OrchidaceaeCaladenia barbarossa (Dragon Orchid) Caladenia bryceana subsp. bryceana (Dwarf Spider Orchid) Caladenia integra (Smooth-lipped Spider Orchid) Caladenia latifolia (Pink Fairies) Caladenia lobata (Butterfly Spider Orchid) Caleana major (Flying Duck Orchid) Caladenia melanema (Ballerina Orchid) Caladenia polychroma (Joseph’s Spider Orchid) Caladenia pulchra (Slender Spider Orchid) Caladenia pusilla (Tiny Caladenia) Caladenia serotina (Christmas Spider Orchid) Caladenia tessellata (Thick-lip Spider Orchid) Dendrobium kingianum (Pink Rock Orchid) Dendrobium speciosum (Rock Orchid) Drakaea livida (Warty Hammer Orchid) Elythranthera emarginata (Pink Enamel Orchid) Epiblema grandiflorum (Babe-in-a-cradle Orchid) Ericksonella saccharata (Sugar Orchid) Glossodia major (Wax-lip Orchid) Leptoceras menziesii (Rabbit Orchid) Microtis cupularis (Cupped Mignonette Orchid) Paracaleana nigrita (Flying Duck Orchid) Pterostylis cheraphila (Floodplain Rustyhood) Pterostylis ciliata (Hairy Rufous Greenhood) Spiculaea ciliata (Elbow Orchid) Rhizanthella johnstonii (Southern Underground Orchid) Thelymitra sp. Ongerup (Orange Sun Orchids) Thelymitra speciosa (Eastern Queen of Sheba’s)

Orchids, from the family Orchidaceae, are a diverse and widespread group of flowering plants with blooms that can be tiny and almost inconspicuous to large colourful and fragrant blooms. Orchidaceae is one of the two largest families of flowering plants, along with the Asteraceae.

Thelymitra sp.'Ongerup' (Orange Sun Orchids), Great Southern Region WA © Terry Dunham
Thelymitra sp.’Ongerup’ (Orange Sun Orchids), Great Southern Region WA © Terry Dunham

In Australia there are more than 100 genera of orchids, with more than 1,700 of the 25–30,000 species in the Orchidaceae family known globally, with the majority of the Australian orchids being ground-living and found nowhere else in the world.

Glossodia major (Wax-lip Orchid), Warrumbungle National Park, NSW.

Unfortunately, Australia has a high rate of orchid extinction, thought to be as high as 25 per cent of our native orchid having become or becoming extinct. In part, this is due to their vulnerable of their symbiotic relationships with specific types of ‘mycorrhizal’ fungi to grow and germinate, and many of the native orchids being pollinated by a unique species of pollinator.

Floodplain Rustyhood (Pterostylis cheraphila), near Cohuna VIC © Ken Walker
Pterostylis cheraphila (Floodplain Rustyhood), near Cohuna VIC © Ken Walker

The Taxonomy of the Orchid Family, is a story all on it’s own, with a number of classification systems. It is the classification, published in the book ‘The Orchids: Natural History and Classification’ that is widely accepted by botanists and growers. This is based largely on the system of Robert Louis Dressler, an orchid specialist and adjunct curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The initial scheme of 1981 has been modified in 1986, twice in 1990, and then again in 1993. This is the most comprehensive classification at the moment, relying heavily on morphology and a few key characters, such as anther configuration and pollinarium structure.

Wax-lip Orchid (Glossodia major), Lime Bay Nature Reserve, Tasman Peninsula, TAS
Glossodia major (Wax-lip Orchid), Lime Bay Nature Reserve, Tasman Peninsula, TAS

The orchid family (Orchidaceae) is subdivided into several subfamilies, and then into tribes, subtribes, alliances and then genera.

According to Dressler, there are 5 subfamilies, 22 tribes, 70 subtribes, about 850 genera and 20,000 species in this family. Since then several thousand orchids have been described.

Tiny Caladenia (Caladenia pusilla), Lime Bay Nature Reserve, Tasman Peninsula, TAS
Caladenia pusilla (Tiny Caladenia), Lime Bay Nature Reserve, Tasman Peninsula, TAS

Whilst some orchids mainly or totally rely on self-pollination, many rely on insects such as bees, flies and butterflies. For example in Australia, a group of bees known commonly as “Bush Bees” that include the Sugarbag Bee (Tetragonula carbonaria), are known to pollinate orchid species.

Flying Duck Orchid (Caleana major), Blue Mountains NSW © Katrina Leel
Caleana major (Flying Duck Orchid), Blue Mountains NSW © Katrina Leel

Other orchids take a different tactic, such as Drakaea livida who use a form of what is described as “sexual deception”. The labellum of Drakaea livida is similar in shape and scent to the flightless female thynnid wasp (Zaspilothynnus nigripes). This lures the male of the species to attempt to mate, but instead pollinates the orchid.

Drakaea livida (Warty Hammer Orchid), Stirling Range National Park WA © Terry Dunham
Drakaea livida (Warty Hammer Orchid), Stirling Range National Park WA © Terry Dunham

Orchids, including the many hybrids varieties are often on display at orchid shows, botanic gardens and specialist dealers. Check out our section on orchids at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

Variable colours of the Thelymitra speciosa (Eastern Queen of Sheba's), Stirling Range National Park WA © Terry Dunham
Thelymitra speciosa (Eastern Queen of Sheba’s), Stirling Range National Park WA © Terry Dunham

Checkout some of our listed orchids:

This section is a continual work in progress…


  • Scientific classification
  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Charophyta
  • Class: Equisetopsida
  • Subclass: Magnoliidae
  • Superorder: Lilianae
  • Order: Asparagales
  • Family: Orchidaceae
Pink Rock Orchid (Dendrobium kingianum), Stony Range Regional Botanic Garden, Dee Why NSW
Dendrobium kingianum (Pink Rock Orchid), Stony Range Regional Botanic Garden, Dee Why NSW

Footnote & References

  1. Orchidaceae Juss., Atlas of Living Australia, https://bie.ala.org.au/species/https://id.biodiversity.org.au/taxon/apni/51414453
  2. Orchids Family Orchidaceae, iNaturalistAU, https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/taxa/47217-Orchidaceae
  3. Orchid, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orchid
  4. Orchid Obsession in Western Australia – Ian’s Eye-Site, http://www.ianseyesite.net/Orchids_2021_05_17.pdf
  5. The Australian Orchid Foundation Publications, https://australianorchidfoundation.org.au/publications-of-the-australian-orchid-foundation/
Sydney Rock Orchid (Dendrobium speciosum), Royal Botanic Garden Sydney NSW
Dendrobium speciosum (Sydney Rock Orchid), Royal Botanic Garden Sydney NSW

OrchidaceaeCaladenia barbarossa (Dragon Orchid) Caladenia bryceana subsp. bryceana (Dwarf Spider Orchid) Caladenia integra (Smooth-lipped Spider Orchid) Caladenia latifolia (Pink Fairies) Caladenia lobata (Butterfly Spider Orchid) Caleana major (Flying Duck Orchid) Caladenia melanema (Ballerina Orchid) Caladenia polychroma (Joseph’s Spider Orchid) Caladenia pulchra (Slender Spider Orchid) Caladenia pusilla (Tiny Caladenia) Caladenia serotina (Christmas Spider Orchid) Caladenia tessellata (Thick-lip Spider Orchid) Dendrobium kingianum (Pink Rock Orchid) Dendrobium speciosum (Rock Orchid) Drakaea livida (Warty Hammer Orchid) Elythranthera emarginata (Pink Enamel Orchid) Epiblema grandiflorum (Babe-in-a-cradle Orchid) Ericksonella saccharata (Sugar Orchid) Glossodia major (Wax-lip Orchid) Leptoceras menziesii (Rabbit Orchid) Microtis cupularis (Cupped Mignonette Orchid) Paracaleana nigrita (Flying Duck Orchid) Pterostylis cheraphila (Floodplain Rustyhood) Pterostylis ciliata (Hairy Rufous Greenhood) Spiculaea ciliata (Elbow Orchid) Rhizanthella johnstonii (Southern Underground Orchid) Thelymitra sp. Ongerup (Orange Sun Orchids) Thelymitra speciosa (Eastern Queen of Sheba’s)

FloraFlora Index Acacia Annual Yellowtop Apium prostratum subsp. prostratum var filiforme Apple Bush (Pterocaulon sphacelatum) Australian Bluebell Australian Gossypium Banksia Batswing Coral Tree Billy Buttons Birdsville Indigo Blue Pincushion Bush Banana Callistemon Calothamnus quadrifidus Cape Honeysuckle Common Heath Cassia fistula (Golden Shower) Cattle Bush Crotalaria Daviesia oppositifolia (Rattle-pea) Desert Oaks Drumsticks Eremophila Eucalyptus False Shaggy Mane Ficus Flannel Cudweed (Actinobole uliginosum) Georges Indigo Goatshead Burr (Sclerolaena bicornis) Golden Everlasting Goodenia Gossypium Grass and Grasses Grass Trees Grevillea Grey Germander Hakea Kapok Bush (Aerva javanica) Lambertia sp MacDonnell Ranges Cycad Maireana scleroptera Mexican Poppy Minnie Daisy Mistletoe Family Native Apricot Nardoo Nicotiana megalosiphon subspecies sessilifolia Nuytsia floribunda Orange Spade Flower Orchidaceae Parakeelyas (Calandrinia) Pebble Bush (Stylobasium spathulatum) Perennial Yellow Top Pink Everlasting Pink Rock Wort Poached Egg Daisy Portulaca Proteaceae Ptilotus Quandong Resurrection Fern Rosy Dock Ruby Saltbush Santalum Solanum Spike Centaury Spinifex Storkbill (Erodum cygnorum) Striped Mint Bush Sturt’s Desert Pea Sturt’s Desert Rose Tall Saltbush Tangled Leschenaultia Tar Vine Tribulus eichlerianus Upside-down Plant Urodon dasyphylla Variable Daisy Waratah (Telopea) Wertabona Daisy White Cedar (Melia azedarach) White Indigo White Paper Daisy Wild Passionfruit Wild Stock Woolly-Headed Burr Daisy Woolly Bush Yellow-keeled Swainsona