Friday, 21 February 2014

Hyacinth orchids

Deep pink Hyacinth orchids have just finished flowering along our road; pretty late surely? Often blooming at Christmas, maybe these responded to the late, sudden cessation of the good spring rains.
I thought these were parasitic to the handsome gum trees under which they are always found – and they do appreciate the semishade - but today I read that they are actually myco-heterotophic; dependent or parasitic upon fungus (which may be the interface allowing nutrient absorption from another plant). Certainly Dipodium punctatum has no leaves for photosynthesis but the tall stalks (also not green), up to 1m high, are striking with the magnolia-pink flowers, spotted violet, arranged hyacinth-like (although less congested) at the top.
There is a colony of these beauties under 3 stringybarks in our bushland and one year, early in our custodianship, we found most of the 20 or so flower spikes torn off. Distressed, we wrote a note to the area’s children or other wayfarers: `Please don’t pick the orchids – they need to set seed’! Of course it was our old friend wallaby having a Christmas snack, who else?
`Lysterfield clay’ renders gardening at Possum Creek a challenge at times but gives us low gums trees, mainly messmates and wonderful silver leaf stringy bark gums (see post 21/4/13); this in turn gives us winter sunshine in the house, slanting low over the shorter trees to our north. But travel only half a kilometre up the road and the soil changes: not to that fabulous red mountain soil of Monbulk and Emerald, but a more nutrient-rich, well draining loam than ours none-the-less. With it the trees change, particularly to the beautiful, mountain grey gum, tall with clean, soft grey trunks and – except in large clearings – winter shade. Here the orchids arise too.
It’s hard not to be impressed by these showy flowers which bloom just when the summer heat is getting so uncomfortable. But there’s something else important here too. When clearing under gums for bushfire fuel reduction and in our incessant quest for tidiness – and this is not the place for it, surely – we need to look out for these flower buds, and let them bloom and set seed. Then multiply this by 10 and we are then not mowing down all the other tiny, hard-to-see seed heads of orchids, lilies and other wildflowers (like Blue Stars (Chamaesilla corymbosa), below). If we want to live amongst nature we should not kill it off in the process.

Jill Weatherhead  is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead  Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, (

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