Mind your tongue: summer orchids

Tongue-orchids (Cryptostylis) in flower

Shows flower of Small tongue-orchid, Cryptostylis leptochila, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Flowers of Small tongue-orchid, Cryptostylis leptochila

Shows flowers of the Large tongue-orchid, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Large tongue-orchid

You can see the Large tongue-orchid, Cryptostylis subulata, and the Small tongue-orchid, Cryptostylis leptochila, flowering now – it is more of the latter at present. Fortunately, the weed slashing on the main tracks seems to have left these orchids intact; now, it’s a matter of being careful not to step on them.

The leaves of these orchids can be seen throughout the year – upright, leathery looking. And there seems to have been a bumper crop developing over the last couple of years: maybe it’s that the drought broke.

The leaves of the Small tongue-orchid have purple backs while those of the Large tongue-orchid are entirely green and more elongated.

Shows leaf of Large tongue-orchid, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Leaf of Large tongue-orchid

Shows purple-backed leaves of Small tongue-orchid, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Purple-backed: Small tongue-orchid

Unique orchid

In flower, the tongue-orchids are unique, with a striking, mainlyred labellum and slender sepals and petals sticking out from the base of the flower.

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These, like the Bird-orchids, use sexual deception in order to ensure pollination, luring the male wasp, Lissopimpla excelsa, into mating. Unlike Bird-orchids, the Tongue-orchids as a group attract the same pollinator. They flower at the same time as this wasp’s mating season and enjoy a relatively high degree of pollination success compared with other orchids using methods of sexual deception for pollination. (For a great discussion about plant/animal interactions and speculation about why it is this kind of wasp the tongue-orchids attract, see this article. This abstract is also interesting with its speculation about the importance of colour and shape for orchids in attracting wasp pollinators.)

Shows male Orchid Dupe Wasp - Lissopimpla excelsa, on leptospermum flowers, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Male Orchid Dupe Wasp, Lissopimpla excelsa, on leptospermum flowers

These tongue-orchids can be found through-out the Reserve – take a look along the tracks in the southern section, in particular – and will be in flower for another couple of months.

Additional sources

Jones, D.L. (2006) A Complete Guide to Native Orchids of Australia, Reed New Holland: Sydney.

Mayfield, E. (2006) Flora of the Otway Plain & Ranges 1, Linton Press: Geelong.

Pridgeon, A.M., Cribb, P.J. and Chase, M.W. (2001) Genera Orchidacearum: Volume 2. Orchidoideae. Oxford University Press: Oxford. [Google books]

5 responses to “Mind your tongue: summer orchids

  1. Good advice about the location and how to spot them. Thanks EHBHR !! Really looking forward to visiting the reserve, now that the car works, and further ponder how to protect this bejeweled diversity without standing on it. How incredibly fragile.
    Maybe publish a safety manual on how to live with biped mammals and quadrupeds from the Tongue Orchid perspective, after seeing one here on this site for the first time (Amazing pics).
    Obtaining some limelight using paparazzi in hot-air-balloons would rank highly as a survival strategy in this safety manual for the remaining Tongue Orchids on the planet. 🙂

  2. Yes the form that these toungue orchids take looks interesting. It looks to me like they are reaching out to taste raindrops.

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