The Species Orchid Society of Western Australia (Inc)

What are Epiblemas?


'Babe in the Cradle' Orchid

Epiblema is a species with two distinct varieties. They were first recorded by Robert Brown, a botanist on Mathew Flinders exploration and mapping visit to King Georges Sound, Albany, Western Australia in December 8th 1801 to January 5th 1802. Brown, assisted by Ferdinand Bauer (botanical artist) and Peter Good, (Kew Gardens) recorded some 500 plants, mostly new to botanical science. Thirteen were orchids, including Epiblema. These collections were named and described by Brown in Prodromous (1810), the forerunner to The Flora of New Holland & the Island of Van Dieman.

The orchids pictured in this gallery, are of Epiblema grandiflora variety grandiflora. There is another variety (var. cyanea) which occurs in only two known areas, one in a Northern Perth suburb and the other at Walpole on the South Coast

The variety grandiflora, is wide spread throughout the coastal strip from Perth to East of Esperance where the handsome purple flowers grow mainly in swamps covered in thick rushes and often with their roots in water. It seems that they start their growth while there is standing water in the swamps, and growth and flowering continues after the swamps dry out in the summer. After flowering, Epiblima become deciduous, resuming growth with the winter/spring rains.

Epiblema are terrestrial orchids with subterranean tubers, they have a single leaf, that is almost terete, to 20cm approximately. The stem grows to about 80cm tall and can carry up to 8 blue to mauve flowers with darker spots. The flowers are up to 4cm across and have a most unusual series of ribbon like appendages at the base of the labelum. The column wings form a hood over the anther. The flowers are very similar to Thelymitras but do not share the Thelymitra habit of closing on cloudy days and at night.

They grow in peaty soils in winter wet swamps and tend to form colonies. They do not appear to require fire to regenerate and can be seen flowering between November and January.

The other variety, var. cyanea, has similar growth habits and differs from var. grandiflorum in being pale blue in colour.

Tony Watkinson