Rare spider orchid sprouts after bushfires

By AAP and AG staff 3 August 2011
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Rare spider orchid species are making a come back in the wake of the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

ENDANGERED EASTERN SPIDER ORCHIDS are showing a burst of new life after one of Australia’s worst ever natural disasters.

While the Black Saturday fires killed 173 people and destroyed thousands of properties and businesses, the flames have become a lifeline for the nationally rare orchid species. The plant is normally detected in low numbers at only a few sites around Victoria.

Scientist Dr Mike Duncan from the Arthur Rylah Institute has found the rare native responded to the 2009 fires by flowering at 10 times its normal rate in its habitat in Wilsons Promontory National Park. The orchid has also flowered strongly in the Bunyip State Park and the Won Wron State Forest.

“This is a remarkable response for a spider orchid that doesn’t need fire to reproduce, but after these devastating fires there was a mass-flowering in spring 2009 and 2010,” Mike says.

“The research also found some species of orchids, particularly species living on trees, were killed by the severity of these bushfires. Others have shown a reduction in flowering in the burnt areas, but these are likely to return to normal in the next few years.”

LAUNCH THE GALLERY: Black Saturday before and after the regeneration

Spectacular flowering

Four orchid species – the lizard, red beaks, hare and austral leek – that only bloom in Victoria when their habitat is burnt have flowered “spectacularly” after the fires, Mike says. The orchids are among a line-up of rare plants to re-emerge since February 7, 2009.

Four months after the fires in June 2009, the rare Buxton silver gum was spotted sprouting fresh foliage despite a 2005 survey that found the species was failing to regenerate in the wild.

A 17-hectare reserve of gums was razed during the fires near Marysville and then was flooded for the first time in 14 years last September, creating ideal conditions for regeneration.

Last year the obscure shiny nematolepis, a small shrub native to Victoria, was discovered growing in the O’Shannassy water catchment. The only wild specimens of the shrub had been located in the area before the fires.