The Species Orchid Society of Western Australia (Inc)
Rhizanthella gardneri 'Underground Orchids'

In 1928, Farmer John Trott of Corrigin, unearthed the first specimens of Rhizenthella gardneri when ploughing new land that had been previously rolled and burnt. He took the specimen to Charles Gardner, the Government Botanist, who, in turn, forwarded them onto Dr. Sanders Rodgers who named the species in Gardners honour.

As the common name implies, the species spends most of its life cycle underground, growing in association with, and close to Melaleuca uncinata, that sheds its leaves to produce thick layers of leaf mould.

The developing capitulum of tiny, crowded orchids, are exposed when the floral bracts expand and, occasionally push through the leaf mould, allowing light, and presumably pollinators to enter. Since the first finds, just six confirmed sightings were made in Corrigin - Babakin areas.

A breakthrough occured in 1979 when farmer John McGuiness of Munglinup, East of Ravensthorp, turned over a Malley root and found an orchid under it. Research then and again in1980 produced a total of 26 specimens.

Further collections were made at the Oldfield locations, with another 9 plants sighted . Finance was made available for research from the World Wildlife Fund, resulting in a well organized research program led by Kings Park research scientists and assisted by the members of the Western Australian Native Orchid Study Group. Around 150 sightings were made and as a result of this and ongoing research, the knowledge of the biology of Rhizanthella gardnerihas been greatly advanced.

Rhizanthella gardneri are unusual in other ways amongst the orchid family. The flowers are produced in a capitulum, which appears to be one large flower but on closer examination, proves to be a whole group of small flowers grouped together within a series of bracts which gives the appearance of being a single flower.

Ron Heberle