Day of the Orchids – Fact really is stranger than fiction

IMG_5671I spent a lovely afternoon at the Canberra Spring Orchid Show last Sunday. What an incredible and diverse family of plants!

IMG_5689It was great to see these magnificent plants in the flesh – including a spectacular Sydney Rock Orchid sporting large spikes of cream flowers (that are apparently quite easy to find on cliff faces along the New South Wales coast if you know where to look) and a single Canberra spider orchid (that are so hard to find in the wild that I would probably have more luck finding a four-leaf clover).

Many of the flowers reminded me of human faces – due to a phenomenon called ‘paleidolia’ (mentioned in my ‘Car faces & body language’ post – here).

As a result, I found myself imagining what these blooming beauties might have been thinking or saying to each other as each visitor gaped and gawped and exclaimed how gorgeous they were.

orchids compilation 10

“Hello, sailor! Wanna take me home?”

“Who turned out the lights? I can’t see anything!”

“Look at the pretty colours on this human! Perhaps we’re related?”

orchids compilation 11

“Here we go again – more silly humans staring at us. Don’t they have anything better to do? Wake me up when they’ve gone”

“Did you notice our prize?”

“We already know we’re pretty! Why don’t you comment on our inner beauty and intelligence for a change?”

orchids combination 9

“What do you mean – you don’t like my colouring?! Well, I don’t think much of yours either!”

“Don’t lean over any further or we’ll tip over!”

“Yippee! Show champions! We beat those flashy foreigners!”

orchids compilation 1

“The natives must have bribed the judges! It’s a conspiracy!”

“Oh how embarrassing! I didn’t have time to tidy up before the visitors arrived.”

“Are we there yet? I’m hungry! Can we go home now? I’m bored!”

orchids combination 7

“C’mon. Jump in. I’m harmless. Couldn’t hurt a fly!”

“It’s okay. We don’t bite!”

“No flies on us!”

orchids compilation 6

“I can’t believe that I missed out on a prize yet again. Don’t size and colour count for anything nowadays?”

“Back away unless you have a good spot for me! And don’t even think about taking me home if you intend to overwater me!”

“Love your t-shirt, little boy! What sort of insect are you trying to attract?”

orchid pansiesIn another post called ‘Orchids – Sordid tales of lust, deception & unrequited love(here), I discussed sexual deception and other tricks that are used by orchids to attract and manipulate pollinators – and explained that some species imitate other flowers.

I was therefore not surprised to see an orchid at the show that looked just like a pansy (left) but was a bit confused when I spotted a real pansy at the show (right) – perhaps pretending to be an orchid?


Members of the Orchid Society of Canberra shared their passion for orchids and offered loads of practical advice about how to look after these plants via informal chats and more formal repotting and other demonstrations. (Stay tuned for a ‘how to’ post to be published at another site.)

IMG_5645Suffering from a serious case of information overload, I headed for the refreshments area – where two lovely ladies, Moira and Jacquie, invited me to join them.

While we talked, Dr Mark Clements, a world-renowned orchid guru, came over and answered Moira’s questions about how to look after the small native Pink Rock Orchid that she had just bought (and that he had grown – and renamed).

(Mark has named around 300 orchids – but said not to waste my time looking for an orchid called ‘Clementsianus’ as he modestly told me that none of them bear his own name!)

orchid podium.001I was delighted to learn that some small native orchids were awarded the top two prizes at the show – beating the more flamboyant native and exotic varieties for the first time ever.

(Apparently this indicated a significant shift in attitude by the judges in terms of the range of species that might qualify as best in show – and was somewhat controversial!)

There was less competition for the best display – as there was only one entry in this category. It comprised a collection of red and orange orchids arranged in front of a bleak black and white photo of troops at the Western Front, and interspersed with miscellaneous war memorabilia.


We visitors pondered the display’s meaning:

  • Did the soldiers bring back orchids from the muddy wastelands of the Somme?
  • Or perhaps poppies were not the only plants to bloom on the battlefields in the aftermath of the First World War?

(Neither of these theories turned out to be correct. However, returning troops have often been responsible for bringing plant souvenirs home – if not always intentionally.

For example, the Crusaders are credited with exporting sugar, olive oil and some spices, herbs and exotic fruits, such as pomegranates, to Europe from the Middle East, while Scottish soldiers inadvertently transported fungus spores from mainland Europe via their boots. 

And Aussie diggers collected pine cones from Lone Pine on the Gallipoli Peninsula –  the seeds of which were later germinated in Australia and grew into large trees planted near the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and other locations.

So why not orchids – especially after the Second World War – when Allied troops witnessed fantastic orchids in the Pacific. R.C.Muehrcke even published a book of soldiers’ memoirs in 1985 entitled ‘Orchids in the mud: World War II in the Pacific – pain, boredom, adventure : Guadalcanal, New Caledonia, Fiji, Bougainville, Philippines, Japan : personal accounts, 1941-1945‘.)


Exhausted from my first flush of Orchidelirium, I decided it was time to leave – only  to realise too late that I should have bought a plant for my neighbour.

Mentioning this to Bob, one of the Society’s members, in the car park, I thought he might be willing to sell me one of his unsold plants. But instead, he leant into the boot of his car and gave me a cutting from his award-winning Dendrobium.

Visiting this show definitely confirmed my view that gardeners are a very special and generous breed!



Image credits:

  • Flag of AustraliaBy Unknown (1998 Original design. Vector graphics image by Ian Fieggen. Minor code changes made by uploader.) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
  • All photos – Pip Marks (2014)

Categories: Biodiversity, Gardens

Tags: , , , , , ,

1 reply


  1. Orchids – Sordid tales of lust, deception & unrequited love  | Sustainability soapbox

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