April 2015: Newsletter 367

March Day Meeting

The weather was not ideal, with light drizzle, as we gathered at Audrey and Maurice’s new home in Greerton. This was the first time we had been there and everyone was hugely impressed with the effort they had put into the property.

Maurice has built a grow house for Audrey’s collection of Tillandsias and everything is looking so healthy and happy.

The original gardens have had a major make over and are now packed with plants, shrubs and even a miniature peach tree that provided a wonderful crop this year. Pot plants are another specialty of Audrey’s and provide a wonderful splash of colour around the porch areas. It was interesting to see that a ‘few’ orchids are beginning to sneak back into her garden.

Maurice has a well packed vege garden tucked in a far corner, loaded with produce. It does show that you do not need a ‘quarter acre section’ to provide many of your healthy greens.

Special Meeting, March 15

Present: 18 members and 2 visitors.

This meeting was held at the home of Natalie and Brian, followed by a pot luck tea, and replaced our normal monthly meeting. Carlos Lehnebach was on a speaker tour, having been to Napier on Saturday and continuing to Auckland Monday. Thanks to Brian and Natalie for driving over to Taupo to pick Carlos up and bring him to Tauranga.

Carlos came to New Zealand from Chile to study native orchids, and completed his Masters and PhD in these topics. He began working for Te Papa and received a grant from the Royal Society for 3 years to continue his research.

He’s mainly concentrated on the pollination of Gastrodia, the potato orchid – so named because of the large tuber the plant grows from. As an aside, this tuber was rated as a delicacy by the Maori and was roasted like a kumara. With the introduction of wild pigs these orchids are now hard to find.

Carlos’ study concentrated on the types of tiny fungus gnats that pollinate these flowers. What attracts them to the plant and how successful they were.

Another study was into the distribution and types of Corybas – the spider orchid. This is one of our most secretive native orchids as they grow close to or even below the leaf litter on the ground. Throughout NZ there are many Corybas, each with its own distinct variations and name. Carlos’ task was to collect and compare these orchids from around NZ to decide if they were individual species or just variations. Once again fungus gnats came into the story as each orchid had its own specific type of fungus gnat to pollinate it.

And were these gnats related to each other? How can you tell minute gnats apart?

This leads to the third part of Carlos’ study. The use of DNA in the conservation of NZ native orchids. To solve the spider orchid puzzle, he collected fungus gnat eggs laid inside the  orchid, crushed them, to extract their DNA (with the help of other scientific departments) and used the DNA comparisons to match up the Corybas types. This is an ongoing task and becomes more complicated than I can describe in this newsletter.

Carlos explained all of his actions and investigations with a wonderful Powerpoint talk, leading us through a world of complicated science, orchid hunting, painstaking observation and amazing photography, including a movie of a gastrodia orchid flower closing a trap-door, locking in a fungus gnat so that it had to squeeze past the pollen cap which stuck to the top of its head!

Thank you so much Carlos for sharing ‘your world’ with us. Please excuse any misinterpretations on my part, in trying to explain your talk. We all had a wonderful afternoon.

Visit by Waitakere Orchid Society, March 22

Waitakere society members were on a weekend bus trip that travelled to Waikato on Saturday, visiting Hamilton Gardens and two Waikato growers. They then drove to Tauranga to stay overnight.

On Sunday, Alec joined their bus to act as guide and they visited Diane and then Elizabeth. By 11.45am they arrived at Te Puna Quarry, where our club members had set out drinks and were organising a barbecue lunch.

Our members guided visitors around the park taking them to the orchid section and butterfly gardens and then a ramble back through the paths to the pavilion. Some of their less able members were driven around the park and were most appreciative and very impressed with everything they saw.

By the time everyone was back, a wonderful spread had been organised and our guests and our own helpers enjoyed a most enjoyable lunch together.

Lee Neale, as their president, thanked everyone involved for such an interesting day, for the delicious lunch and wonderful garden visits. On their way home they stopped at Barry’s for a visit where they wandered through the gardens, avocado trees and orchid houses.