Journal Number 91
June 2004


Gastrodia "long column" Roundup
By Eric Scanlen

Gloria and the Column took a Gastrodia "holiday" from Papakura to Invercargill in Jan/Feb to sort out once and for all(?) the increasing debate about these quirky long and short columned, leafless, excuses for orchids. Gastrodia "long column" finished up taking centre stage.

Iwitahi Reserve 9 Jan 04, the first stop on a 5,000km odyssey. Gastrodia minor were sparse and not open but, G. aff. sesamoides (Fig. 18) were in flower throughout as were two late flowering G. cunninghamii.

Florets of both species were photographed outside and in to get essential details of their complicated but hidden labellum/column details for later comparison with G. "long column".

  G. aff. sesamoides

The G. cunninghamii pollinia had gone brown and the ovary was swelling, despite looking otherwise fresh with the flowers extending outwards, not upwards as one would expect.

So a green one (Fig. 19) of Mark Moorhouse's from
25 Dec 2003 at Nelson's Lake Rotoiti is included. The
Iwitahi species had no perfume at this time to Gloria
or the Column nor did Mark's Fig. 19.

Yet a tawny G. cunninghamii specimen, sniffed by most at the Iwitahi NZNOG AGM early in the morning on 14 Dec 2003, had a "full bodied", "sweet" almost "cloying" perfume to the Column.

  G. cunninghamii

One lady smelled apple tart and others smelled different things altogether!
Perfume perception is such a personal thing.

Bartons Bush
11 Jan, Upper Hutt. A suburban remnant of flood-plain forest with tracks enclosed by high pig netting - to keep back the Pig-Islanders? Ian St George's Gastrodia "long column Aorangi" were in flower but didn't exude the expected perfume on a fine, warm day at 5pm; (In Journal 66 Ian says that perfume at both Barton's bush and Aorangi's was at 5-6pm).

Ian arrived on cue to point out quite a number in bud, in flower and in capsule. The healthiest were in damp compost and deep shade around the base of large trees. G. cunninghamii was there too, some still in flower but most were in darkest, erect seed capsule.

Herbert Forest had been high on the agenda for Barbara McGann's G. "long column" [J44:14; 67:23; 76:25] but the owners had closed the forest because of the extreme fire risk! Too bad when the fine weather stops one from getting to the orchids and rattles a carefully planned itinerary.

Invercargill 17 Jan. Before our dust had settled, Kelly Rennell had us up to mid-city Queens Park. His Gastrodia "long column" in a sunny ericaceous border (Erica darleyensis "Darley Dale" Erica herbaceous x erigena) had all finished with no seed capsules(?) but in front of the kiosk, in the same sun soaked Erica, the Column spotted another one in bud, like a tawny asparagus shoot.

At Anderson Park, north of Invercargill, on 19 Jan, a beeeautiful pale gold G. "long column" (Photo right) was in flower in a bark garden in the sun.

Up the drive, in deep shade under large Rhododendrons, more G. "long columns" were later found but darker ones, in bud in flower and in copious capsule suggesting self pollination. Their erect seed capsules look so like G. cunninghamii's they are still fooling many.

  Gastrodia long column

18 Jan. Sid Smithies showed us large and small
colonies of those same dark G. "long column" but only in
bud, in full shade, on trackside, under Pinus radiata, gorse,
C. lawsoniana and currant-berry trees at Holt Park.

A number had opened by 24 Jan (Photo right).

Notably, if a floret were accidentally bumped, anther and pollinia flopped straight off intact, sometimes onto its own stigma.

Kelly reported [J87:27] one plant here 820mm tall with 60 flowers in 2003.

  Gastrodia long column labellum

Lake Hauroko
20 Jan. Yes, the greatest disappointment of the whole trip was missing Kelly's short columned, blond Gastrodia "shauroko" [J87:26]. Its orange tipped labellum is strongly upturned and narrow compared with the dark, usually broad, tip on G. cunninghamii.

Kelly dejectedly indicated the exact spot behind the beach by a beech tree where a solitary
G. "shauroko" stood in 2003. The Column contemplated whether the tuber was still there but
Kelly wouldn't dare scratch for it for fear of damaging it.

As compensation, he then spotted some G. "long column Holt" nearby, only in tawny bud but undoubtedly the same as seen in the three parks above. He also spotted them in bud at Slab Hut near Monowai and was elated to find them in these beech forests, away from urban parks and their exotic Rhododendron, Erica, Pinus or C. lawsoniana hosts.

St Arnaud
1 Feb. Mark Moorhouse pointed out a solitary, flowering
G. "long column St Arnaud" (Photo right) on track-side that the Column
had already passed 3 times due no doubt to innate orchid blindness!

It was almost a holy grail because no one had reported it, despite four
mentions in the journals, since he and Gloria stumbled on a large colony
in bud, flower, capsule and dehiscent, in the same vicinity on 11 Feb 1988.

Much further down the track, Mark revealed a widespread and healthy colony of G. cunninghamii(?) in beech by the beach at Lake Rotoiti. All were in erect seed capsule; some darkest brown, some tawny and some off-white! Flowers are a must for identifying Gastrodia so Mark has it marked (get it?) for next year. Always it's "next year"! Who else is running out of years?

  Gastrodia long column

Cape Farewell 3 Feb. Mark & Kendyll led the Column to a revegetated sandhill in shady kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum) and kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) where a few Nematoceras (Corybas) "pygmy" form 4 [J89:25] leaves still proclaimed Graeme Jane's and Gael Donaghy's May/June flowering N. triloba taxon [J69:11; J73:11-13].

Standing among the N. "pygmy"s were 8 heavenly stems of G. "long
column" where, 3 weeks before, there had been no sign of Mark's
find from Feb 03.

A very dark one was in erect seed with desiccated flowers intermixed, proclaiming no pollination for some. These were as dark as Dot Cooper's [1, plate 7] labelled G. sesamoides but amended in Newsletter 5:1 and now indexed as G."long column black". But the flowers here were too ratty for photography so a question remains, was Dot's the same?

But a golden olive one (Photo right) with 26 pendant flowers was faintly scented, on a fine hot midday, to Mark and Kendyll - if not to the Column!

One flower's head-on view (Photo below) shows the labellum's typical M shaped section, made up of a central, lumpy orange ridge of false pollen and the pendant, frilly margins. The tips of the pointed pollinia, typical here and at St Arnaud, are just visible.

Gastrodia long column

  Gastrodia long column

A smaller plant, 250mm from it and similarly coloured, had all the flowers at right angles to the
stem and was unscented to all three. There seemed to be 3 distinct taxa but doubts were setting
in because all taxa were intermingled in this one spot.

6 Feb. Laurie and Jocelyn McCabe who bought Ross and Helen Bishop's place, were most hospitable letting Gloria and the Column case every Rhododendron bush and dark spot in their top class landscape garden. Earlier, Ross had had these golden olive coloured flowers with golden knobs show up in different parts of the garden in different years but the plants hadn't moved had they? There were just several rhizomes flowering at different times when they had enough resources to sprout a spike.

None of them this year it would seem, yet on 28 Jan 1998 there had been 3 spikes [J78:21]. The Column did not photograph their innards then so had been anxious to do so now. This taxon seems to be different because, in 1998, every flower dropped off when spent. They were unscented to either Ross or Helen, on mature flowers though and set no seed. So, for the moment, it has to be left to stand alone in the index through conflicting evidence. Next year!

Stewart Island.
Hugh Wilson's [2 on p294] astute observations in 1982 first announced that
G. "long column" was a different taxon from G. aff. sesamoides. His description and drawing fit the Invercargill plants quite well. More details required. Hugh's example of first noting then studying up differences between taxa, is inspirational. Had Donald Petrie [3 p97] done so with his Otira specimen in 1893, he would undoubtedly have been able to announce a new Gastrodia "long column" species instead of confusing everyone for 91 years by saying it was G. sesamoides - which doesn't grow in NZ anyway.

Gastrodia structure.

All the long columned Gastrodia flowers, are nicely arranged for insect attraction and pollination. The orange labellum tip + perfume are the initial attractants but any fly has to get up-side-down on that labellum for inner access and, with pollen being illusory also on the inner ridge, it would undoubtedly head further in. It would slip easily past the anther cap which curves smoothly over the 2 pollinia and holds them against the rostellum plate to ensure no premature, inward removal.

The labellum's basal margins are orange, drapelike attractants, suspended directly over the sticky stigma. Any pollinia already on the fly's back would get dragged off by the stigma if the fly were strong enough and lucky enough. As the frustrated fly leaves, the anther catches, rolls back and easily dislodges the pollinia onto the still up-side-down fly's back. Should it fail to get thus pollinated, the flower then tips up, day by day so that any slight bump would dislodge the weakly anchored pollinia onto its own stigma. Second rate fertilisation perhaps but better than none at all. Well, that's one engineer's ingenious hypothesis? What do you think?

More to come.
Mark Moorhouse has sent pics of three December flowering, Nelson G. "long column" agg. which need a serious follow-up. There is a large, green, scented one with a dark green labellum tip, a small brown and unscented one with a brown labellum tip, also an orange one with a dark brown labellum tip.

Gastrodia comparisons:

G. minor has an extremely short column, as does G. cunninghamii hairy underneath at Iwitahi.
Its labellum tip is very dark, possibly as a "target" bulls eye [J85:6]. On the other hand, all the
long columned Gastrodia, except Mark's Dec. flowers, have orange coloured labellum tips, as pseudopollen attractants.

The hairless columns are as long as the labella in G. "long column" but less so in G. aff. sesamoides
and G. "city" [J78:27]. United to the perianth tube in G. "long column" and more so in G. cunninghamii (with a centre plate at Iwitahi) are the labellum's wavy, draped, basal margins but they are on the free part of G. aff. sesamoides and G. "city" [J78:28] whose labellum anchorages are further aft.

The forked part of the wishbonelike labellum ridge, folds prominently outwards in G. aff. sesamoides and G. "city", inwards on G. cunninghamii, hangs straight down on Mark's green
G. cunninghamii and hangs down or lays out a little in five specimens of G. "long column" from
Upper Hutt to Invercargill.

G. leucopetala Col. and G. minor have no wishbone but two ridges, spreading from the centre and converging to the dark tip of the labellum on the first, J38:7, left side drawing and yellow tip on the last.

G. "long column" conclusions:

Harking back and looking critically at notes and the pics, it seems that all Jan/Feb flowering
colonies from Stewart Id, Aorangi Range, [J66:31],Bartons Bush, Invercargill, Otautau, Lake
Hauroko, Slab Hut, St Arnaud, Cape Farewell and Mainui [J54:17] and others, are likely to be the
one species - and the Column is no Lumper. Picky differences such as pollinia with little points
(St Arnaud and Cape Farewell) but rounded elsewhere, lower labellum skirts in some, different curvature in the columns and labella, scented or unscented etc. may not amount to much.

You see, all buds seen were erect and tawny to dark brown, external flower colours were golden
olive with golden knobs, darker in deep shade (sometimes very dark) but paling to straw in the
sun. Opening flowers dropped to hang close to the stem and were scented to some, morning
and afternoon. As spikes matured, flowers started to rise and lose perfume. As flowers withered,
they stood erect and capsules began to swell.

Shaded plants set plentiful seed, indicating predominant self pollination. Plants in the open, out of their element, were generally short and few flowered, setting no seed. Freesia scent was often reported, stems with scores of flowers (60 at Otautau [J87:27], 66 at Aorangi and 70 at Mainui) plus all flowering in Jan/Feb 1 or 2 months behind the other species (regardless of altitude or latitude incidentally) does indicate a close relationship..

There are still question marks hanging over Dot Cooper's black [J84:18] and the Owhango long columns at least until more info comes to hand. However, unless DNA evidence can show to the contrary, Jan/Feb flowering Gastrodia "long column" from Stewart Island to Mainui near Wanganui, will accordingly be combined in the index under Hugh Wilson's original tag, Gastrodia "long column".

This will briefly reduce the number of accredited unnamed orchids to 98 [J89:22]. The Column, who is often lambasted, quite wrongly of course, for splitting, diligently seeks logical explanations after field studies with other enthusiasts, literature research, 3-D photo study and peer comment but he is now ready for a barrage of unwarranted brickbats for lumping!

What would life be without healthy debate?


1. Cooper, Dorothy, A field guide to New Zealand native orchids, Price Milbum, 1981.
2. Wilson HD. Stewart Island Plants, 1982.
3. St George, Ian. The nature guide to NZ native orchids, Godwit, 1999.




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