Focus Topic 8. Red Beak Orchids are Fire Responders
The Red Beak Orchid produces large, fleshy, heart-shaped leaves that grow flat along the ground and are commonly called Elephant Ears. This orchid flowers in late winter after a hot summer bushfire, when it can produce a profusion of red and white beak-like flowers. Their need for fire to flower is reflected in the genus name Pyrorchis, which is derived from the ancient Greek word “pyr” meaning fire and “orchis” meaning orchid. In the past 25 years only two plants flowered in unburnt areas out of the millions of plants growing here.
Red beaks are one of the most abundant orchids both in Warwick Bushland and in Western Australia. Each leaf is a separate plant belonging to the same clone. There are thousands of leaves in large colonies, which can be up to 10 m wide after decades or centuries of gradual vegetative reproduction. Like all orchids, Red Beaks depend on symbiotic fungi that are required for germination of their tiny seeds and the nutrition of adult plants (see video below).
How Orchids depend on Fungi
Dr Daniela Scaccabarozzi interviews Prof Mark Brundrett on orchid interactions with fungi. Filmed by Andrea Aromatisi.