Australian native orchids are our easy grow orchids. In particular the genus Dendrobium can be found from Tasmania to Cape York. Most people know these as the pink or yellow rock lilies. They are “epiphytic” orchids which means they grow on bark or rock but they are not parasitic, getting all their nutrients from rainwater and leaf litter (or fertiliser supplied by us). The colour ranges from pure white to yellow, green, brown, red and purple with spots and stripes, all depending on their parentage. Clever crossing of orchids has increased both the colour range and temperature tolerance, and Sydney has an ideal climate for them.
Native dendrobiums will grow happily in most back yards. They need to be potted in a mixture of medium orchid bark mixed with perlite or polystyrene. Many grower are also including chunks to coco bark in the mix nowadays. The mix needs to be rapid draining or the roots will not grow and they like to dry out between waterings. This does not harm the plants at all. A number can be grown on hardwood or cork mounts with great success, running their roots over the length of the mount. For feeding they need half-strength fertiliser every one to two weeks; any fertiliser will do. Light is important to induce flowering but preferably filtered light in summer so the foliage does not burn. Under trees or open bushes is ideal and the plants grow very well in hanging pots where there is good air movement (like they have in the bush). They can also be grown in a shade house under 50% shadecloth.
Suggestions for starting include Den. kingianum, speciosum, tetragonum, linguiforme, gracilicaule, X gracillimum and X delicatum. However the many hybrids now available offer a huge range of colours not seen in the species and many are hot/cold crosses bringing the tropical colours into cold growing orchids, a major advance. They are often much larger in size, flower more frequently and longer-lasting than the species. The hybrids and species are readily available from orchid nurseries or through societies. All native orchids are protected plants. Do not be tempted to steal them from the bush which carries a huge fine/imprisonment in many States. Nursery grown plants are also much more likely to survive than plants taken from the bush.
The Eastern Suburbs Orchid Society has an orchid show on the third Monday of every month at 8pm, St Luke’s Church Hall, Varna Street, Clovelly. Visitors are always welcome.