Rare Wild Orchids of the South Coast

Disa tripetaloids Cropped

Rare Wild Orchids of the South Coast

The word “orchid ” conjures up an image of exotic flowers and vibrant colours, and we think of rare and expensive flowering plants that can be seen only on shows, besides, of course, the ones we can buy from some of the big retail stores.

Yes, that is their reputation, resulting from a frantic desire for these exotic plants that can be traced back to about the mid-19th century.

Very little was known about these plants then and, in the process of wishing to acquire them, thousands of orchids from all over the world were destroyed as few actually survived cultivation. Eventually, some knowledge was gained and some of the singular species survived, thereby finding their way into the multi-million dollar international pot plant and flower market of today. Nevertheless, some varieties remain elusive, rare and difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate.

“What does this have to do with the South Coast?”

The answer is simple – South Africa has about 500 wild orchid species of which about 98 occur in and around the South Coast area.

It must, however, be emphasized that all wild orchid species, worldwide, are highly protected and it is forbidden to transport them between international borders. It is also against the law to remove them from nature where they grow, without a permit from that country’s Nature Conservation authority. South Africa is no different.

On the South Coast, wild orchids must have been a sight to behold before and up to the late 1960’s.  After that the numbers of the different species started to diminish fast as development, water pollution of streams and wetland areas, farming and invasive weeds started to take over.

Disa caffra, the emblem of the Alfred County Orchid Society, could be seen flowering during late September all along the lower South Coast estuarine wetlands, as was the case with Disa tripetaloides, both of which have now totally disappeared from the South Coast.

The remainder only survive in remote locations in nature reserves and private conservancies in the area, such as the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve.  Rare orchids unique to the South Coast, such as

  • Eulophia coeloglossa,
  • Habenaria woodii,
  • Disa similis,
  • Corymborkis corymbis,
  • Brachycorythis inhambanensis   and
  • Ypsilopus erectus (an epiphyte),

can only be found locally. There are also some orchids, to be found in limited numbers elsewhere in South Africa, which have completely disappeared from the South Coast.  Disperis woodii, which was recorded in the Hibberdene and Munster areas during the 1960’s, is one of these.

Surprisingly, some orchid species never before associated with the South Coast, have suddenly appeared and, although very rare in number, have been spotted since 2008. Disperis paludosa, previously only found in the Southern Cape, now grows in a wetland area on the South Coast.  Eulophia schnelliae, an orchid discovered and reported in the King Williams town area in 1946, has disappeared there altogether, to be rediscovered in 2008 in the Port Edward area.  Sadly, the small colony now faces uncertain prospects, as it occurs in a municipal area that is destined for development in the future.

Hopefully, we will be able to have authorities declare the locale a conservation spot, together with its nearby wetland region, which incorporates at least 18 other orchid species, some of which are mentioned in this article as unique to the South Coast.

Alfred County Orchid Society

The Alfred County Orchid Society is an organization that not only collects and grows these international beauties, but it is also committed to the conservation of our local wild orchids. We have a small dedicated and knowledgeable group of people who regularly go “Orchid hunting” armed with cameras and notebooks. They record sightings, and monitor previous reporting, as well as relaying information to authorities as soon as it seems that a certain orchid species is endangered by habitat destruction, illegal destruction and removal of plants.

People must know that South African wild orchids are unique in the world.

Terrestrial orchids in particular, cannot be cultivated in pots or removed from their environment as, being very sensitive to climatic, soil and water conditions, they are dependent on a specific area and will most certainly die upon being uprooted. The public is urged not to remove plants, but rather to report any discovery of a species to the Alfred County Orchid Society who will gladly help with information as well as recording and monitoring the progress of the plant in question. Photographs may be taken, but the least possible evidence of intrusion should remain.

You may contact the Alfred County Orchid Society representative for any wild orchids that might have been spotted.  Cell number 082 320 6361, or e-mail address duatorc@telkomsa.net.   

Any photographs submitted for the purpose of identification are welcome.








Article provided by the courtesy of Xclusive Directory.


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