The Green Room

Discover elusive and deceptive orchids, and an unassuming, but important, grass.

Eastern Australian Underground Orchid (Rhizanthella slateria) in bloom

What lies beneath - rare underground orchid baffles scientists

An elusive underground orchid has been discovered in Barrington Tops National Park.

If the discovery is the Eastern Australian Underground Orchid, this will be the first time in more than a decade that a new population of this species has been found in New South Wales.

Saving our Species (SoS) is funding further survey work ($33,300 over the 2017-18 year) to inform the management and protection of this extraordinary threatened plant.

Read more on our OEH news page.

Watch a video on this discovery on OEH's instagram page.

Fool's Gold - the Small Snake Orchid

Small Snake-orchid (Diuris pedunculata) is a bright yellow flower

The Small Snake-orchid is listed as Endangered and like others of its type, without producing nectar, it can engage in some clever trickery for its cross-pollination.

In a scenario remindful of ‘fool’s gold’, the Small Snake-orchid’s (Diuris pedunculata) bright yellow flowers can mimic pea flowers (Family Fabaceae) and their common native bee pollinators mistakenly think they will be rewarded with nectar.

Lachlan Copeland, a senior botanist who specialises in native orchids, said, 'It is likely that the bees get very little for their efforts except for being covered in pollen which they then often transfer to the next visited flower hence facilitating cross-pollination for the orchid!'

Unfortunately, the rare plant also attracts unsuitable suitors – grazing stock.

An SoS project (funded for $24,240) will this year increase the area of  stock-proof fencing and weed control on the orchid’s travelling stock route sites in the state’s north-east.

No need to panic with this native grass

This grass may be considered uninspiring, but it is just as important as other threatened plant species to its surrounding biodiversity.

Belson's Panic (Homopholis belsonii)Belson's Panic (Homopholis belsonii) grows under cover and, where there is enough light, particularly, under other shrubs in its SoS project range in north western New South Wales.

Senior SoS Project Officer Adam Fawcett reports that there are currently two SoS management sites for the species, both in the south of its range, including one in Kirramingly Nature Reserve, south of Moree. The projects are funded for $5400 in the 2017-18 year.

Adam and his colleague Senior Threatened Species Officer Terry Mazzer visited the Planchonella Nature Reserve (near North Star in the state’s north west) late last year to follow up on reports of large populations of the species, observed by a contractor working on another SoS project. Given the large populations found across the reserve within the north-eastern part of the species’ range, it is planned to identify the area as a third management site.

'Getting a decent shot of the Belson’s Panic Grass was challenging, but I managed a couple of the distinctive flowering head, many of which were only just starting to open,' Adam said.

Why is it called Panic Grass?

Gordon Fraser from SoS (North Hub) explains: the ’scaredy-cat’ connotation of ‘panic’ only emerged in the 18th century. Before that, it had a different meaning going back perhaps to ancient Roman or Greek Gods when they started spreading seeds (and weeds) afar. One type of grass became labelled as ‘Panic’ in the early 15th century after the Old French word for ‘Italian millet’ derived from the Latin ‘panicum’ and ‘panus’ (ear of millet). In more modern times, another variety, Panicum lachnophyllum, was given the common name of Don’t Panic Grass!

More about plants in this edition

Read about SoS’s recent tour of the PlantBank at Australian Botanic Garden at Mt Annan.