Liparis coelogynoides

© Gerry Walsh

This beautiful pic was uploaded from “Retired Man with a Camera”. Thank you.

I’LL NEVER forget the first time I tried to pronounce ” coelogynoides”. I was attending my first committee meeting after being shanghaied into the editor’s job while attending my very first meeting at Sydney Group. That was way back in 1982. I uttered some unintelligible incantation but was quickly corrected by the leading lights in the Sydney Group of ANOS. Anyway . . . I may have been embarrassed beyond belief but I sure as hell learnt how to say SOLE-LODGE-IN-OID-EES with all the plum of a young lady from a Swiss Finishing School. Most of the newer entrants in the native orchid stakes, and plenty of the course stewards too for that matter, find Latin pronunciation harder than Chinese arithmetic. I know I sure did (do?).

Liparis coelogynoides is the smallest and daintiest of the three epiphytic species of Liparis occurring in NSW, the other two species being L. reflexa and L. sweensonii (syn. L. reflexa var. parviflora). While its larger cousins are virtually 100% rock dwellers, L. coelogynoides is the exact opposite – it is virtually a 100% tree dweller. I must be getting senile because although I have this idea that I have seen it growing on a rock at least once, for the life of me I can’t remember where it was!

L. coelogynoides can be found, according to the text books, between the Hunter River and south-east Queensland. My own experiences with this species are wide. It is certainly not uncommon (but never abundant) on the south side of the Barrington Tops where I have seen it in the Patterson, Allyn and Williams Rivers. To the north I found a single small clump in the Bunya Mountains during a very brief visit in October 1989.

I will never forget a certain murderous looking chasm that we explored up on the Carrai Plateau in September 1987. This orchid Eldorado, between Kempsey and Armidale, held an incredible supply of L. coelogynoides. I remember moss-draped trees, similar in size and shape to old fruit trees in an unkempt orchard, in which the Liparis started growing only 2 feet above the ground, but kept running in leap- frog fashion, in almost unbroken procession right up into the finger thick branches of the crowns. The orchid looked for all the world like Velvet Rock Fern ( Pyrosia sp.) the way it ran up the trunk … forking here and there as it went. What a sight it must make in the flowering season!

There is another population of L. coelogynoides far removed from the normal range of the species however. In June 1993, I found myself up in the Eungella Ranges behind Mackay in northern Queensland. While foraging around the cluttered benches of a native plant nursery, the owner drew my attention to a small clump of Liparis he had just collected from a logging area. The only Liparis that occurs naturally in the locality is L. nugentae which is very robust by comparison and much different in the shape of the pseudobulbs. I had never heard of L. coelogynoides being found up there but this little piece sure looked like that to me. Back home I checked out the books and Alick Dockrill, in Australian Indigenous Orchids, states that there are ‘reports’ of L. coelogynoides occurring between the Fitzroy and the Burdekin Rivers.

When it flowered a year later, it certainly resembled L. coelogynoides but was far daintier and an ivory flower colour compared to southern plants, which are an opaque yellowy/green colour. I feel that further investigation is needed by the botanists before it can be said that a colony of L. coelogynoides survives 1000 kms outside its normal range. Then again, Eungella is notorious for sheltering all manner of orchidaceous surprises. This may be just another one of them.

L. coelogynoides most often occurs in rainforest situations where it prefers a posse on the main trunks of small to medium trees growing in fairly heavy shade. On large emergent trees it will extend on to the thicker limbs of the canopy. It will also colonise Casuarina (River Oak) and other non-rainforest trees from time to time where light levels are far higher. Plants in this situation will inevitably take on a stunted, yellow appearance and display quite short racemes compared to the wet forest dwellers.

Pseudobulbs are squat and rounded with slight angular ribbing around the circumference. They range up to about 30mm in diameter but 20mm would be more the norm in the wild. In cultivation they grow much larger than their wild relatives. In nature, the leaves number one or two and average around 10-15 cms in length but are often quite thin and poorly looking. In the bush house they tend to fatten up however.

It can be seen that this is one species that responds brilliantly to good cultivation. L. coelogynoides flowers from January right through to April and for this reason it deserves a place in the collection of any serious native orchid grower. It supplies a burst of blooms when there is not a lot of activity in the average temperate bush house. While not a particularly eye-catching orchid florally speaking, there can be few other species that look as vegetatively appealing as a well-grown, large clump of L. coelogynoides.

As with all Liparis species, L. coelogynoides only flowers from new growths. The beautiful arching racemes are up to 20 cms long, are quite thin, and support up to 18 or so flowers of approximately 15mm diameter. As already described, colour is unimpressive. It is the shape of the labellum that gives L. coelogynoides its most obvious floral attribute. The mid lobe is quite large for the size of the flower and is distinctly deltoid, or triangular, in shape. In fact, it always resembles a sort of “arboreal”Acianthus species to me, which you growers of terrestrials may relate to. A large specimen can really cover itself with racemes and flowers and is a sight to behold.

If you want to grow L. coelogynoides in captivity, there is only one way to go about it. Put your plant onto a good hunk of tree fern fibre. Tree fern fibre is so far in front of any other substrate I’ve used that I’d have to say you’d be a real hard case if you didn’t chose it too! I’d use Cyathea for first preference but it also does well on Dicksonia, which I rarely use these days. It’s too soft and stays too damp for my liking, but it will be OK for L. coelogynoides. But make it a big cube and not a thin slice. Your orchid will quickly cover the host – a thin slice of Dicksonia just won’t have the muscle to support the eventual weight. But this is a versatile species and seems to do really well on cork as well. The roots are quite thin and the tree fern aids greatly in keeping the moisture around them. Water well, don’t allow to dry out and hang it up under 50 shade or better and you just can’t miss with L. coelogynoides.

About the only problem that seems to affect this orchid is caterpillars. They just love the tender new growths together with the young leaves and juvenile racemes. Another pest I recently encountered was a miniature kind of case-moth larvae. These little devils construct a 10mm long protective coccoon out of fras and silk and hides in it during the day, usually concealed deep in the old bulbs. In the morning you see just the white skeletal veining forming the remaining frame of the leaf. All the succulent green tissue has been carefully nibbled out during the wee hours. This damage is quite unsightly until disguised by the next round of new growth. So watch out! Liparis coelogynoides has  no common, or should I say “commonly used name” that I know of.

Typical looking plant in the wild . . .

A large specimen plant can be spectacular. This is the only known plant that exists of the unique Eungella specimen. This specimen was grown from only 3 bulbs collected in June 1993. This photo was taken in February 2010.