Try growing: Illawarra's native orchids

OK so I've posted on native orchids before, but more from the perspective of what just happened to be growing in the garden. A few years on and I've learned that there are a lot of orchids native to the Illawarra region that do well and look good in cultivation.

The most obvious candidate is the well-known Sydney Rock Orchid (Dendrobium speciosum), which can be seen in full flower right now in gardens around the region. It grows naturally on rocks, but can also be grown on tree stumps or in well-drained spots directly on the ground. Around 75% sun is about ideal, but plants can cope with more or less sun than that. Keep them on the dry side, as overwatering can damage or even kill them off. 

Sydney Rock Orchid flowering well in full sun.
Image by Kath Gadd.
It's fairly easy to obtain plants of this species. Much less so for some of the other Dendrobiums, although several are also excellent and interesting garden plants. One, the Bridal Veil Orchid (Dendrobium teretifolium) has a spectacular display of delicate, spidery-looking flowers in early spring. 

The delicate flowers of the Bridal Veil Orchid. Image by Carl Glaister.
Some local orchids are as appealing for their scent as their appearance. Foremost among them is the Orange Blossom Orchid, a small orchid that grows on tree trunks and produces beautiful white flowers with a distinctive orange scent.  

The flowers of Orange Blossom Orchid. Image by Alan Stephenson. All rights reserved.

Orange Blossom Orchid grows naturally on the trunks of
native trees such as this Red Cedar (Toona ciliata).
Image by Alan Stephenson. All rights reserved.

It is hard to get hold of plants, but they are very rewarding to grow if your garden has a suitable tree to host them. They do best on a rough-barked tree, in semi-shade conditions. Occasional watering during spring and summer will help them along. 

All the orchids described above grow naturally on rocks or tree trunks (or both). But there are also many species that grow in the ground (and these are known as terrestrial orchids). A few of these can be cultivated without too much effort. One that is well worth trying is the Blunt Greenhood (Pterostylis curta), a ground orchid with pretty little bonnet-shaped flowers. If you can get hold of a plant it should be with you for many a year, grown in a pot or in well-drained soil.

Blunt Greenhood flowering well in
 August 2018.

If you're keen to find out more about local native orchid species, or grow some for yourself, you could do worse than visit the spring show of the Australian Native Orchid Society (Illawarra), which is on next weekend 8-9 September at the Old Courthouse in Wollongong. You can see a range of orchid grown in pots, talk to orchid experts, buy orchids and even have your ratty old plants repotted and looked after for a nominal fee. 

There are also some good online resources on cultivating Australian orchids, particularly Brian Walters' article Starting out with native orchids.

Happy gardening!

Post script. I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't also orchids on display at the Illawarra Grevillea Park, which is open this weekend and next from 10-4. Bonus plant sales and guided walks too!

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