When people think of orchids, it is probably the large colourful cymbidiums and cattleya orchids that spring to mind.

However, New Zealand's native orchids are much smaller flowered. In some species, the flowers blend in with their surroundings, making them difficult for a casual observer to notice.

As many of our native orchids are self-pollinating, they evolved without the need to be colourful or fragrant. Nevertheless, when you examine the flowers closely, they are indeed beautiful.

Our native orchids have two main growth habits - they are either ground-dwelling or they are epiphytic (grow on trees).

Probably the best known of the ground-dwelling orchids in the bush are the green hooded orchids and the spider orchids. These are visible only during their flowering seasons, but the plants survive as storage organs of various types under the ground between seasons.

The epiphytic varieties have foliage that is visible all year round. Some, eg. the Earinas, can form large clumps hanging down from tree trunks and produce bunches of flowers that are recognisable as tiny cymbidiums. Others, eg. the Bulbophyllums, can be very small plants, barely visible amongst the mosses on tree trunks.

Some species of ground orchids have tubers which, in the eyes of whoever went around dishing out names, resemble the testes of mammals and this lead to the name Orchid from "orchis", a Greek word meaning testicle.

Orchids can be found in many places - in the bush, open shrubland, on clay banks, in swamps, on rocks, in rough pasture. I have seen one species less than 50 metres from the shops here in Katikati.

"Must have books" on New Zealand's native orchids:

A Field Guide to New Zealand Native Orchids by Dorothy Cooper, pub 1981. Excellent botanical drawings and details. Now out of date here and there because of new discoveries and name changes. Well worth getting though. The author still has a few copies available. Contact me if you would like to purchase a copy.

Colour Field Guide to the Native Orchids of NZ
By Eric Scanlen and Ian St George.

An invaluable book - one to have in your backpack when you go out hunting for orchids.
This book is available through the NZ Native Orchid Group.

See the website:
There are also a number of other orchid publications available at this address.

Native Orchids of New Zealand by John Johns and Brian Malloy, pub1983. Lots of photographs and information - another excellent book, though also out of date because of new discoveries and name changes. Some libraries may have it, or a second hand book shop. (I'm not parting with my copy.)