Author Archives: Allen

Flowering Fern in flower



Flowering Fern - Helminthostachys zealanica


Flowering Fern indeed. The common name of this primitive fern is confusing, ferns do not flower, however the spike that they produce is certainly quite flower-like.

This fern belongs to a monotypic (only the one member) Genus Helminthostachys, which is known to occur throughout South-east Asia. In Malaysia it is eaten as a vegetable.

The plant extends into North Australia from the Kimberley to the Daintree. I’ve generally seen this plant growing in fairly boggy places so it must prefer a bit of a wet patch.


Close-up of "Flowering" Spike

To be honest the first time I saw this plant in the wild I did a double take.

I saw it from a bit of a distance and was quite sure I was looking at a fern but couldn’t quite get my head around the bit that was sticking up.

The family,Ophioglossaceae, to which this plant belongs is quite small, having a mere 70 species in 4 Genera. Of these only about 10 occur in Australia within 3 Genera.

One of the other local members of the family is Ribbon Fern, Ophioglossum pendulum, which unlike the terrestrial Flowering Fern live as an epiphyte. The fronds, which are ribbon-like, can be up to 1 m long and tend to twist some and hang down.

Like the Flowering Fern they have an unusual spore producing appendage that develops out of the frond.


Spore spike of Ophioglossum pendulum - Ribbon Fern

Bottlebrush Orchid – Coelandria smillieae

Bottlebrush Orchid - Coelandria smillieae

Bottlebrush Orchids are once again in flower at Wildwings.

    This unusual orchid, which was previously known as Dendrobium smillieae, prefers to grow on flaky barked trees such as Melaleucas and Leichhardts.

In this case it is Melalueca leucadendra.

   The flowers form at the ends of long canes in a tight cluster. Sometimes, as in this case above, the spike will split into two heads making the “bottlebrush” a little strange.

Newly opening flowers

Flowers begin to open from the bottom of the cane towards the tip of the spike and last several weeks before collapsing.

The flowers are a subtle blend of soft pink, white and green.

Unlike some of the more flamboyant orchid flowers the petals of the Bottlebrush Orchid are fused together for much of their length and consequently are tube-like with a ruffle of fringed petals towards the ends.

Close-up of Flower

Sheepless – Pink Shepherds’ Crook Orchid

Geodorum terrestre - Pink Shepherds' Crook Orchid

Geodorum terrestre – Pink Shepherds’ Crook Orchid

Geodorum literally means earth gift and terrestre = terrestrial.

previously known as G. densiflorum

This very attractive ground orchid responds to the early rains of the wet season with rapid, active growth.

The plants grow with tightly packed fleshy pseudobulbs supporting yellowish green, heavily pleated leaves.

The soft pink flowers are presented on a arching stem that allows the flowers to hangs down, perhaps to help them avoid the impact of heavy rainfall on the fertile parts of the flower.

Geodorum terrestre showing crook-like stem

The plants are regarded as widespread and common.

They can be found in a variety of forest types and habitats but a good level of moisture and light are usually required for healthy growth.

Here at Wild Wings & Swampy Things they have gradually worked their way down from the remnant vegetation on the hillsides. They have persisted in patches of Guinea Grass – Panicum maximum but seem unable to penetrate the several different introduced species of Brachiaria sp.

Hence we have a strong desire to rid our property of these dominating exotic grasses and have greatly reduced their presence.

Geodorum terrestre showing colourful flower

While the outside of the flower is a lovely soft pink, the labellum has a heavily veined deep red upper surface with a splash of bright yellow in the center.

The flowers are pollinated by our small stingless honey bees, although some forms are supposed to self pollinate.

I have chosen this last post for 2009 for Denis Wilson who has given me such enjoyment with his regular orchid posts.

Nose into “Common Snout Orchid”

Dienia montana - Common Snout Orchid

Dienia montana - Common Snout Orchid

Dienia montana was previously known as Malaxis latifolius.

The vernacular name of “Common Snout Orchid” is most unfortunate for this seemingly attractive terrestrial orchid. I cannot see the reason for this name?

They tend to grow in small colonies in shaded, damp areas with a good covering of leaf mulch as you can see in the first photo.

With the recent rains of the last four weeks several terrestrial orchids have started to burst forth. They don’t muck about either. This patch of about 20 plants have only had leaf material showing for about three weeks and already the lower flowers on the flower spikes have blooms that are fully open.

Dienia montana flower spike

The flowers are crowded on a vertical spike ripening from the bottom towards the top.

The flowers are a mere 4-6 mm across, making it very difficult to enjoy the true shape and colour.

They are also a bit of a challenge to photograph as the plants seem to like living in low light situations.

We have quite large clumps of these orchids in gullies coming off the hillsides that have re-vegetated themselves over the last 20 years. Gradually, as the trees have advanced down the slope, so have several species of terrestrial orchid.

Dienia montana flowers

The flowers turn from a lime green to a purplish brown as they mature.

Unfortunately, like many terrestrial orchids the plants are very seasonal and dry off and shrivel towards the end of the wet season.

On another note some months ago I posted the flowering Sarcochilus minutiflos which also has a very small flower. Yesterday while mowing I came across a plant that had fallen out of its tree. The flowers had obviously been fertilised and the pods were fully developed. I was quite surprised by the size of the pods. They were about 6-7 cm long and about 4 mm wide. Quite a contrast to the flowers that produced them that were only 6-8 mm across.

Sarcochilus minutiflos seed pod

Mt Lewis spectacular day

What a wonderful day was had by all on our day out to Mt Lewis.

Barb and I and her brother Richard and wife Susie headed up to Mt Lewis arriving mid morning.

We were able to see most of the must see birds that are sought on that moist mountain top.

Golden Bowerbird, Toothbilled Bowerbird, Spotted Catbird, Chowchilla, Atherton Srubwren, Yellow Throated Scrubwren, Fern Wren, Grey Headed Robin, Pale Yellow Robin and a host of others.

But we also went to see what orchids may be in flower and while there were not quite as many as we would have liked and we were not able to drive right to the end of the road due to road works we did enjoy what we saw.

Thelychiton adae - Slender Cane Orchid

Thelychiton adae - Slender Cane Orchid

The Slender Cane Orchid (pictured right) was quite common, but usually seen high up in large trees. This plant was previously known as Dendrobium adae.

As can be seen in the attached photo the plants were often seen growing in colonies on older trees with a host of other epiphytic plants.

Trachyrhizum agrostophyllum - Buttercup Orchid

Trachyrhizum agrostophyllum - Buttercup Orchid

The Buttercup Orchids were not as common and were in the early stages of flowering.

Once again they were a bit high up in the trees so not so easy to get a good photo of the flower.

This plant was previously known as Dendrobium a.


Dockrillia linguiformis - Thumbnail Orchid

Dockrillia linguiformis - Thumbnail Orchid

The final post is of a small orchid with a vibrant white flower and a tongue-shaped (hence the species name linguiformis) leaf.

Once again growing high on a tree trunk in a well lit and ventilated spot.

A very easily overlooked plant as the leaves sit flat against the tree trunk. I only spotted it because I saw the flowers sticking out from the trunk.

Sorry that the photos are not crystal clear but we were at full zoom on all of them and white flowers tend to flare a bit.

Soldier’s Crest Orchid – Oberonia titania

Oberonia (OH-bur-row-nee-a) J.Lindley 1830 titania (ty-TAY-nee-a) Endlicher.

This delightful tiny plants Genus was Named after Oberon the King of the Fairies and this particular species was also named after titania the Queen of the fairies. Quite a wit on the part of both Lindley and Endlicher the botanists involved.

Common name: Soldier’s Crest Orchid.

Oberonia titania

Oberonia titania

The plant seen at right is about 50mm across with the flower spike being about 80mm long. These dimensions give you an inkling of how tiny and “fairy-like” the individual flowers are at about 1mm across.

I have found quite a few of these orchids growing on fruit trees in our tropical fruit orchard. They seem to favour Black Sapote (Diospyros digyna). Perhaps because of the fairly rough bark. I have also found them growing in the Mangrove community on similarly rough barked Bruguiera sp.

The mature plants seem to have reddish tinge to the leaves, particularly those that are growing in direct sunlight.

Oberonia titania flower spike

Oberonia titania flower spike

The orchid family is one that constantly amazes me with its dramatic contrasts. From flowers that are large, flamboyant and colourful to ones that are so small that it is hard to comprehend what minute insect would be visiting the flowers to enable fertilization.

If you enlarge the top photo you can clearly see that there are fully formed seed pods on this particular plant so fertilization has been achieved.

Northern Pencil Orchid – Dockrillia calamiformis

Dockrillia (doc-RILL-ee-a) calamiformis (calam-ee-for-miss) Jones & Clemesha.

Northern Pencil Orchid / Bridal Veil Orchid

Named after A.W. Dockrill, a botanist who specialises in Australian orchids. calamiformis = having a reed-like form.

This species was previously included with Dendrobium teretifolia as a northern var. fasciculatum

Northern Pencil Orchid

Northern Pencil Orchid

This orchid species is by far the most prevalent epiphytic orchid at Wild Wings and Swampy Things Nature Refuge.

It appears to attach itself to any tree that has a rough flaky bark.

For much of the year it presents itself as a series of pendulous terete leaves, usually on the underside of a branch or on the  trunk of an older tree.

Flowering is often towards the end of the dry season, with the flowers only lasting a few days.

A couple of days ago Denis Wilson (The Nature of Robertson) featured a southern cousin of this plant seen at Jervis Bay (Dockrillia teretifolia).

Superficially the two plants are very similar. The labellum on the northern plant doesn’t roll back like the southern plant does however.

Flowers of Northern Pencil Orchid

Flowers of Northern Pencil Orchid

The other striking feature of these attractive orchids is their delicate sweet scent.

This is particularly strong early morning and late afternoon, but certainly adds to the delight of these stunning plants

White Bells are ringing – Sarcochilus minutiflos

Sarcochilus (sar-co-KY-lus) R. Brown 1810. minutiflos (my-newt-ee-FLOSS) F.M. Bailey

The name comes from the Greek sarco – fleshy, cheilos – a lip; because of the fleshy labellum of the flower. While minutiflos = having very small flowers.

Common Name: White Bells.

This is truly a tiny epiphytic orchid, I have placed a match box above a typical plant to give some sense of perspective.

Sarcochilus minutiflos

Sarcochilus minutiflos

Because of its diminutive size this orchid is very difficult to find.

It tends to grow on the fine twiggy branches of well lit and ventilated trees. luckily I have found some that are growing on a small myrtaceae tree growing in our house garden.

They often grow in small colonies which is probably a good thing as each individual plant does not last many seasons before the twiggy branch dies back and falls off dislodging the plant.

I first noticed the flower inflorescence forming several weeks ago and have been keeping a bit of an eye on the plant to catch the flower. And a couple of days ago the flower bud started to form.Flower bud

The bud is about 5 mm across and took about 3 days to open.

The plant species by the way is often confused with a similar one Sarcochilus hillii which tends to occur a bit south of us.

I have also found several plants growing on a Soursop tree in our fruit orchard. Soursops have a habit of the twiggy branches dying back.

Which is why I first noticed that there were orchids in the tree. Several rotted twigs had fallen off in the wind and there were some very unhappy looking orchids on the decomposed wood. I then carefully scanned the tree and found that there were plenty more on slightly better conditioned twigs.

As I have yet to see a plant growing on a robust branch it suggests to me that the orchids must need a lot of light and ventilation to establish and perhaps the decomposition of the woody material provides the nutrient for these delicate young plants.

Sarcochilus minutiflos flowers

Sarcochilus minutiflos flowers

Gardenia actinocarpa – Daintree Gardenia

Daintree Gardenia - Gardenia actinocarpa

Daintree Gardenia - Gardenia actinocarpa

Gardenia (gar-DEN-ee-a) Linnaeus 1761 actinocarpa (ack-tin-OH-car-pa) Puttock 1988.

This Genus was named after Dr A. Garden, an English physician and botanist (1730-91) who communicated with Linnaeus. actinocarpa= having rayed or star-like fruit; a reference to the calyx lobes that persist on the fruit.

Family: Rubiaceae.

Common name: Daintree Gardenia.

This attractive shrub, to 5 mts, is very much a plant of the Daintree Rainforest.

It occurs along the coastal fringe between Cow Bay and Noah Beach just south of Cape Tribulation.

It would have to be regarded as one of the sweetest smelling of the Gardenias.

Gardenia actinocarpa flower

Gardenia actinocarpa flower

When in flower the plants are easy to find, you literally just follow your nose.

The flowers are male and female on separate plants.

Because it takes quite a long time for the fruit to fully develop they will often have both flowers and developing fruit on them at the same time.

The fruit can be easily overlooked on the plant as the colour and shape tends to conceal them among the leaves

The trees are well shaped and lend themselves to fitting in well as a garden specimen or tub plant. We have two happily growing on our front veranda in large tubs. Fortunately they are a male and female so consequently we have had several fruit forming even though they are relatively young plants.

Gardenia actinocarpa fruit

Gardenia actinocarpa fruit

The snowy-white flowers are very typical Gardenia-like flowers. They have six petals and six narrow calyx lobes that persist on the forming fruit.

The fruits contain a number of cream to brown seeds, 4-6 mm long, that are relatively easy to germinate.

This is a recently discovered plant that grows in a limited area and is yet to reach its full potential in gardens throughout the tropics.

Thrixspermum platystachys in flower

Thrixspermum platystachys in flower

AND…… In a recent post I featured this remarkable orchid the flower of which I have been trying to photograph.  The one I posted was taken during wet weather and was not at its best.  I was therefore delighted to see fresh buds poking their heads out a couple of days ago and have been vigilantly waiting for them to develop.

This morning that wait was realised with the plant featured having a dozen or so blooms showing.

The flowers are much more spectacular than I had realised, looking very much like long-legged insects.

I will see how long they last to confirm if the literature is correct that they only last the one day.

Thrixspermum platystachys flower

Thrixspermum platystachys flower

Thrixspermum platystachys – Native Orchid

Thrixspermum platystachys

Thrixspermum platystachys

Thrixspermum (thrix-SPERM-um) Loureiro 1790 platystachys (plat-ee-STACK-iss) (F.M. Bailey) Schlechter 1911.

From the Greek thrix – hair; sperma – seed. platystachys = from the Greek platys – flat; stachys – an ear of corn; alluding to the shape of the flower spike of this species.

Family name: Orchidaceae.

Other Names: Sarcochilus platystachys.

This is an unusual epiphytic orchid of tropical lowland rainforest and mangrove trees. The plants tend to be pendulous with thick glossy-green leaves but has few attached roots. They form, in stead a tangle of roots, leaves and stems that hang from a trunk or branch.

Thrixspermum platystachys - flower

Thrixspermum platystachys - flower

They appear to favour well lit situations.

Here at Wildwings and Swampy Things Nature Refuge we have several plants that have attached themselves to some of our tropical fruit trees in our orchard. They seem happiest on rough bark ( Rambutan – Nephelium lappaceum) or decayed/ dead branches( Soursop – Annona muricata).

The plants produce odd looking flowering spikes which are persistant on the plant all year.

With flowering possible at any time.

I have patiently waited for one to flower so that I could photograph the flowers but seemed to miss them, only to find the shrivelled spent flowers on the ground below the plant.

That is until this week when I spotted one flowering while I was mowing. The flowers you see only last one day so you have to be constantly checking them.

Ironically when I had grabbed the camera to get a photo I discovered that two separate plants on different trees were flowering on the same day. Some weather event may well have encouraged them to action?

Unfortunately we have been having drizzly rain so the flowers were not at their best.

Thrixspermum platystachys - Flower spike.

Thrixspermum platystachys - Flower spike.

I guess I will have to continue to watch and wait in the hope that I can get a better flower.

The fruiting body is also somewhat unusual in that they form a long bean-like pod (to 20cm) that protrude from the flower spike.

I am yet to see a dry one split and shed its millions of seeds.