Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ironbark Orchid

Dendrobium aemulum (Tropilis aemula)
I found this little orchid on my patio this week, and was delighted with the discovery.
It had fallen down behind something else, and was quietly flowering its little heart out down there.
This is always the first orchid to flower, so when I see it come out, I know that the spring orchid sequence has begun again. I appreciate the encouragement at times when the miserable weather is making me feel that winter will never end.
Dendrobium aemulum is a plant that is picky about its trees. There are five different forms, each with its favourite tree. Our local is the ironbark form and prefers its Eucalyptus hosts to be at the edges of vine forest. It is the only orchid beside Cymbidiums that prefers to grow on a Eucalypt.
The little white flowers are lightly fragrant, and slowly turn deep pink before withering.
Ironbark orchids are very easy plants to grow, but like all Dendrobium-style orchids, they will adapt to our gardens better if we buy the youngest plants we can get.
They like part shade, and are rather picky about having their roots open to the fresh air, so should be grown on mounts or perched on top of a very open mix in their pots. They are drought hardy plants and can tolerate temperatures to 40°, but are intolerant of humid conditions which is why our coastal cousins consider them difficult to grow. Here, it’s easy.
Growing local native orchids, even more than growing any other of our local plants, must involve PURCHASE - not collecting from the wild. In the case of the ironbark orchid, this is partly because this is a very sensitive plant which usually dies if moved, unless it is very young indeed. But mostly it’s because it is just not nice to plunder the bush of its treasures. Well, it’s more than not nice, it’s selfish, arrogant, materialistic, ...
Any red-blooded Australian who genuinely likes native plants also likes native environments, and takes a very dim view of those selfish few who think that nothing is of value unless they own it themselves. Those who trash the bush to sell their ill-gotten gains are, of course, so far beneath contempt as to be hardly worth mentioning.
One of the reasons I always look forward to Toowoomba’s Carnival of Flowers (from 21 September, this year) is that the orchid societies have little plants, including native species, for sale - and often remarkably cheap.

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