Alpine Garden Society

Ulster Group

Plant of the Month, December 2010
Caladenia - by Liam McCaughey
In the depths of the Northern winter, thoughts might turn to the Southern hemisphere, where spring is moving into summer -
Caladenia, the Spider Orchids, are almost entirely endemic to Australia - of the 180 species, four occur in New Zealand, a one in Indonesia, while Western Australia has over 140. This probably reflects the geographic isolation of Western Australia - geologically it is one of the oldest parts of the Earth, its rocks dating back to the beginnings of life .
Australian orchids, when not described in Botanical Latin or Greek, often have homely names - as well as Spider, there are Rabbit, Hare, Bunny, Donkey, Duck, Hammer, Helmet and many more such, usually reflecting an aspect of the appearance of the flower, which has evolved to attract a particular pollinator.

The White Spider Orchid on the right is a fairly typical member of the genus Caladenia.

In closeup (below right), can be seen the fringed or toothed labellum with small projections known as calli on the central section - again these are  typical features, and the genus name comes from Greek Kalos (= beautiful) and adenos  (= gland or knob), while the long sepals and petals give rise to the common name Spider Orchid. 
Caladenia longicauda microchila
White Spider Orchid
Caladenia  latifolia
Pink Fairy Orchid
However a subgroup including the Fairy Orchid (pictured left), and the Cowslip orchid, have broad petals, while in a third subgroup the Zebra orchid's petals clasp the stem.
Caladenia cairnsiana
Zebra Orchid
We saw and photographed the plants on this page while in Western Australia with AGS Expeditions.  These orchids flower from spring into summer, that is from September through to about December in most cases.
Unfortunately these beautiful plants are very difficult in cultivation, and although other Australian terrestial orchids such as the Greenhoods (Pterostylis) are grown, the Spider Orchids have to be enjoyed in the wild.
C. nivea
Exotic Spider Orchid
C. ferruginea 
Rusty Spider Orchid
Caladenia arrecta
Reaching Spider Orchid
Reference : Orchids of South-West Australia, Hoffmann and Brown. Second edition 1998  ISBN 1 876268 18 2