Thursday, September 10, 2009

Black Bootlace Orchid

Erythrorchis cassythoides (Galeola cassythoides)

These dead flowers, tumbled into some disturbed earth, were all that was left when I went looking for the climbing orchid which once grew by the roadside at Hampton.

Stealing orchids from the wild is something normally done only by people with an underdeveloped sense of ethics. In the case of this orchid species, it is an act of murder, rather than mere theft, as the plants don’t survive being moved.
However, this one used to climb on a dead tree which is marked for destruction by the “Cathedral Drive” roadworks. Perhaps in this case the plant was taken by someone who felt that a forlorn hope of saving the plant was better than no hope at all.
Unfortunately, there is probably Buckley’s chance of re-establishing it elsewhere. Climbing orchids, like so many ground orchids, depend for their survival on having their roots attached to a complex web of fungi, which themselves live on decaying wood as well as being somewhat parasitic on the roots of living trees. The orchids can’t survive on their own roots, so “transplanting” kills them.
These leafless orchids creep up the stems of trees, clinging with roots growing from the nodes of their black main stems. They can get as high as 6 metres, but are most commonly seen growing only a few metres high. (Not that they are common at all - in fact they’re rare in our district).
They are usually on Eucalypts, living or dead, but have been known to establish themselves on orange trees.
In spring they put out generous panicles of these banana-coloured flowers, each with a white labellum that turns red as the flower ages. They have a strong, sweet fragrance, which attract their native bee pollinators.
Some good photos can be found at
The sadness of destroying old trees is that so many smaller species are destroyed with them. The trees can be re-planted, and will eventually replace those lost (though not in our lifetime), but the flora and fauna which depended on them can be pushed to extinction, as they are unable to wait for their life-supporting environment to be re-established.

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