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Clairvaux Community Centre 14 Oak Street, Katoomba NSW 2780

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Native Ground Orchids

Frances Scarano here gives us a glimpse at some of the efforts she has been making to rescue and translocate some of our native ground orchids, and to propagate them too. There are about 1200 different species of these often elusive jewels of the bush that grow in Australia.
                                       Photo of Pterostylus acuminata by Rolf Lawrenz
We are so very grateful that Frances chooses to volunteer so much of her time and energy to the Wildplant Nursery. She is our chief propagator and without her efforts we might not have such a wide range of species at the nursery . 
We currently have a small collection of her rescued orchids available now (May 2024) for translocation, during the period they are in leaf. 
Frances writes "I have rescued orchids from proposed  building sites or other vulnerable sites in order to save the species and to propagate. I also have rescued plants from private lawns or nature strips both in Katoomba and Sydney in the Hornsby Shire in Thornleigh and Normanhurst  for Hornsby Shire nursery all with the owners permission. 
Hornsby Shire 
Pterostylis curta. I actually got a few plants from a grower who rescued them from his backyard. He discovered them when he was building a deck. I also got some by a roadside that had road rubbish thrown over the colony. 
I took them to Hornsby shire nursery where they grew and multipled in really  huge numbers and also where ever I planted them in the garden and were  easy to grow in pots. 
 Pterostylis pedunculata is  also very easy to grow  in the nursery and the garden and in pots. 
Chiloglottis sp also reproduced in huge  numbers in tube stock in the Hornsby Shire nursery. 
Acianthus sp also did well in the Hornsby nursery conditions. 
They have impressive custom built glass and shade houses  for all weather conditions  so kind to orchids. 
I now live on a half-acre fully bushed block in Katoomba, with orchids occurring naturally here in my garden.
Blue Mountains. 
 I have rescued orchids from Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls. 
 I have tried translocation to my bush block of species that were not on my block as well as growing in tubes and pots at home and in the nursery. 
The weather is very extreme in Katoomba, very cold, very hot, very windy, very dry and  very wet. We get them all but mostly cold. This has made orchid cultivation very much more difficult than in  the benign situation in Sydney when I was living there. 
The weather had been in El Nino or drought 7 years when I did most of my orchid rescues and translocations in the Blue Mountains and orchids were everywhere in the bush and on my block. 
The 2019 extreme heat and hot winds never experienced in Katoomba before and the 3 years following of extreme rain changed the orchid situation and translocated and naturally occurring  orchids did not come up at all or only in very few numbers.
 Now that the weather is changing again to a bit drier condition  there are signs that the orchids are  coming again. 
In the good years I had orchids popping up from my pots on the porch and growing in the stone pathways without help from me. 
There were also different naturally occurring  and increasing diversity of species appearing on my block. 
At the nursery in tube stock we have mixed Pterostylis  spp, Microtis unifolia and for a while and the following only seem to come up once again and disappear Prasphyllum flavum, Thelymitra pauciflora, Caladenia sp. and Eriochilus autumnal. I have tried translocation to my bush block of the latter  two Thelymitra and Caladenia but they disappeared after 2 or 3 years. A Thelymitra does occur naturally on my block but it got overwhelmed by ferns after all our wet weather. 
Chiloglottis species were great in my pots for 3 or 4 years, with wasps gathering to mate with them and then only a plant or two survived during our La Nina years. 
                                                              Chiloglottis growing in a pot at the nursery
I have tried translocating and potting Diuris  with no success at all. 
Spiranthes australis have come up from orchid seed thrown over moist stones at my place and bloomed well until the big wet of the last 3 years (2020-23). Hopefully the few survivors will recolonise in the drier weather to come. They translocate well.
Calochilis sp no luck no show. 
Genoplesium no luck Came  up once in a pot and never again. 
  Gastrodia come up in people's compost and are translocated accidentally all over the garden when the compost is moved around. They can come up again in odd places provided they are not disturbed. My colony about to start on my nature strip was wiped out by a car running over it. They do not like sun either and the flowers tend to shrivel before opening in the hot sun. I still have a colony on a high undisturbed embankment gradually increasing. 
I have tried translocation of Cryptostylus subulata and C. leptochila which  worked well and bloomed again and in pots and bush  until the big wet of the last 3 years. 
The orchids we have in tubes in the nursery have come up quite well this year and in my home pot collection. They have never at any time prospered in the huge numbers that we had in the Hornsby nursery where conditions are much warmer. 
I rescued Pterostylis spp from a lawn in Katoomba and over 4 years or so different species appeared from the one place. We thought that we only had one species from that rescue. 
Leaf rosette of Pterostylis acuminata by Greg Tasney
Known species so far:-
Pterostylis pedunculata, P. obtusa, P. nutans, P. truncata, P. coccina and either P. parviflora or P. bicolour (not flowered yet.)
Glossodia minor no luck in translocation or pot. 
Microtis unifolia comes up in pots but translocation is  not great. Could be because the big wet killed them or they are in hiding until things dry up a bit.
Pterostylis longiflora and two other varieties of the longiflora group from my bush and Wentworth Falls come up again in pots each year. 
Sarcochilus falcata on logs flowering Oct 2019
Epiphitic orchids Sarcochilis falcatus on original logs that came from a fallen tree on private property in Bilpin as well as Dendrobium pugiforme are still thriving. 
I tried to grow Cymbidium sauve from seed by sprinkling onto a rotten log. Did not work but it  worked well in Westleigh Sydney by an expert gardener there. 
I tried sprinkling seed from Diplodium punctatum onto bush soil compost but no success. 
In conclusion it seems to be much easier to grow orchids in the warmer Sydney climate as the same easy species were no where near as prolific in the cold Katoomba conditions. The extreme weather conditions have killed off my translocated orchids or they may just be in hiding until conditions change. Who knows the seed sowing may have produced something still in hiding until conditions change. 
My soils are untouched bush soils and orchids are inclined to come and go so it will be interesting  to see what happens in this present El Nino and perhaps my translocated orchids will appear again as my naturally occurring ones have also gone into hiding for the last 3 years but some are now appearing again. 
Weather seems to be a big factor in how things transpire and a warmer climate is kinder to orchids cultivation by humans. In the bush in the Blue Mountains they seem to be able to grow themselves readily when the weather is not too extreme  and non appearance some years seems to be part of the process. There certainly is no shortage of diversity of species here in the Blue Mountains. 
There is a branch of an orchid growing society in Springwood. They put on shows  near Penrith. They also grow native ground orchids and the Victorian orchid growing society have put out a book on how they cultivate native ground orchids. Some of it is flask growing but not all so they will have a lot of information. They can be found on the internet."
To visit the orchid growing information from the Australian Plant Society click HERE