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Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Elbow Orchid - a first for me.

This insignificant-looking Orchid (as in hard to see amongst the grass) was growing beside a track at Fitzroy Falls. NSW. That is part of the Morton National Park, so naturally I have taken steps to report it to the staff.
I have never seen this Orchid, before, but because it is so distinctive in its shape, I knew roughly what I was looking at, when I got down close to peer closely at it.

At first I thought it was a kind of Sundew with some dead insects hanging off the sticky bits.
But no, it is an Orchid.
As I first saw Thynninorchis huntianus - Elbow Orchid

"Common Elbow Orchid" Arthrochilus huntianus (re-named by Clements and Jones as Thynninorchis huntianus). "Thynninorchis D.L.Jones et M.A.Clem., Orchadian 13(10): 457 (Feb. 2002)". Originally it was in the genus Drakea, the related Hammer Orchids.

David Jones, in his Orchid book, says it is amongst the most specialised of all Orchids.
It is classed as a "leafless saprophyte", and as the new generic name suggests, it is pollinated by males of the Thynnine Wasp genus. The "elbow" structure allows the flower to move when a male wasp lands on it and tries to mate with the flower. That movement takes the wasp over to the pollen-housing, which is on the right hand side (of this flower), where the wasp would get a dob of sticky pollen on its head or back.
***** See note below, re the Tasmanian sister species.

You can see a video of this process in the related Hammer Orchids from West Australia. You can see how the hinged arm works, with the natural movement of the wasp. In this case (the Elbow Orchid), the Orchid flower is upside down, but that doesn't worry insects.

Thynninorchis huntianus - Elbow Orchid

Thynninorchis huntianus - Elbow Orchid

Full stem of flowers of Thynninorchis huntianus - Elbow Orchid

Another view of Thynninorchis huntianus - Elbow Orchid

Camera bag to give neutral background Thynninorchis huntianus - Elbow Orchid

My Orchid-chasing colleagues, Colin and Mischa have some wonderful photos of this species on their Retired Aussies site.

*****
Notes re the Tasmanian sister species explain the pollination process better than I can: 
"Male thynnine wasps (which give rise to the generic name), attracted to the flowers by a scent resembling that released by their flightless females, attempt to carry off the labellum (believing it to be a female wasp - DJW) for mating. In doing so, the labellum pivots on its hinged stalk, with the insect picking up or depositing pollen."
Source: Listing Statement for Thynninorchis nothofagicola (myrtle elbow orchid)

4 comments:

Snail said...

That's one of the weirdest plants I've ever seen! This post and the following one make me wonder if the next species to be discovered will be named after Heath Robinson.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Bronwen
Glad you appreciate the weirdness of this plant.
Heath Robinson would indeed have been proud to have something like this named after him.
Great suggestion.
Denis

Mac_fromAustralia said...

Oh that is very cool! Isn't nature amazing :-)

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Mac.
Amazing is the right word.
Cheers
Denis