Meet Julie Radford, the orchid whisperer

Kate Thorburn
Published 14 Jan 2019 
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Julie hand pollinating a Stuart Mill Spider Orchid. Photo supplied by Julie Radford<br/> Julie hand pollinating a Stuart Mill Spider Orchid. Photo supplied by Julie Radford
Julie out in the field planting orchids. Photo supplied by Julie Radford<br/> Julie out in the field planting orchids. Photo supplied by Julie Radford
Stuart Mill Spider Orchids (Caladenia crutaceae). Photo by Julie Radford<br/> Stuart Mill Spider Orchids (Caladenia crutaceae). Photo by Julie Radford

Ecologist Julie Radford will bring her unique skillset to Bush Heritage in her new role as Victorian Ecologist.

Hello Julie and welcome to Bush Heritage! Tell us a bit about your new role.

I am the new Ecologist – Victoria, I’ll be looking after the monitoring programs and guiding management actions for all of the Victorian reserves. This includes the Nardoo Hills and Dalyenong areas.

What’s your background?

I specialise in flora. For the last 10 years I’ve been running a central Victorian orchid conservation program for state government and for community groups as an environmental consultant, this includes areas as far north as Charlton to Macedon in the south.

I’ve focussed on orchid conservation but really, all threatened flora is my priority. Prior to being an environmental consultant I was a Biodiversity Officer for DEPI.

I have an interest in and great knowledge of invertebrates so that’s another one of my passions. I’ve also been a teacher of conservation land management at Bendigo TAFE and I will continue to work with them on projects on our reserves in the future.

What first sparked your fascination with orchids?

I’ve always grown orchids. For over 20 years I’ve grown beautiful big showy cymbidiums and epiphytic orchids.

One day I wondered what sort of native orchids we had here in Australia. I had no idea about any of our native flora so I started investigating. I studied horticulture, then I went on to study conservation and I learnt pretty quickly that we had some amazing orchid species in Australia. I started learning about the interactions between orchids, insects and fungi and I got hooked!

A lot of people don’t even know we have native orchids out in the bush – they might even see them all the time but think they're just little wildflowers. It's great to be able to share these cryptic and complex relationship stories with people.

Native plants are phenomenal and it’s not just orchids that have got those special stories to tell –everything in the ecosystem is connected to something else somewhere.

Favourite orchid?

I do have a favourite orchid but I’ve never seen it. It occurs down along the Victorian coast and the Grampians. It’s called Thynninorchis huntianus (Elbow Orchid) and it’s such an intriguing little thing.

It’s tiny and it flowers in November. What’s really awesome is that the orchid gives off a pheromone which makes a male wasp thinks it’s a female wasp so it tries to mate with it. But because it’s hinged, the hinge throws the wasp back so the pollen gets distributed on the wasp’s back. This pollination deception occurs in a large number of our native terrestrial orchids.

One of my favourite tasks is catching and identifying pollinators. You put out bait flowers, within seconds the wasps will come flying thick and fast to try to mate with your flowers, sometimes quite viciously actually!

I have a soft spot for the Stuart Mill Spider-orchid (Caladenia cretacea) too.

What are you most looking forward to about your new job?

I’m really excited about being part of the team. I’ve worked across most of these reserves for a really long time and I’ve offered input and worked really closely with Bush Heritage senior ecologist Matt Appleby and Bush Heritage Regional Reserves Manager Victoria Jeroen van Veen but now I’ll be part of the team instead of a partner.

And it’s a really big team of conservation-minded people who are all on the same page and all out there to try and do a good thing. We’ve all got the same goal – to preserve and conserve our flora and fauna and what we’ve got out there.

I’m also looking forward to bringing in some new knowledge – my interest in insects for example. I’m really keen to share that and inspire other people to get excited about bugs because they’re pretty cool and let’s face it, without invertebrates the rest of the backboned animals on this planet would disappear.

Julie hand pollinating a Stuart Mill Spider Orchid. Photo supplied by Julie Radford<br/> Julie hand pollinating a Stuart Mill Spider Orchid. Photo supplied by Julie Radford
Julie out in the field planting orchids. Photo supplied by Julie Radford<br/> Julie out in the field planting orchids. Photo supplied by Julie Radford
Stuart Mill Spider Orchids (Caladenia crutaceae). Photo by Julie Radford<br/> Stuart Mill Spider Orchids (Caladenia crutaceae). Photo by Julie Radford