Sunday Creek

From times long gone...

Nervilia discolor: Leaf and Flower The track was overgrown, disappearing, but recognisable enough to take me back so many years to a time of fond companions, eagerly exploring the edges of the creek.

The creek, an unbroken canopied corridor through wet melaleuca flats and open eucalyptus forest, a host to a fascinating array of orchid species, inviting exploration.

Under the canopy, on the top of the bank, a colony of Nervilia dallachyana, hugging the well drained slope of leafmould rich soil, glistened green and purple flushed green, beautiful heart shaped, veined leaves. Named after an early Queensland surveyor and pathfinder, his botanical immortality sadly lost with the reclassification of the species to Nervilia discolor, and then yet again to Nervilia plicata.

A short distance away, in the shade of a large eucalypt, on a small patch of bare ground was our first exciting find. Looking more like little grey green mushrooms, flat on the ground, barely an inch across, were the leaves of a new Nervilia. There was about a dozen of them, carefully counted on each subsequent visit in search of flowers which were never found.

We speculated, perhaps this was the long lost Nervilia pachystomoides.

Nervilia peltataNervilia peltata

Further out in the eucalypt forest, we did unknowingly find this lost species in the pure sparkling white flowers of Didymoplexis pallens, a saprophyte. Seen years later, a drawing of the holotype of Nervilia pachystomoides clearly showed its true identity as the Didymoplexis. A little gem, hiding in the grass tussocks.

Squatting in the grass, debating the identity of Pachystoma holtzei; was this an orchid or merely a common look alike, a plicate leafed, grass like plant. The buried tuber, distinctively shaped like that of a thin drawn out Eulophia tuber, confirmed its identity. The flowers came later, pale pink green, the lip with a green yellow disc.

Growing in the same area was Calochilus holtzei, its bright red metallic coloured flowers on a spike a metre or more tall, and around the grass trees, colonies of Spiculea iritabilis.

Habenaria Out of the forest, into the wet melaleuca flat, the ground soggy, the habitat of Habenaria propinqueum (photo),anomala, ferdinandii and ochroleuca and one or two other species, their green white plume spikes scattered through the grass beneath the teatrees. The teatrees held Dendrobium canaliculatum, and button orchids, really a Dischidia, and ant plants with aggressive inhabitANTS.

There too grew an unidentified Calochilus, smaller than the Calochilus holtzei, also with beautiful metallic coloured flowers.

Back into the shade of the creek's canopy, growing at the bottom of the bank, was another exciting find in large leafy plants of Habenaria sumatrana, its tiny pure white flowers, with a distinctive 3 lobed lip, borne on foot high spikes. A long way from its holotype location in Sumatra, but wide spread throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, New Guinea and there blooming in a shady creek in Queensland.

Sharing its habitat, thin wiry plants of Apostasia stylidioides produced tiny yellow flowers, not orchid like at all.

Many years pass...

The track was overgrown, disappearing, and as I followed long ago footsteps, the present bought a scenery of change.

Gone was the unbroken canopy, raggedly cut by power lines and towers, rough roads bulldozed over the creek, to make way for cattle and tractor slashers.

Gone was the colony of Nervillia discolor, a road gutter in its place. Gone the treasured grey green mushroom Nervillia, a bush tractor shed and oil drums in its place.

Gone were the Calochilus and Pachystoma and Spiculea, a slashed field for cattle left behind.

Gone were the Habenarias, Dendrobiums, and the melaleuca flat, a pine plantation instead.

Gone were the Habenaria sumatrana, its shelter destroyed, and cattle left to tread the banks into eroded paths. Only the Apostasia somehow maintained a hold in the shelter of some Lantana.

A second colony of little grey green mushroom Nervilias, found years after the first, captured on an island between the old highway and the new, deprived of the periodic fire burn off, covered and smothered with leafmould and debris, deprived of sunlight, gone.

Only the saprophtic Didymoplexis found the leafmould and debris a rich boon, having no leaves in need of sunlight, their elegant white flowers rising above the carpet of leaves.

A third colony of the grey green mushroom Nervilia, (recently named Nervilia peltata) still exists, precariously 6 inches from a 4wheeldrive fisherman's track, about a dozen little plants growing on the edge of destruction.


Names of species may have changed with progress and botanists' views, but these were the species we found and their names at the time.

Text and photographs by Ian Walters. Burleigh Park. May be reproduced provided source acknowledged. For more details of Nervilias and other terrestrials click on Titles

Nervilia Care and Culture

Australian Nervilias

Sun Orchids