Did you know that orchids grow wild here in Tasmania? They sure do. In fact, there are 214 species of orchid in Tasmania, many of them endemic (that is, they’re only found here). And this time of year is when you can pull your walking boots on and go searching for the delicately beautiful flower, which has its biggest flush now, stretching through to early Summer.
Lydia Coleborn is a bit of an orchid enthusiast and you will often find her walking Derby’s trails in search of the often-elusive plant. Generally, it is hard to spot because of its size: about 5-20cm from the base of the stem to the top of the flower head, depending on the variety. They’re often very small, you see.
“I first started noticing ground orchids when birdwatching with dad. I wasn’t any good at the birdwatching, so I started looking to the ground and noticing the orchids,” Lydia says. “They’re often quite small and cryptic in their colouring, blending into the ground easily. They are so beautiful, so interesting with unusual shapes and colours and textures. I love that there’s so much intricate beauty that can be so easily overlooked.”
Lydia recommends looking for them in open woodland or alongside the tracks around Derby, identifying their difference in structure and the shape of the ground cover. Briseis track and the new link track between Branxholm and Derby are particular favourites. But if you’re new to the orchid-spotting thing, there are rules and etiquette.
“Please do not ever ever pick a native orchid!” Lydia says with great emphasis. “Little animals like to eat them too, so they don’t have much chance if everyone’s out to pick them.”
So… what do you do when you discover an orchid?
“I usually do a crazy little joy dance if no one’s around,” Lydia laughs. “Then I hunker down and get close to them, take a photo. If you see one you’ve seen before it’s like meeting an old friend.”
Half the fun is being able to identify the species of orchid you are beholding. And that takes skill. Some common species spotted in the Derby area include bird orchids, helmet orchids, green hoods and maroon hoods.
“In terms of identification the leaves are important as well as the flowers. Little details can be all the difference between varieties.”
Your best chance is to tag along with someone who is already an orchid guru, and you’ll find whole communities of interested folk on Facebook, like the Tasmanian Native Orchids group. Lydia reckons taking children on your flora hunting expeditions is another surefire way of spotting native orchids, thanks to their keener eyesight and closer proximity to the ground. She also said to simply “be aware” of what you’re looking for. Research what they look like, their size, colours and environment.
“It’s possible to be completely oblivious to them until you’re aware they exist, then you’ll be surprised by what you might find.”
We’ve put together a list of resources to help you on your orchid scouting.
Orchids to look for
Sun Orchids: 37 species recorded in Tasmania. Common name refers to their habit of opening in warm sunny weather – they may not open if the weather is cool or overcast. The column is the key floral part used in identification.
Greenhoods: 36 recognised species in Tasmania. They often (not always) prefer a damper environment – beside creeks, gullies, shaded hollows. The Nodding Greenhood appears to tolerate drier conditions.
Caladenia carnia: Widespread in Tasmania, their flowering is limited to spring/summer. Grows in open, dry sclerophyll forest.
Chiloglostis triceratops: Three-horned bird orchid. Found in shaded, sheltered, moist areas, often among low vegetation. Endemic to Tasmania.
Flowering Times of Tasmanian Orchids: A Practical Guide for Field Botanists, by Mark Wapstra, available freely as a PDF here.
Tasmanian Native Orchids (Facebook group)
Field Naturalists of Tasmania (Facebook group)
A Guide to Flowers and Plants of Tasmania, by the Launceston Field Naturalists Club.
Orchids of Tasmania (App for Apple Phones only) Describes 208 of approx. 220 orchid species in Tasmania (67 endemic).