Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Large Tongue Orchid

This plant is one of the first Orchids I found after I moved to Robertson, and got into the habit of scouring the surrounding countryside, especially on the sandstone plateaux which subtend the basalt hills of Robertson. Although I had often found leaves of this plant, I had not seen flowers for the last 4 years. I did see one very fine specimen when south from Nowra with Alan Stephenson ten days ago. But none in my own "backyard".
Consequently, when Colin and Mischa turned up here last week, and commented, in an almost off-handed manner that they had stopped off on the way over to take some photos of Cryptostylis subulata - I was keen to find out where they were. My amateur Orchid hunter's "professional pride" was at stake, if you know what I mean.

Mischa told me where she had first seen these plants, along the Belmore Falls Road, and as I knew the area well, I was confident that I could find them from her descriptions. Wrong!

The next day I rang Mischa and tried to obtain some more explicit instructions, and went back again. Still no luck!

Oh well, why not just look for different plants in the same general area?
At last, some success, along the side of the road near Missingham Lookout, near Belmore Falls.

Once I had found several of these Tongue Orchids, I was then able to go back to the area Mischa had told me about, and sure enough, I was able to find them. Of course they were there all the time, but it is just a case of knowing where to look. I had been looking in the open areas, beside the road, whereas the plants were growing a few metres back from the road, and growing amongst rushes and other dense ground covering plants.The flower structure of this Tongue Orchid is quite bizarre (but all the others are, so why not this species?).

The main structure one sees is the Labellum. These Orchids are non-resupinate, which means the Labellum is on top of the column (not forming a "cup" under the as many popular "slippper orchids" do). The labellum, in this species hangs out at about 45 degrees to the ground. In this regard it is quite different from the closely related Cryptostylis hunteriana, which holds the labellum vertically. I wrote about that plant last week.

The next thing one notices about this flower is the odd "bump" underneath the labellum, clearly visible from the side. It is called a "callus".In fact it is a prominent part of the sexual attraction process by which this flower achieves pollination. The "callus" is in fact a two-part protrusion, (a gland no doubt) by which the flower produces chemicals to attract wasps, in a process now described as sexual deception. The odours produced mimic the pheremones produced by females of certain species of wasps. The male wasps engage in what is called "pseudo-copulation". The male wasps get confused, (poor dears). One might think of these flowers as the plant equivalent of a "blow-up doll".
In this angle (from underneath the flower) you can
see the "double bump" of the callus I have been talking about
In the next image, you can actually see the entire area of the "callus", which has a relatively long series of glands, (shiny, dark red glands) leading up to the "double bump" part. You can also see clearly the yellow dot, where the column of the flower is located. That is where the pollinia are located, and where the receptive part of the flower is. This photo has been taken from underneath the flower. One does not see this part, unless you look very closely indeed.Here is another view from low down, and it shows nicely the parallel lines of the glands which are all part of the "callus" structure of the flower. Click to enlarge the image.In this last image I want to show why this plant earns the "nick-name" Cow Orchid. The lateral sepals in this flower (as in all the local Tongue Orchids) are reduced to thin, rolled protrusions. In this case you can see how some people say they resemble the horns of a cow. But to get the full picture, you ought see how the labellum has rolled back edges (revolute), and they form a kind of protruding "lip", which could be thought to resemble the snout of a cow's head. OK, you have to squint a bit, and use your imagination, but I did not invent the name. It is safer to stick with the name Large Tongue Orchid.

I have a sentimental attachment to this Orchid, as I mentioned and I am glad to have seeen it again, this season. Thanks to Colin and Mischa for having told me it was flowering this year.


Duncan said...

Excellent photos Denis, but I really expected one of a wasp caught in the act!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Duncan

You may "expect" all you like! I did once witness the event, on a related plant, in Sydney, but was barely able to snap a photo in time (see below).

Lousy camera, very inexperienced photographer, and a snappy male wasp contrived to give me a barely recognisable image.

Rest assured if I ever achieve a decent photo you will hear about it.

I did at least publish a link to images taken by experts. But I understand even they play tricks sometimes, such as covering the flower with a glass jar until they are ready to take an image, then remove it and wait for the insects to arrive. Some might even be laboratory specimens - who knows.

You may even have some of your own Duncan? I know Colin has published some (perhaps not of this species, but other Orchids).

Its my aspirational objective, along with winning a lottery (but I never buy a ticket). So I have a better chance than that!

Thanks Duncan - for pointing out my shortcomings! I'll get a good photo, one day, I promise you!

You may check out my "one and only" photo of "The Act" on :

Incidentally, did you realise that under Senator Conroy's proposed Internet "scanning/censorship" scheme, we would be unable to have this erudite conversation?


Colin said...


We arrived late in Marlo but were able to see 3 of the tongue orchids species in flower. The large, the furred and the bonnet. All in an area 10m square.

It is a very good season for these orchids this year and we saw over 50 of the first two orchids and 2 bonnets. How sweet it was!!!!

I have photographed a wasp in action on a large tongue - check out my web page on this.

Most photos of the pollination are done with introduced flowers as dumb as wasps are they do quickly learn that flowers are not as nice as lady wasps.


mick said...

Your orchid photos are always fantastic and the descriptions that go with them very interesting indeed.
That amount of censorship is very worrying. I wonder if the government and departments really know what they are talking about!

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Mick for the comments. As for proposed censorship, having experienced using a computer which was ruled with an iron fist by "Net Nanny", I was unable to describe Co*ckatoos", because the machine thought I was using an offensive word. How stupid? Brainless and in itself offensive.
So glad you got in amongst the Tongue Orchids.
I am now in a position to publish articles on the 4 NSW species, for comparison purposes - Little, Large, "Furred", and the Bonnet Orchid. I have done two so far. Now I can do the next two.
I knew you had shots of the Wasps on some species, so when I do the Bonnet Orchid, in a few days time I will link to your photo. Thanks for that.
My favourite "pollinator" shot is of yours is when a Spider Orchid had clamped down on a wasp, or Saw Fly. and then afterwards you got it still with the pollinia attahed. How good was that?
I shall email you about the comment on "introduced flowers". I think I know what you mean. I heard someone once describe what they did, but it was not strictly "legal" if you know what I mean, so I shall not discuss it further here.

Glad you had success at Marlo.
Check the ANOS Bulletin for the next Nowra field trip which Alan is conducting. Early May, from memory. Well worth making the trip for.


Duncan said...

You've done better than me Denis, I've got photos of the three mentioned, but have never witnessed the "act" It's many years since I saw any of the three, haven't been back to Marlo since we sold our place there, sob.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Duncan.
Thanks. I did not know you previously lived at Marlo. It is a famous location for lots of things, I understand (well, that and Mallacoota).
My problem at the moment is simply described as "blogger backlog".
So many things to write about, so many photos. But I have given priority to local bushfires in the last week.
Fortunately, all that seems to be under control as of now, but bad weather (hot) is forecast. We have a "heavy fuel load build up", as they say.
I claim no great credit for finding these Orchids. They are relatively common near where I live, except for the leafless "Furry" one, (hunteriana) and I was kindly shown that by an expert.

You may have noted that Colin found those at Marlo on his way back to Melbourne.