I DO have some reservations about devoting this months “A Bit About” column to Bulbophyllum globuliforme. There cannot be many growers out there that actually have a few bits hanging up in their bush house. So there are few growers with enough experience to start sprouting off about how best to grow the thing. I will jump in feet first and give a few pointers, extracted from the growing pool of wisdom that I have been accumulating about this diminutive, scarce and almost legendary little gem of the Australian orchid world.
B. globuliforme had, until 1992, always been accepted as distributed only around the NSW/Qld border i.e. the McPherson Ranges. W. H. Nichols did not describe it until 1938. Up until 20 years ago it was virtually unknown in cultivation. The singular specimen plant collected and grown by former Sydney Group member, the late Lloyd Bradford, being just about the only piece known to exist. Lloyds superbly grown plant came from Lynches Creek, in the Wiangaree region on the NSW side of the McPhersons and was collected in the early 1960s. It has never, to my knowledge, been recorded as occurring on any host other than the Hoop Pine.
It is amazing how familiarity can change your outlook on a species. It would be impossible to tally up how many hours I had spent searching for B. globuliforme between 1981, when I first had a search for it, and 1992 when I finally gazed on a few little green blobs high up in the McPherson Range. Dennis Johnson and myself had actually formulated itineraries designed to lead us to it. At least three week long ‘expeditions’, and many long day trips while on holidays with the family, had produced not a single dead or living bulb. All proved useless.
Success finally came in October 1992 . . . but only after being directed to that certain little location in the McPhersons. Being told where to find a species is not nearly so good as relying on your own mettle and sniffing it out for yourself. Even so, I doubt I ever experienced the adrenalin rush that came when the first pieces were finally being cradled in my palms. At this beautiful and surprisingly accessible location, B. globuliforme could only be described as common. To search so long with nil result, only to find it everywhere when finally successful, was absolutely exhilerating.
But how the floodgates have opened since that first find. Since then, I have bumped into B. globuliforme everywhere I go. In September 1993, Dennis and I extended its range 375 kms to the Calliope Range near Gladstone – just out of the tropics. In September 1994, we visited the same location again and found it to be more common here than we had thought the previous year. We certainly got a hell of a charge out of seeing B. globuliforme where few people would believe it could exist. In the Calliope Range it is an abundant species provided you are looking in the right spot.
In January 1995, I took the family to Queensland (just for the beach, no orchiding). I told some outright lies to my wife about being too sunburnt for another beach day. I headed into the hinterland rainforest somewhere way out west of the Sunshine Coast. I found myself high up in the Jimna Range between Kilcoy and Goomeri. l was surprised to find a few limbs with B. globuliforme attached, lying under a stand of ancient Hoop Pines. Most of the specimens located were quite dead unfortunately, but some living clumps were found. To think that three years before I had not even seen a single bulb in the wild.
Since then, someone has reported in The Orchadian, journal of the Australian Native Orchid Society, that they found it in some Hoop Pines in the country west of Townsville. This is one huge extension of range. There is a good chance that it may exist on any mature Hoop Pines between Townsville and the Calliope Ranges, near Gladstone. Everybody please keep your eyes open.
The only way a searcher could ever hope to sniff out some B. globuliforme is to pick over the fallen limbs under suitable Hoop Pines. Therefore, any living pieces found should be taken back home and kept alive. To leave specimens down on the dark and damp forest floor is inviting death. Wherever I have found B. globuliforme in the bush I have always found far more dead pieces than living specimens. It will not last long once it falls to ground.
It is most likely that B. globuliforme is far more common in the wild than is currently suspected. Even when seen on a piece of limb held up to the eyes it can be difficult to see the minute little bulbs . . . particularly if moss and lichen are present. The bulbs are only around two millimetres across and about the same in height. That is about as big as this “o”. They are the smallest bulbs on any species of epiphytic orchid native to Australia.
As the specific epithet suggests, the bulbs are globular or teardrop shaped. There is a single hair-like appendage at the crest of each bulb that functions as a leaf. This leaf is about as thick as an eyelash and only around one to two mms long. It often wastes away as the bulb ages so that the more mature bulbs are leafless. This will only be obvious if you have good eyesight.
When rescuing B. globuliforme from under host Hoop Pines, you must exercise a lot of care. Perseverance, and not impatience, is the necessary ingredient . . . as is a sharp knife. Unlike most other orchids found on fallen limbs, I believe it is best to carefully remove each piece of bark supporting a plant/colony of B. globuliforme. To remove each strand of bulbs from the bark, under bush conditions, in most cases causes unnecessary damage that the plant may not recover from. If the piece of limb is still green and hard it is best to saw or chop it either side of the orchid and use the piece as the bush house mount.
More often than not, the host limb will be rotten. Take it home and soak it in water for an hour. This softens the bark surface and the orchid roots and the plant will separate with far less trouble than if left dry. You will want to see your B. globuliforme in flower so I recommend hanging up the piece of bark until after the next flowering season, which is October here in Sydney. This has the great benefit of allowing the half dead plant to begin recovery under your excellent bush house culture. If a plant I have collected looks too far gone I will leave it this way for years. Good recovery will often be made.
When selecting a host for B. globuliforme, the major consideration is the short length of its roots. Rarely do they get to 10 mms long. Logically, an artificial host should have a rough surface but not be deeply fissured. Weathered hardwood or virgin cork are therefore the most suitable hosts. With the cork, I have even turned it over and used the inner smoothish surface instead of the usual outer side. I would never use tree fern fibre for B. globuliforme. It is too deeply furrowed for the tiny bulbs and roots and may stay too wet as well.
B. globuliforme has a cupped, off-white to pale yellow flower about two to three mms across. This single flower can be found at the top of a long and thin peduncle reaching 12 mms in length. These always seem to sit stiffly upright above the bulbs far below. Sometimes a clump of B. globuliforme will be a jungle of flowers closely packed together. Such a flowering specimen is one of the most memorable sights you are likely to encounter in the orchid world. Blooms will last about four or five days but heavy hosing will wreck them, so just mist them.
Although B. globuliforme may be very slow to establish, once it gets a go on it will likely romp away. Alas, about the only problem this species is likely to suffer from is a major one indeed. For some reason I cannot explain, a piece of B. globuliforme may grow happily for years but then the whole specimen will start to die-back.
The largest piece of B. globuliforme I have, or did have, was on a piece of green hoop pine limb as long and as thick as my forearm. This was half covered by the orchid when originally rescued from the McPherson Range. After three years it became possibly the most gloriously happy clump of Bulbophyllum anyone could hope to see. One day I noticed it was dieing back all over the place. I just do not know where the trouble stems from but it will set in eventually and reversal is unlikely.
Other than die-back, your only problem with this little gem will be obtaining a piece in the first place. Start looking under the Hoop Pines and you will no doubt be successful after about a decade. I have always found that B. globuliforme will flower quite well and regularly. There is a certain contentment in knowing that you have a nicely growing clump of this rare orchid in your collection and the feeling is definitely enhanced by the knowledge that B. globuliforme is the smallest epiphytic orchid occurring in Australia. And if you have spent years searching for that little piece, well, you can certainly sit back and confidently say that you deserve to have it.