Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Not quite dead

The robust greenhood (Pterostylis valida), listed as extinct under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999), has been spotted in north-central Victoria, at Nardoo Hills, 100km out of Bendigo.

Bush Heritage Australia bought the 817-hectare property at Nardoo Hills in 2005, adding it to their growing allocation of protected reserves. The non-profit organisation, started by Bob Brown in 1990 currently manages 32 such reserves across the nation, each dedicated to fostering the survival of native wildlife species and their habitats, according to a report.

The robust greenhood (not greenwood, as mentioned in the article) was last noted in 1941.

Nardoo Hills is also home to a significant population of another species of threatened orchid, the northern golden moths (Diuris protena). Jeroen Van Veen, Field Officer the reserve, hopes the robust greenhood will grow to a similar state of opulence.

Similar orchids waver under threat of habitat loss from such forces as ploughing, fertilisers and herbicides, grazing livestock and feral herbivores. Allowing the rare flower a chance to flourish is a matter of managing weeds around the population, and protecting the growth area from rabbits and wallabies.

By Pamela Kelt

Pictured: a close relation of the robust greenhood is the Pterostylis sargentii, found in the Williams Narrogin area, known as the Frog Greenhood. Photo by Harvey James. If anyone has a picture of the robust greenhood, do let me know.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Orchid deceit

The orchid mantis is a strange thing.

We’ve all read how orchids mimic creatures to secure pollination. The orchid mantis resembles a flower in order to lure its prey … and is more effective at attracting insects than an actual flower, researchers have found.

Botanically, orchids use scent and bright colours to attract insects. It has long been assumed that the orchid mantis mimics flowers in order to lure these same insects.

Australian researchers investigating this theory were stunned to discover that the species is around 30 per cent more effective at attracting pollinators than the real thing, says a report.

They measured the hourly rate at which the pollinators flew up to the mantis and compared that to real flowers, according to Dr James O’Hanlon, an ecologist at Macquarie University in Sydney.

The Malaysian orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) is apparently the only known animal to mimic a plant, however there is still very little known about the species.

The team of scientists is now intrigued. How the insects are viewing them? Do they respond to the shape or colour? Do they think it’s a flower, or something unique and attractive?”

By Pamela Kelt 

Picture: the orchid mantis

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The fine art of digitisation

I recently had to scan in some photographs and a short document. Even with modern technology, it’s a laborious business.

It struck me just how valuable is all the digitising work going on behind the scenes.

A favourite website of mine is Botanicus, which has an astonishing mission statement.

It regards digitising, indexing, and annotating historical scientific literature as vital to future research in systematic botany, the science of the identification of plants.

As is stated on the site, like other natural history disciplines but – unlike the physical sciences – systematic botany is built upon and requires frequent reference to the literature of its past.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


I don’t like cut flowers, but I do collect gorgeous flower illustrations. Usually of orchids, but occasionally something special crops up, if you’ll forgive the expression.

Take Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora (1807), for instance, now in the public domain.

It’s the third and final part of Robert John Thornton’s new illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus, considered by many to be the greatest of all flower books.

It consists of a series of sumptuous depictions of flowers notable for their epic and unusual settings. Interwoven amongst the images are various descriptions, histories and poetic odes regarding the flowers featured. The first plates were engraved by Thomas Medland in May 1798 from paintings by Philip Reinagle.

Between 1798 and 1807 they produced a total of 33 beautiful coloured plates, engraved in aquatint, stipple and line. Others engravers included Joseph Constantine Stadler working from the painting of Peter Charles Henderson. When he planned the project, Thornton had decided to publish seventy folio-size plates. Lack of interest from the general public spelled disaster for the scheme, and the holding of a lottery could not save it from financial ruin, neither did a page in the work dedicated to the spouse of George III, Queen Charlotte, patroness of botany and the fine arts.

Check out these fabulous tulips. You can see why tulipmania was real. And who could resist these winged passion flowers?

The whole book is available on Botanicus.