We frequently travel north to Queensland by non-direct routes, over a number of days. One of these meanders takes us to the glaciation rocks just off the Narrabri to Bingara road. We usually camp down by the river with the music of rapids and frogs to lull us. However, last time heavy rain made this impossible, so we found a flat place on rocks above the gorge which was roaring with floodwaters and foam.
On a morning stroll, I spotted a solitary orchid beside the dirt track. I marked it with a discarded beer-can and a fallen branch and went back triumphantly to fetch J. And you know what, despite the markers, I couldn’t find it. Further evidence that my orchid spotting skills are appallingly limited.
This is what we finally refound …
My rank amateur status as an identifier was confirmed. I didn’t even recognise it as a member of the vast greenhood alliance, and many leafings through David Jones’ big book didn’t help. Then I struck it lucky in his field guide. It’s Pterostylis mutica.
True to experience, once we’d seen this solitary orchid, they began to pop up everywhere. Our rocky camp-site was alive with them.
At the beginning of October we visited a patch of grand old casuarinas beside the river. On a dead fallen one, very close to the river bank we found four patches of distinctive thick fleshy leaves with very noticeable parallel furrows.
We’ve been visiting these leaves for a few weeks, not very hopeful of flowering, since they are quite exposed. However, orchids again proved themselves to be tough customers capable of unexpected survival and there were sprays of buds visible from the ground.
Some of them were flowering, but as is the way of things one really wants to photograph they were a bit inaccessible.
We spent a long time peering into the casuarinas further from the river, without spotting more orchids, although they must be there (that’s the orchid spotter’s refrain!)
A week later we visited again, this time with an extension ladder and three cameras. Our eccentricity was rewarded.
A week after finding waxlips and sun orchids on a rocky, mossy, grassy slope I went back to deepen my acquaintance.
I found the whole steep hillside unmercifully slashed. There was no grass, no orchids and very little moss. Even the rocks had been semi-obliterated. All that remained were the monstrous tyre marks of the Country Energy tractor. The destruction was so totally complete that there was no room left for any reaction but stunned silence.
Neighbours mentioned seeing orchids close to home a few weeks ago. I failed to find them. However, we embarked on another ramble on 1st October. This time we explored a mossy, rocky bank close to the road. It was seeping with recent rain and offered a tangle of grass and moss and trigger plants. While I was trying to capture the detail of the trigger plant flowers, my companion prowled off up the slope. I heard him say “When you’ve finished, there’s something here I want to show you.”
It was a splendid mauvey-purply-bluey orchid, about 5 cm from dorsal sepal to the tip of the lateral sepals. Three more modest companions were close by.
The search for ID began when we returned home. We finally satisfied ourselves that it was a Glossodia major, and swore again that we’d master the naming of parts. Jones told us that the pollinators are small native bees.
We listed things crucial for final ID to look at on a visit the next day: the leaf, long and wide, was hidden amongst baby eucalypts and grass. In this photo the stem has a kink in it close to the ground.
and the detail in the throat: the yellow calli, the white and mauve labellum (a modified petal) and the purple column (the style and staminal filaments).
We’d been waiting for four or five years to spot another Glossodia. We came across our first ones in the early days of orchid spotting, beside the track and in the bush towards Lake Brunderee near Potato Point. The habitat was completely different: dry and open.
Even the discovery of a very fat leech on my leg and the appalling itchiness for the next few days didn’t diminish my pleasure in this find.