Orchids of Australia
Australia is home to almost 2,000 species of mostly terrestrial orchids. The south-east and south-west of the continent are particularly rich in species, with approximately 400 known orchid species occurring in south-western Australia alone. On this page I present some of the more common species of terrestrial orchids found throughout the temperate regions of Australia. Most of the described species are endemic to Western Australia, but a few species from the south-east of the country are included as well.
Several of Australia’s orchid species look very similar and require an expert to tell apart. This is particularly the case with Spider Orchids (Caladenia), Donkey Orchids (Diuris), Mignonette Orchids (Microtis) and Greenhood Orchids (Pterostylis). The situation is complicated further by the large number of hybrids known to exist in the wild, in particular among the Spider Orchids. Hence, a few of the species below have been marked as “unidentified”, and any help with their identification would be appreciated. Also, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you discover any misidentifications.
Lastly, most of the orchid profiles below are still incomplete and only contain photos at this stage, but no descriptions. I’m not sure if I will ever find the time to complete them.
- Caladenia (Spider Orchids)
- Calochilus (Beard Orchids)
- Corybas (Helmet Orchids)
- Cyanicula (China Orchids)
- Drakaea (Hammer Orchids)
- Dipodium (Hyacinth Orchids)
- Diuris (Donkey Orchids)
- Elythranthera (Enamel Orchids)
- Eriochilus (Bunny Orchids)
- Microtis (Mignonette Orchids)
- Orthoceras (Horned Orchids)
- Paracaleana (Duck Orchids)
- Prasophyllum (Leek Orchids)
- Pterostylis (Greenhood Orchids)
- Thelymitra (Sun Orchids)
Genus Caladenia – Spider Orchids
With their large, filamentary flowers, Spider Orchids are among Australia’s most spectacular terrestrial orchids. Spider Orchids are generally common and widespread throughout eastern, southern and south-western Australia, including Tasmania. They are particularly abundant in south-western WA where they make up more than one third of all native orchid species.
Subgenus Caladenia – Lady Fingers
Subgenus Elevatae – Fairy Orchids
Subgenus Calonema – Spider Orchids
Subgenus Phlebochilus – Wispy Spider Orchids
This genus contains only a single species, the Large Duck Orchid (C. major), which is common and widespread across south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Its unusual, duck-shaped flower is similar to those of the Duck Orchids (Paracaleana).
Genus Calochilus – Beard Orchids
With their uniquely “bearded” labellum, Beard Orchids are among Australia’s most spectacular and easily recognisable orchids. Beard Orchids are mainly found throughout south-eastern Australia, where they are generally common and widespread. A few species can also be found in south-western WA and throughout the tropical areas of northern Australia, although they are generally less abundant in these areas.
Genus Corybas – Helmet Orchids
Genus Dipodium – Hyacinth Orchids
This genus is native to southern Africa, with one species, the South African Orchid (D. bracteata), having been introduced to Western Australia by accident. First recorded at Albany in the 1940s, the South African Orchid has now spread across large areas of south-western and south-eastern Australia and is a common and widespread weed.
Genus Diuris – Donkey Orchids
Donkey Orchids are among Australia’s most common and widespread orchids. They are easily recognised by the two “donkey ears” formed by their two petals, although many species look very similar and are difficult to tell apart. Donkey Orchids are found throughout south-eastern and south-western Australia. They don’t produce any nectar, but instead imitate other native flowers to attract pollinators.
Genus Drakaea – Hammer Orchids
Hammer Orchids are among the most peculiar orchids of Australia and certainly among the least flower-like. They produce pheromones that attract male wasps. When the wasp gets hold of the labellum and attempts to fly off with the false female, the labellum flips over, pushing the wasp against the stigma and pollen. Hammer Orchids are restricted to coastal areas of south-western Australia.
Genus Elythranthera – Enamel Orchids
There are only two species in this genus, the Purple Enamel Orchid (E. brunonis) and the Pink Enamel Orchid (E. emarginata). Both species are restricted to south-western WA where they are generally common and widespread. The English name is a reference to the characteristic glossy flowers.
Genus Eriochilus – Bunny Orchids
This genus contains only a single species, the Hare Orchid (L. fimbriata), which is found across south-western WA and parts of south-eastern SA and south-western VIC. While common, the Hare Orchid’s tiny flowers are perfectly camouflaged and easily overlooked amidst the surrounding vegetation.
Genus Microtis – Mignonette Orchids
Genus Orthoceras – Horned Orchids
Genus Paracaleana – Duck Orchids
Duck Orchids are among the most peculiar orchids of Australia. Their strange, duck-shaped flowers produce a pheromone that attracts male wasps. When the wasp lands on the labellum and attempts to mate with the false female, the labellum flips over and pushes the wasp against the stigma and pollen. Duck Orchids are confined to parts of south-eastern and south-western Australia, including Tasmania, and usually avoid the semi-arid inland areas.
Genus Prasophyllum – Leek Orchids
Leek Orchids are among Australia’s tallest orchids, with some species growing up to 2 metres tall. They are generally found across south-eastern and south-western Australia, including Tasmania. Many Leek Orchids will flower in greater numbers in the season following a hot summer bushfire, and some species will only ever flower after fire and otherwise only produce leaves.
Genus Pterostylis – Greenhood Orchids
Greenhood Orchids are among Australia’s most common and widespread orchids. They can be found almost anywhere from the semi-arid interior to the temperate rainforests in the south. With their generally greenish and brownish colours, most Greenhoods are rather inconspicuous and easily overlooked. Many species look very similar and can therefore be difficult to identify in the wild.
Section Foliosae – Snail Orchids and Shell Orchids
Section Catochilus – Bird Orchids
Section Oligochaetochilus – Rufous Greenhoods
Section Stamnorchis – Jug Orchid
Section Urochilus – Banded Greenhoods
This genus contains only a single species, the rather bizarre Elbow Orchid (S. ciliata), which is common and widespread across south-western Australia.
Genus Thelymitra – Sun Orchids
Sun Orchids are found across southern Australia, including Tasmania, and are easily recognised by their characteristic flowers with all sepals and petals usually being of the same colour and size. Their common name refers to the habit of many species to only open their flowers on warm and sunny days. While the Sun Orchids of south-eastern Australia are mostly uniformly blue, the species of south-western Australia come in a wide range of spectacular colours and are considered as some of the most beautiful orchids of Australia.