Fantastic Orchids and Where to Find Them
Think orchids are just pretty indoor plants? Think again! Australia is lucky enough to be home to around 1900 species of wild orchids, which exhibit a wide variety of forms both beautiful and bizarre – but always enchanting.
Gary Backhouse has been an orchid enthusiast for more than 40 years and has travelled all over the world to see these botanical beauties in the wild. But some of the most amazing orchids can be found far closer to home, which is why he has showcased them in not one, but two books – Guide to Native Orchids of Victoria, and Guide to Native Orchids of NSW and ACT.
We asked Gary about his latest book release, Guide to Native Orchids of Victoria, and what makes Victoria’s native orchids so remarkable.
How did your interest in orchids begin?
My interest in native orchids began in my early twenties. My hobbies included bush walking and nature photography, and I was then starting to travel a fair bit. I started finding orchids in the wild and became fascinated by the fantastic array of flower forms, so I decided to learn more about this intriguing group of plants.
In over 40 years of looking for wild orchids in Australia and around the world, I am still as excited to see orchids in the bush today as I was way back then. I have had the great privilege to travel to all the major areas of orchid diversity throughout the world and I have seen over 5,000 species of orchids flowering in the wild. Although, with around 30,000 species of orchids in the world, there are still a heck of a lot of orchids left to see!
What is so special about the native orchids of Victoria? Are there any particularly fascinating species?
Although Victoria covers less than three per cent of the area of Australia, the state has a wider range of broad ecosystem types than any area of comparable size in Australia. This habitat diversity is reflected in the orchid diversity, with about 450 species of native orchids occurring in Victoria. That’s almost a quarter of the total number of native orchids found in Australia – an amazing number for a comparatively small area. This makes Victoria one of the richest areas in the world for its diversity of temperate-climate ground orchids.
Orchid size ranges from the tiny Mallacoota Midge Orchid, being about 8 centimetres tall and with flowers measuring just 2 millimetres across, to the impressive King Orchid, with big plants weighing many kilograms and having hundreds of large fragrant flowers. My favourites would have to be the spider orchids, of which there are about 35 species in Victoria. Several spider orchids have flowers measuring about 15 to 20 centimetres high, among the largest flowers of any flowering plant in Victoria.
What’s your most memorable orchid find?
In over four decades of searching for orchids in Victoria, I’ve managed to find about 15 new, undescribed orchid species, and I am still finding new species. Normally it is a pretty special day when I find a new orchid species in the bush.
On a remarkable and highly memorable day in November 2022, while searching some remote hill forest in the State’s far east, I managed to find three brand new, undescribed greenhood orchids, all in the one day! This was in an area where I had found another new greenhood in August 2022, and several other new orchids in recent years. This region, which is botanically fairly poorly explored, is proving a veritable ‘treasure-trove’ of new orchids.
However, my favourite among all the new orchids I have discovered over the years is undoubtedly the colourful Short-bristled Beard Orchid Calochilus species ‘short bristles’, which I found in October 2009 and still remains un-named.
Why did you write this book and what do you hope readers take away from it?
I wrote Guide to Native Orchids of Victoria to foster an appreciation of the sheer diversity of native orchids in Victoria and to highlight the growing threats to their survival, with many species now restricted to small populations in tiny habitat remnants.
It is important for land custodians and managers to have the latest information on identification and distribution of threatened orchids to enable proper management to ensure their survival, and I hope this book fills some of those gaps.
Guide to Native Orchids of Victoria is a comprehensive guide to the 447 species of wild orchids that occur in Victoria, including 66 species of distinctive but as yet undescribed orchids. The guide also features 460 colour photographs, covering almost all species – including some never illustrated before.
It is available on our website and from all good bookstores.
Interested in the wild orchids of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory? Check out our blog, Wild About Native Orchids: Q&A with Lachlan Copeland.