
Denis