Addicted to orchids

Date posted: 11 August 2017

Orchidaceae – commonly known as the orchid family – is one of the largest families of flowering plants in the word, with more than 25,000 species (some of these found in South Australia).

But, as President of the Friends of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide and past President of the Native Orchid Society of South Australia, Bodo Jensen says, there is a misconception that all orchids are super difficult to grow.

No so, Bodo says.

We decided to pick Bodo’s brain on all things orchids – growing them in South Australia, where to spot them in the wild, what makes these plants so special – ahead of his Demystifying Orchids Masterclass at Mount Lofty Botanic Garden on Sunday 3 September.

If you’re keen to learn more about propagating and growing your own orchids at home, secure a spot in the Masterclass now!

What makes orchids so special, Bodo?

Because they’re exotic – even if they’re natives, down here in South Australia. They come from the tropics and in the north of Australia, which is far away from here and that makes them very interesting – more so than lilies or any other flowers you can grow in the Garden.

Tell us a bit about the difference between exotic orchids and native ones.

I think the orchids the general public gets to see are the ones sold in the supermarkets and in garden shops. Those orchids are usually Phalaenopsis and Cymbidiums. Now, Phalaenopsis (or moth orchids), they’re very cheap and a good buy because they usually last for a long time. But the thing is, these plants were in Singapore three days ago. They come out of a tropical climate, go into the garden shop and then you take them home… it’s [the conditions] like chalk and cheese.

Have you been to Singapore? It’s thirty degrees and humid year-round. We have 10 degrees here in winter and 42 in summer. These plants need constant temperature, that’s why I’m more into native orchids.

If you’re lucky enough to go up to Queensland, you can go and see them in the bush. But who of us will go into the rainforest in the jungles of Borneo or Sumatra, or Ecuador to see those exotic plants?

Our native ones you’re able to go and see them here and I’m talking about the ones which grow on trees, so I’m talking epiphytic orchids.

And if you into terrestrial [in the ground] orchids, we’ve got over 200 different species right here in the Adelaide Hills. At the right time you can see them all.

You’re presenting our Orchids Masterclass on 3 September – what will that cover?

I’ll talk more about the above – what you can buy here and how to take care of those plants. But mainly I’ll be talking about native epiphytic orchids [habitats, environmental controls, propagating techniques, growing media, etc.]. I’ll also go through what makes an orchid, so you’ll be able to go away and understand the basics of how to identify them.

It seems many people believe orchids are notoriously difficult to grow. Is this true?

If you talk to some people, they’ll say, “Oh, I’m growing my orchid just underneath a tree and it flowers all the time!” But it must have the right conditions to do that, because if you don’t water it or give it enough light, it won’t do anything. So the person that tells you that must have that plant in the right spot.

They [orchids] do need some care. They need light, they need fresh air because they’re epiphytic – they’re growing up there in the tree – they need sunshine, they want a bit of fertiliser and in summer they need heaps of water. Do those things and you’re often a winner.

Some people do think it’s harder than it is to grow them, yes.

Any tips – other than attending the Masterclass – for people wanting to grow orchids?

The main thing is – and I think this goes with any plant – you have to know where it comes from. What conditions does it grow in where it actually belongs?

If you get a tree from Alaska and you plant it here you’ve got two chances, Buckley’s or none, and it’s the same with orchids. If you know and orchid comes from the rainforest in Sumatra and you put it out in your backyard here in Adelaide in summer, you know you’ve got two chances…

There is an enormous amount of books available covering how to grow and care for orchids. You can do your homework online too. If you know what plant you’ve got put it into your search engine and find where the plant comes from, and then mimic those conditions.

What are your all-time favourite orchids?

As I said before, it’s not very likely I’ll be in the jungles of Sumatra any time soon (though I still love those orchids). So I do like our natives for the simple reason we can find them in the bush.

Dendrobium speciosum – the Sydney rock orchid – must be almost everybody’s favourite. It’s got huge flower spikes with hundreds of flowers. Beautiful.

Where can people go and spot orchids in South Australia?

We’ve got two flowering season here – the winter flowering ones, which have been flowering for a month already. These are usually not very colourful. The colourful orchids – and they’re terrestrial – flower from September to October. And they’re all over the place!

Hardys Scrub is a beautiful spot, Black Hill Conservation Park… Anstey Hill Recreation Park is covered in orchids. The only thing is you need to keep your eyes on the ground at all times, and not on your phone [laughs].

Book your spot in our 3 September Masterclass now.