Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sydney Rock Orchids (or are they?)

I am told that once upon a time, the rocky ledges around Sydney were covered with "Rock Lilies" (as they were known to the early settlers). They are of course, Orchids - Dendrobium speciosum (the Sydney Rock Orchid).

Sadly the rock ledges around Sydney  no longer are festooned with these spectacular flowers. There is a huge issue with illegal collection of Orchids from "The Bush".

Currently one can drive around the coastal towns and cities of the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions and see spectacular plants of the Sydney Rock Orchid in flower in people's front gardens. Albion Park, Nowra and Kangaroo Valley all spring to mind as places with examples of plants growing happily in gardens.

Unfortunately, it is precisely because of people's fondness for these plants in gardens, they are now a rare sight in "The Bush".

It is of course, illegal to collect these plants from the Bush, but it is a difficult matter to police and administer.
Anyway, best not to dwell on the "sins of our fathers".
The same story can be told of Christmas Bells, which were once picked in their thousands, for sale in flower markets (where the sale of cut flowers is now specifically prohibited).


The good news is that I can acknowledge that in some remote (and obviously un-nameable) patches of National Park lands in the lower Shoalhaven Valley, the Sydney Rock Orchids still thrive in their original (natural) abundance.
Dendrobium speciosum - on rocks
Here is a zoomed image of the same plant
Dendrobium speciosum

Here is another issue.
Does Dendrobium speciosum grow on trees?
Well, yes it does!
Or does it?


Here is a fallen flower which 
at Minnamurra Rainforest reserve.
Fallen flower of Thelychiton epiphyticus
Colin's discovery led to us photographing 
the plants growing 
high in the rainforest canopy above.
Thelychiton epiphyticus at Minnamurra Nature Reserve

But if it grows on trees, is it still a Rock Orchid?
If so, is it another species?
Serious (and qualified) Orchid experts 
have debated this question for many years.
Jones and Clements argue that it is, 
and have renamed it as Thelychiton epiphyticus

That link still uses the "old name" 
but it does recognise this plant
as a different sub-species.
So, even the conservative botanists who control PlantNET
acknowledge it as a different plant, 
and accord it sub-species status.
That's a start.

This tree form of this Orchid
grows on Cambewarra Mountain
high on a rainforest tree.
Thelychiton epiphyticus (flower spray on right)
Here are some images of other, even more impressive plants, of this species growing at Minnamurra Rainforest (near Jamberoo village), part of the Budderoo National Park. The Minnamurra Rainforest is noted for its spectacular wet gorge and waterfall, and the rainforest trees. This shot was taken with a 300 mm lens. So that gives you some idea of how tall this tree is.

The flower sprays are circled in red to show where they are.
Thelychiton epiphyticus at Minnamurra rainforest.
Long may these magnificent plants survive - far out of reach of collectors.
Personal disclaimer:
I am growing one Sydney Rock Orchid plant
(a small division from an original plant) 
which was given to me by a friend who owned
a federation house in Mosman which was being sold.
After some discussion, it was decided 
to save the plant from possible destruction, 
as the new owners were planning major renovations.
The magnificent original plant was divided
and shared out to people who promised to look after it.


mick said...

I missed this when you posted it! Illegal collecting is a big problem everywhere. There are still large areas of wild growing Christmas bells up this way and each year some areas are still picked over. A plant specialist from up here told me that often the plant then dies.
re finding large areas of wild growing orchids - when I lived down in NSW I found a large area of dendrobium kingianum (sp?) growing over a series of rocky ledges - huge drifts of delicate mauve! The most beautiful sight I have ever seen in the bush!
We humans have a habit of ruining things!!

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Mick
Glad you mentioned Christmas Bells. One of my favourite hobby-horses.
You are lucky to have seen Kingianum like that, in the bush.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed watching that Caladenia hillmanii, that looks so relaxing...

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks - I chose it for my "avatar" because it did look relaxed.

gabi Fuller said...

A friend has given me 2 "sprays" of these orchid "Stems" (pseudobulbs) with about 5 "stems" on each. One "stem has" bloomed. After reading a bit about them, I think I can attach them to some large palms surrounded by sandstone rocks - I can just pick up one rock with both hands.

As you can no doubt tell that I know nothing about these plants, I would like to know what, precisely, I have to do to attach them to the rocks and should I tie them to the palm trunks to support them.

I suspect they have not been getting enough sun as the
"stems" are about 2 feet long!

I would appreciate any help you can give me.


Denis Wilson said...

Hi Gabi
Thanks for visiting, and best of luck with your Sydney Rock Orchids.
I am not a "grower" - but many people in the Australasian Native Orchid Society are. If you go to this page, you can find a local branch of that Society.
They will be able to help you.
General answer is tie your plants to the base of the rock, with something which will hold the base firmly enough. Preferably either use biodegradable material, or remember to remove the tie after a year or two. The roots will eventually attach themselves to the rocks, or a tree. Some loose bark would help hold moisture, if that's possible to arrange.
Good light seems to be important to their performance.
The long stems you mention might indicate your plants are NOT rock Orchids, but the tree-dwelling form I showed in that Blog item. Not a big difference, but the tree growers (epiphytes) apparently have longer stems than the rock one.
Best of luck with it.