Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Midge Orchids - two new species (for me)

I have been waiting for the Midge Orchids to show up, in the hope of identifying some of them definitively. They are mostly late summer or autumn flowering plants in this region.

I saw some last year, and frankly it was all terribly confusing. I know I got at least one of them correct - but that was an odd little thing which hardly ever opens, so when I found it open, it was at least "diagnostic". But the others were still indeterminate, as far as I am concerned.

My colleagues, Colin and Mischa had come up from Victoria, and we went in search of some of the other endemic Orchids, and also to look for some "Midges".

Mischa found this little one first of all. It is a tiny plant, with flowers a mere 3mm across. That is tiny, even for Midge Orchids. Its stem was about 12 cm tall.
Surprisingly it was growing in a dense Melaleuca thicket, in a deep bed of leaf litter. Mostly, in the Southern Highlands, these Midge Orchids like to grow in moss beds over sandstone rock ledges. Not so for this little group of Midge Orchids. Colin did some peering at his photos last night, and rang this morning to say that her thought it was Corunastylis nuda (formerly Genoplesium nudum). I went back into the forest, and took some more images, to try to establish this for sure. I sent some other, more detailed images off to Alan Stephenson, who confirmed this ID this afternoon. Once I had the name ot check out, I was able to confirm what I had examined via a hand lens, that the Labellum of this plant has a double ridge, like a divided callus. That is what is clearly illustrated in the right hand image, (from PlantNET), drawn by David Jones. As frequently happens when photographing Orchids, I discovered when I developed this image, that I had caught by accident an image of a flower spider (double check on my photo above, in case you missed it). I didn't see it in the field, or else I would have tried for a better image of it. I had seen the spider's web, but I missed this little spider hanging on a web above the flower.

We left the wet forest behind, and went to a nice patch of dry sandstone scrub on the edge of the little village of Midway. The reason was I had seen some Midges there last year. This is more natural Midge Orchid territory - shallow soil, over sandstone, with the Orchids growing amongst native grasses, below Scribbly Gums and Stringybarks.

Colin was the first to find one, in this location. The reason we went all the way over there was to show Colin and Mischa this particular plant, which I had found growing here last year. So I was satisfied that we found several plants. But the weather has clearly knocked these plants around, as there ought to have been more in flower.
Anyway, we managed to get a good look at several of these plants, and take some diagnostic images. They were growing on stems about 18cm tall, with the flowers about 5 mm across. That is pretty small, but twice as large as the C. nuda, which we had found earlier in the day.

When I first found these plants, I thought they might possibly be Corunastylis oligantha. But last night, I concluded that it must in fact be Corunastylis sagittifera (formerly Genoplesium sagittiferum). When Colin rang me this morning, I was able to say that I had also concluded that it was C. sagittifera. Here is further confirmation of this ID.
Click on this image, to enlarge it.
I was pleased to have arrived at this ID, as I had not been able to determine the identity of this plant last year. I had previously referred to it as "C. oligantha (probably)". At least I had the foresight to hedge my bets. Now I can confirm it as Corunastylis sagittifera. Technically, that is a new species for me - well, newly confirmed ID anyway. That's nearly as good as finding a plant I had not seen before.

I am now able to understand the true significance of this image I took last year. My thumb was holding back the Labellum of the C. sagittifera. The nearly black (red) strong central callus is clearly visible against the background colour of purplish red labellum. If you examine the right-hand image (from PlantNET, drawn by David Jones), below, you will see what I mean.

Corunastylis sagittifera (Genoplesium sagittiferum)
PlantNET botanical illustration - D Jones

Because the authorities who run PlantNET do not recognise the revisions of the Genoplesium genus done by Clements and Jones, and do not recognise some of the species David Jones has named, such as C. oligantha, there is no description or illustration published on their site. That is why I was unable to prove or disprove that likely ID I arrived at last year. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the International Orchid community seems to have accepted Jones and Clements revision of these plants into Corunastylis.

With the encouragement and collaboration of Colin and Mischa, we were all able to achieve a better result this year. And Alan Stephenson has agreed we have correctly identified this plant as C. sagittifera.

So, all in all, not a bad day - two new Midge Orchid species for me - well one brand new one, and one now correctly identified.

They are hard work these Midge Orchids - but satisfying.


mick said...

I would think it was hard work to find such tiny orchids also. Are the surrounding grass/plants the same height as these? Great photos, as usual!

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Denis,

what an exciting and satisfying result! I have yet to see any of these tiny orchids, but I will be on the lookout for them amongst my orchid hunting forays throughout Autumn. The great thing about my having not found many orchids in the Hunter is that there must be so many to discover - awaiting my keen eyes and enthusiasm.

Not only are you and your colleagues doing a marvellous job personally and locally, but you are laying open the fruits of your exploration for others, like me, to enjoy and learn from. Well done.


Tyto Tony said...

Well done Denis! Further proof - if it were needed - that small is indeed beautiful.

Tyto Tony said...

Well done Denis. Excellent finds and post. Goes to reinforce my belief that 'small is beautiful'. (Pity Schumacher hadn't a lot more followers: we'd possibly not now be such victims of financial greed and meltdown.)

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mick, Gaye and Tony
Thanks all, it seems we agree with Tony (and Schumacher) that "Small is indeed Beautiful" (The only Economist I have ever been tempted to agree with - on anything, by the way!
Even if it involves crawling around in forests and grasslands on one's hand and knees looking for these funny little things.
Trust me, they don't look like "Orchids" at all, more like grass seedheads gone wrong. Single thin leaf, like a grass, with (if you are lucky) some little lumps poking out at all angles around the top.
And then you really need a 10 power hand lens. Birdwatchers will know that binoculars can always be used in an emergency, in reverse, to get strong magnification (at ultra-close range), to at least confirm that what you have looks like it has two little arms waving at the top, and a V-shaped protrusion sticking out at the bottom.
The buds are actually more distinctive, as they look like little swan-necks.
Well worth while checking, if you should ever happen to bump into one.
Ask any Orchid people you know to help you find any "Midge Orchids" in your area. Beware the name change problem. Formerly Prasophyllum, then Genoplesium, and now some accept Corunastylis. Midge Orchid is one common name which still works for the whole bunch of them.
Widespread and common, but just hard to find.

Boobook said...

Excellent work Denis. Have you noticed that when you go out on an orchid hunt it takes a while to 'get your eye in', to start focussing on the right colour, size and shape in order to actually see the little beauties.

Boobook said...

Excellent work Denis.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Boobook
You are spot on, there, Boobook.
After seeing these tiny Orchids one day I went back the next day, and found several flower stems just a foot or so away from the first plant - and there were 3 of us all looking.
But in general, one can be lucky to just spot something unusual, it somehow "catches the eye", but generally it take me a while to "get my eye in", then once you start to find them you suddenly realise they are all around you. I find this especially with Greenhoods and the dark Wasp Orchids.

Jarrett said...

Amazing that anything this small can push its way through sclerophyll leaf litter. Great post.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Jarrett
Good point, which I had not previously thought of. There are so many "improbabilities" in the wheel of life, that it does not bear calculation.
I know I am digressing, but that is what makes me so angry when listening to economists discussing the "costs" of Green House Gas Reduction Schemes.
They debate degrees of decimalisation about something which of they have no comprehension.
They can argue costs in dollars and cents, but have no idea of the real cost to the planet of their inaction.