Sarcochilus: Notes from a Kevin Western talk

kevin-western-copyWords & photo: Sandra Simpson

Kevin Western gave a great talk about ‘Sarcs’ at the 2016 NZ Orchid Expo and Conference. Kevin owns and operates Western Orchids in Adelaide, South Australia and has 43 years’ experience in the fields of pharmaceutical formulating and compounding. He is an unashamed fan of Australia’s native Sarcochilus.

Before European settlement in Australia, each species of Sarcochilus lived in its own niche environment with its own specialised pollinator.

Kevin reckons that if he could grow Sarcochilus australis (native to Tasmania) he would be “the greatest Sarc grower on the planet”! Or if he could get the yellow S. chrysanthus (native to New Guinea) to cross his bank manager would be very happy. Kevin describes S. falcatus as “blisteringly beautiful” and says it’s not used in hybridising nearly enough (although he believes there are probably 3 or 4 orchids all called S. falcatus).

“Sarcs are so damn robust,” he says. “We kill them by mollycoddling. I thought I’d killed one and it shot away again from the bottom.”

His growing temperatures range from -8 degrees Celsius to 47 degrees C, not ideal but “Sarcs don’t give a damn” if other conditions are right.

However, some of the rare and unusual Sarcs are a bit more difficult, having become highly evolved to specific conditions. S. serrulatus is from a tiny area in tropical Queensland but “is dead at over 35 degrees” as it grows at altitude. Kevin calls it the holy grail of Sarc breeding.

“We sell S. weinthalii back to Toowoomba where it comes from and it’s dead in 5 weeks.”

Seeing a hillside of Sarcs in the wild – bathed in winter sunlight and on another visit shaded in summer – was key to his understanding of the trigger for their flowering.

S. Canary, which was “probably” made in the 1950s by Ira Butler, in 1963 along with S. fitzhart became the first hybrids to be registered. Read an article about Sarc hybrids by Ira Butler.

Kevin noted the November 2015 death of Neville Roper, “one of our divergent plant breeders”. Read a paper Neville Roper gave at the 2008 Australian Orchid Conference.

Kevin doesn’t show his plants “because they’re always up the duff and they won’t judge them with seed pods on”.

Kevin Western’s growing tips:

A ton of light when the weather is cool to initiate flowers – no light, no flowers. But protect the plants from light in summer.

Feed every day with very dilute fertiliser – “they’re the  heaviest feeders I know”. During his hot, dry summers he may mist them in short bursts with water/fertiliser 9 times a day!

Keep plants cool in hot weather.

Kevin has them flowering straight from the flask … or even in the flask!