Story: Orchids

Page 2. Forest orchids

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Forest epiphytes

Epiphytes are plants that grow on another plant, or on a structure such as a rock or post.

Epiphytic orchids are often found in mature lowland forest, where there are large trees and rocky outcrops where they can perch. Included are:

  • Easter orchid or raupeka (Earina autumnalis). In autumn its leafy stems produce spikes of strongly perfumed white flowers.
  • Bamboo orchid (Winika cunninghamii). It grows in large feathery clumps in the forks of trees, and in summer has showy flowers scattered like stars among the green foliage.
  • Adelopetalum tuberculatum, a bulb-leaf perching orchid, known to Māori as piripiri. This less common species favours the highest branches, where there is plenty of light. It is usually only seen when a fallen branch carries it to the ground.

Orchids of the forest floor

Some forest-floor orchids favour well-lit sites, and it is worth searching for these along forest tracks. Tutukiwi (Pterostylis banksii), a large greenhood, is conspicuous in spring and early summer, as is Chiloglottis cornuta, with its twin blue-green leaves and almost entirely green flower.

The war canoe orchid

Botanist Lucy Moore noted of the bamboo orchid (Winika cunninghamii), ‘Its old Maori name, Winika, was given in 1838 to a big war canoe because this orchid grew on the totara tree whose trunk was hollowed out to form the hull. Te Winika was smashed by the military leader von Tempsky in 1863 but after reconstruction was used on ceremonial occasions on the Waikato River from 1938 to 1971, and was then donated to the Hamilton Museum.’ 1

Kauri forest

Two greenhoods, the winter-flowering Pterostylis brumalis and P. rubricaulis, are restricted to kauri forest in the north of New Zealand. New Zealand’s largest spider orchid (Nematoceras macranthum) prefers a damp, shady spot near a stream.

Beech forest

Beech forests generally contain forest-floor orchids that differ from those found in nearby broadleaf forests. These plants include:

  • Adenochilus gracilis – a delicate plant of shady beech forest, flowering at Christmas
  • Corybas cheesemanii – a helmet orchid, often buried in the litter under trees, with only its hood visible
  • Molloybas cryptanthus – a spider orchid that grows beneath beech or mānuka leaf litter, flowering unseen in winter; the seed head emerges in spring.

Pine forest

A few forest-floor orchids have grown in conifer plantations throughout the country: Chiloglottis cornuta is especially common in this habitat, along with Thelymitra longifolia, Microtis unifolia, Adenochilus gracilis, Gastrodia species and the small greenhoods Pterostylis trullifolia and P. alobula.

  1. L. B. Moore and J. B. Irwin. The Oxford book of New Zealand plants. Wellington; New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 196. › Back
How to cite this page:

Ian St George, 'Orchids - Forest orchids', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 April 2024)

Story by Ian St George, published 24 Sep 2007