When people think of orchids, it is probably the large colourful cymbidiums and cattleya orchids that spring to mind.

However, New Zealand's native orchids are much smaller flowered. In some species, the flowers blend in with their surroundings, making them difficult for a casual observer to notice. As many of our native orchids are self-pollinating, they evolved without the need to be colourful or fragrant. Nevertheless, when you examine the flowers closely, they are indeed beautiful.

Our native orchids have two main growth habits - they are either ground-dwelling or they are epiphytic (grow on trees).

Probably the best known of the ground-dwelling orchids in the bush are the green hooded orchids and the spider orchids. These are visible only during their flowering seasons, but the plants survive as storage organs of various types under the ground between seasons.


The epiphytic varieties have foliage that is visible all year round. Some, eg. the Earinas, can form large clumps hanging down from tree trunks and produce bunches of flowers that are recognisable as tiny cymbidiums.

Others, eg. the Bulbophyllums, can be very small plants, barely visible amongst the mosses on tree trunks.

Some species of ground orchids have tubers which, in the eyes of whoever went around dishing out names, resemble the testes of mammals and this lead to the name Orchid from "orchis", a Greek word meaning testicle.

Orchids can be found in many places - in the bush, open shrubland, on clay banks, in swamps, on rocks, in rough pasture. I have seen one species less than 50 metres from the shops here in Katikati.

There are about 160 species of native orchids in New Zealand.

"Must have books" on New Zealand's native orchids:

A Field Guide to New Zealand Native Orchids by Dorothy Cooper, pub 1981. Excellent botanical drawings and details. Now out of date here and there because of new discoveries and name changes but still well worth getting though. Available from www.touchwoodbooks.co.nz

A Pocket Guide to the New Zealand Native Orchids By The New Zealand Native Orchid Group.For more details see http://www.nativeorchids.co.nz/Publications.htm.

The most comprehensive website on NZ native orchids: http://www.nativeorchids.co.nz/index.html

Want to join the NZ Native Orchid Group? http://www.nativeorchids.co.nz/nznog.htm

Want to share your orchid photos on NatureWatch? http://naturewatch.org.nz/observations/project/2778

There is also a Facebook group for those interested in NZ Native Orchids.