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Tea Tree Orchid flowers through the dry

Leanne Hales (Volunteer Coordinator North)
Published 25 Sep 2018 by Leanne Hales (Volunteer Coordinator North)

Just five months ago we were blogging about a big wet season at Yourka Reserve. Sunday Creek had broken its banks and the valley tracks were under three foot of water. Now the creek has dried back to a stagnant puddle and the tracks have turned to fine bulldust. It’s hard to imagine this place was in flood in early Autumn.

But as the dry season takes it’s hold, there are still pockets of green and floristic delights to behold. One such delight is the Tea Tree Orchid (Dendrobium caniculatum). Turns out we’d been driving past this little beauty for years, on our way to the Herbert River and various fencing and weeding projects. Paul and I usually get around with our “what’s the next job?” blinkers on. Thank goodness the kids have their eyes open to the beauty and the wonder! 

This time last year Macey sketched a flowering plant in her Yourka “field book” and the interrogation began… where did you see that? What did it look like? Could you find it again?

Of course she could…and when she did there were dozens of them!

Dendrobium caniculatum happily colonises the slightly soggier stands of tea tree, in particular the Broad-leaved Tea Tree (Maleleuca viridiflora) found on the reserve. In coastal North Queensland, this vegetation community is under serious threat from clearing and fragmentation; weed invasion; inappropriate grazing regimes; forestry practices; inappropriate fire regimes; illegal wildlife harvesting and changes in hydrological regimes. It has been listed as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 because it has a restricted geographic distribution and has declined substantially due to clearing.

West of the divide, where the rainfall is lower, the broad-leaved tea tree woodlands have a slightly different ground layer assemblage but still provide habitat for a treasure trove of interesting species, including epiphytic orchids.

The tea tree orchid loves light, air flow and good drainage and can be found clumped and clinging to the trunks and branches of its paperbark host.

When undisturbed by hot fires, the orchid occurs right down to ground level and on fallen branches.

Flowering between Aug and October, Dendrobium caniculatum racemes are up to 16cm long with attractive white, yellowish or lime green flowers to 2.5cm in diameter. They have deep purple labellum and a sweet scent.

An important characteristic of Dendrobium caniculatum is its short, thick pseudobulb which gives this species it’s other common name: the Onion Orchid.

Of course, now that we know what we’re looking for, we make sure we keep our eyes peeled for this little dry-season beauty (apologies for the terrible pun).

Dendrobium caniculatum Dendrobium caniculatum
Flowers just starting to open Flowers just starting to open
A tough spot to call home A tough spot to call home
Tea tree orchid on a fallen log being encroached by a termite mound
Dendrobium caniculatum Dendrobium caniculatum
While other plants shut down during the dry the Tea Tree or Onion Orchid opens its fragrant flowers.
Onion-like pseudobulb Onion-like pseudobulb
A closer look at the pseudobulb that gives the orchid its other common name.
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