CR File: Wyong Sun Orchid
By John Oliver
Common Name: Wyong Sun Orchid
Species: Thelymitra Adorata
Range: Small pockets within Wyong LGA – Central Coast New South Wales, Australia
- Urban development
- Recreational vehicles / horse riding
- Cattle grazing
- Theft by collectors
- Poor land management
Orchids are generally known for their beauty. The sometimes unusual nature of the flowers along with their varied and intense colour patterns makes them prized by florists and collectors alike. Orchids also occupy unique niches in ecosystems and are intricately connected to many other species of plants, animals, fungi and microrganisms – one example being that some orchids have evolved to resemble individual species of insects to ensure their own reproductive success.
One of the most critically endangered orchids is the Wyong Sun Orchid, named as such for the geographical location, on the Central Coast of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, in which it was first discovered and where the only known colonies are found.
The orchid itself averages a height of up to 60cm high with a single leaf of between 10 and 40 cm long. When the flowering stem emerges – usually around September – it can accommodate between 2 and 13 individual flowers, blooming on their own slender stalks. The flowers only open during warm and sunny weather.
Due to the location of the plant on the Central Coast of NSW, the habitat itself is highly endangered due to multiple risks.
The Wyong Local Government Area is in a growth corridor of affordable housing and expanding industrial development with significant reclamation of farm land and native bushland for domestic and commercial projects. Increasing recreational activities, such a horse-riding and off-road vehicle use, as well as pockets of continued agriculture or cattle farming, all impact significantly on both the Wyong Sun Orchid and the remaining habitat.
Although critically endangered, there is a lack of awareness surrounding the plant, which also results in it being slashed or poisoned as part of the public and private land management programs.
With increasing degradation of habitat, the remaining pockets of Wyong Sun Orchid become more susceptible to invasive weed species, which take a greater toll on the smaller colonies of plants.
Regrettably, due to the rarity of this orchid, the plants are highly prized by orchid collectors who frequently damage surrounding plants when digging up and removing the tubers. It has been noted that to successfully remove one plant that there are a minimum of 2 others destroyed or damaged. It is also noted that safely removing the tuber is often initially unsuccessful.
Saving the Wyong Sun Orchid is both a time-consuming and labour-intensive task. Invasive weeds require individual removal, vehicular traffic needs to be controlled, fire management needs to be intensified, cattle and horse grazing – much of which takes place on private property – needs to be eliminated, and wide-ranging studies need to be conducted to ensure that no further populations are lost.