Growing Native Plants
Sarcochilus falcatus R.Br. (1810)
Sarcochilus falcatus is a native Australian species of orchid. It is most often known by its common name, the Orange Blossom Orchid. This name refers to the similarity of its flowers, in both scent and shape, to that of orange blossoms.
The species is wildly distributed throughout eastern Australia, from eastern Victoria and NSW, up through to Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. S. falcatus favours airy situations and can be found growing naturally on trees in or near moist forests. It can be found from coastal areas right up to the Great Dividing Range to an altitude of 1200 metres.
This orchid is largely an epiphytic species, but it can also be lithophytic. It readily forms clumps, made up entirely of groups of sickle-shaped leaves. These leaves are leathery, pale green and curved and number anywhere between 3 and 14 per plant. S. falcatus also produces many thin wiry green roots which can branch out up to 1 metre from the parent plant. It can produce up to ten flowers, each being around 3cm across, anytime from June to October. The flower form of S. falcatus is extremely variable across its range. The most common form has snow white petals, purple striped sepals, and orange and yellow markings on the lip. Other variations include a large flowered form with pale yellow markings. Flower shape also varies dramatically from one area to another.
S. falcatus has been extensively collected from its natural habitat in the past. This has led to the species becoming quite rare in some areas. Even with this illegal collecting taking place, the Orange Blossom Orchid is considered to be the most common of all Sarcochilus species.
S. falcatus is a popular species with the public. It has large showy flowers and has great visual appeal in floral displays. It is also a relatively easy species to grow providing it receives cool, humid conditions, abundant air movement and moderately heavy shade. It grows well in bush houses.
Slab culture is the most suitable method of cultivation for S. falcatus. It grows best when mounted onto an unweathered hardwood slab. Until new roots grow and hold the plant in place, fishing line can be used to fasten the orchid to the slab. Other types of mounts that this species can grow on include tree fern, Casuarina, and Cork slabs. Watering is important with the Orange Blossom orchid. It needs to dry out between successive waterings, but it also must not dry out too much. In summer it should be watered 1-2 times per day, but in winter it only needs to be watered every 7-10 days. Fertilising can be carried out in spring and early summer but at only at half strength.
S. falcatus is a species that can be grown under laboratory conditions on agar, but this is very difficult for the general public to duplicate. Instead, it can be bought from specialist plant nurseries as a ready mounted plant.
The only limitations to successfully growing this plant include extremes of temperature, lack of air movement, too much/ too little water and too much light. The only pests observed to affect S. falcatus are scale. These organisms attach themselves to plant’s roots and leaf bases.
Derivation of the name:
Sarcochilus – from two Greek words – Sarx = flesh, chilus = lip.
falcatus – referring to the sickle-shape of the leaves.
Text by Mathew Irwin (2006 Student Botanical Intern)
Photos: (top) M.Fagg, APII O-1179, (below) R.Hill, APII O-1114
Bedford, R. B. (1969) A Guide To Native Australian Orchids. Angus & Robertson Publishing, Sydney.
Bishop, T. (1996) Field Guide To The Orchids of New South Wales and Victoria. UNSW Press Ltd, Sydney.
Dockrill, A. W. (1992) Australian Indigenous Orchids Vols. 1 & 2. Surrey Beaty & Sons, Sydney.
Jones, D., & Jones, B. (2000) A Field Guide To The Native Orchids of Southern Australia. Bloomings Books, Hawthorn.
Sharp, W. W. (1970) Australia’s Native Orchids. K. G. Murray Publishing Co. Ltd., Sydney.
Upton, W. T. (1992) Sarcochilus Orchids of Australia. Double U Orchids, Balmain.