Plant Collector: disa orchids

Working to naturalise disa orchids by our stream

Working to naturalise disa orchids by our stream

It was a bit of a mission earlier this week to find anything looking good after Sunday night’s fierce storm but the disa orchids held up well. Trying to get these delights naturalised on the margins of the stream which runs through our park is a recent venture. It is far too soon to decide that it is a success because this is their first season so all we can say is so far, so good. If we still have some and they are gently increasing in five years time, we will hail it as a success.

Of all the plant families in the world, orchids are by far the most complex. The sub group of disas alone has about 170 separate species and that does not take into account multitudinous hybrids. Mark is not trying to get to grips with the detail. He just accepts gratefully what local orchid expert and friend, George Fuller, gives him to try out. As far as we know, it was the dainty little Disa tripetaloides which gave us white flowers earlier in the season and these larger red ones in flower now are from the more common D. uniflora. It is the natural habitat of the disa orchids which caught our attention. They occur in damp conditions on the margins of streams and waterfalls, predominantly in South Africa. That is why we hoped they could be naturalised on the margins of the stream where they are a great deal more exotic than the thuggish yellow Primula helodoxa. You need a situation where you can control floodwaters however, as we do with a weir and a flood channel, or our frequent torrential downpours will scour out marginal plantings.

If Wikipedia is correct, the tuberous root of the disa orchid is used to manufacture maltodextrins, used in artificial sweeteners. How curious is that? Mark is a bit concerned at the absence of the Mountain Pride Butterfly here, that being the natural pollinator for D. uniflora in South Africa. We are not at all sure that our monarch butterflies, which we have in abundance, are up to taking on additional duties in this respect.