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Types of Australian Native Orchids: Identification Guide

Did you know that Australia has over 1000 species of native orchids?

Australia’s native orchids fall into three main categories, which I’m going to outline below.

Some of these species are popular with backyard gardeners and these are something that you might like to consider growing yourself.

Here’s a rundown of the different types of orchids that are native to Australia.

Epiphytic orchids

Epiphytic orchids commonly grow on trees and can be found right along the east coast of the country from Tasmania right up to Queensland. 

dendrobium linguiforme Australian epiphytic orchid | Plant varieties
Dendrobium linguiforme

These are probably the most common types that are grown by gardeners around the country because they lend themselves beautifully to growing in hanging pots or baskets.

Lithophytic orchids

Lithophytic orchids grow naturally on rocks. That’s why they’re more commonly known as rock orchids. These can also be grown successfully in hanging baskets.

Terrestrial orchids

As you would imagine, these orchids grow on the ground in the soil. There are many different species and some of these are found naturally in bushland near where I live down here in Victoria. 

They tend to flower in spring and then, they’ll die down again as the temperature starts to increase over summer.

Pterostylis revoluta Terrestrial Australian native orchid | Plant varieties
Pterostylis revoluta

These types of orchids can be quite challenging to grow in the garden because they have quite exacting requirements.

Another interesting fact about these terrestrial orchids is that their seeds need a certain soil-borne fungus to allow germination. The fungus provides the seeds with nutrients.

Caladenia flava Terrestrial Australian native orchid | Plant varieties
Caladenia flava

Which types of native orchids are easiest to grow?

Many of the epiphytic and lithophytic orchids are fairly easy to grow, depending on where you live.

One of the most common of these is the Dendrobium orchid. 

Dendrobium bigibbum (Cooktown orchid)

Dendrobium bigibbum | Plant varieties
Dendrobium bigibbum

This is the floral emblem of Queensland and actually grows naturally in Cape York. This means that it’s only suitable for growing outdoors in the warmer and more humid regions of the country. 

It has the typical growth habit of the dendrobium species with long green leathery leaves, often on fleshy stems, and large purple flowers.

Dendrobium bigibbum 1 | Plant varieties
Dendrobium bigibbum

These flowers grow on long racemes and there can be as many as 10 blooms on each raceme. 

Enthusiasts further south can try to grow this variety in a hothouse or heated glasshouse as it really doesn’t like the cold.

Dendobrium kingianum (Miniature rock orchid)

Dendobrium kingianum | Plant varieties
Dendobrium kingianum

This pretty little native orchid will actually grow around most of the country except in really cold regions. It has long leaves on fleshy stems and small delicate purple and white flowers. 

Dendrobium speciosum

Dendrobium speciosum | Plant varieties
Dendrobium speciosum

This is quite a spectacular rock orchid that has the familiar dendrobium leaves and long racemes that are filled with tiny white flowers. In fact, it’s not uncommon for each stem to have over 100 tiny flowers. 

These flowers generally appear from late winter through to spring. This is another species that can be grown quite successfully in most parts of the country without the need for a hothouse.

Dendrobium speciosum 1 | Plant varieties
Dendrobium speciosum

Rock orchids such as this one can either be grown on a branch of a tree or on rocks if you have a rock garden. You just need to fasten the plant to the growth structure with some twine until the roots form to grip onto the substrate.

If you want to grow one or more of these species in a hanging pot, make sure that you fill the pot with a propriety orchid mix or use pine bark chips as these orchids will not grow in soil.

Sarcochilus hartmannii

Sarcochilus hartmannii | Plant varieties
Sarcochilus hartmannii / Photo by Averater / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

This is another popular species of orchid that is easily grown in cultivation. The species also has numerous cultivars that have been developed over the years to provide variety for enthusiasts.

This species has long fleshy leaves that tend to grow on central stems. The flower racemes are quite long and adorned with delicate white flowers that have distinctive red centres. 

When in bloom, this plant looks absolutely stunning in a hanging pot. Some of the cultivars also have blooms that are scented.

Some interesting cultivars include:

  • Red Cloud
  • Lorraine
  • Buxon Beauty
  • Bobby Dazzler
  • Velvet

Dockrillia linguiformis (Tongue orchid)

Dockrillia linguiformis | Plant varieties
Dockrillia linguiformis

This rather striking orchid can grow naturally both as an epiphyte and as a lithophytic orchid. It’s actually quite easy to cultivate and can be grown in a wide climatic range around the country.

The leaves on this species are thick and leathery and are produced on creeping rhizomes. The flowers are normally white but can occasionally be cream or even yellow. 

They have a spidery shape and are borne on long inflorescences. Each inflorescence can have as many as 20 flowers.

This species is best grown on a large rock, tree or even a cork slab. It has a creeping habit so is not all that suitable for growing in a hanging basket.

Native Orchid FAQ

What are the easiest orchids to grow in Australia?

Orchids in the Dendrobium species are generally regarded as the easiest to grow in Australia.

Do wild orchids like full sun?

Wild or native orchids mostly prefer to grow in part-shade or dappled sunlight. They do need a little filtered sunlight to produce their stunning blooms but need protection from the harsher afternoon sun.

Are cymbidium orchids native to Australia?

Most cymbidium orchids are native to China, India, Malaysia, Japan and the Phillippines. However, there are three species that are native to Australia. These are Cym. canaliculatum, Cym. madidum and Cym. suave.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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