I have a very strange orchid in my Blue Mountains garden. Its botanical name is Gastrodia sesamoides. This leafless, Australian native has been dubbed the Potato Orchid, as the tubers the plants grow from were roasted and eaten by Aborigines (particularly the Wurundjeri people of central Victoria). They are very rich in starch. Apparently the trick to finding them outside flowering season is to note where bandicoots have been scratching. The snuffling marsupials can smell the tubers, which are said to resemble watery beetroot.
Hmm, they don’t sound particularly appealing to me, especially as I detest beetroot. However, I thought that since I’m writing this piece and since I have so many, I should at least know what the tubers look like. Hope they didn’t mind being sacrificed for research.
The orchids have no green parts and their lack of chlorophyll means they cannot derive energy from the sun. Their nutriment is obtained purely from fungus found around decaying tree roots. This makes the species difficult to cultivate outside its native range. A damp, humus-rich soil is required, in a sheltered woodland position. No wonder they pop up in my Blackheath garden. They are very sensitive to the addition of fertilizers or fungicides, as these can harm the symbiotic fungus and thus kill the orchid. They are self pollinating.
The plant is also called Cinnamon Bells, a name I prefer. Oddly enough, both the colour and fragrance resemble the spice cinnamon. There are usually four or five bracts of delicate, bell shaped flowers. However, a newspaper report in 1933 described the finding of an unusual specimen with seven bracts. Hang on, mine seem to have more than five.
Now admittedly the emerging orchids can look rather creepy. The one below is a bit serpent like, albeit an alien serpent. The property owner, Signora Srhoj was startled when this one appeared under her fence.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the thick sugar cane mulch below my passionfruit vine had risen up to form a sort of straw igloo. It turned out that a pushy crop of the orchids was responsible.
My Partner Rob says they resemble brown asparagus and I have to agree.
I was so busy watching these stalks mature that I didn’t think to look further afield; not even a single metre. Then one morning I happened to walk behind the passionfruit vine and voila! Under an old pot stand the orchids had been creeping up unnoticed….a miniature forest of them. It was extraordinary.
Here is one showing admirable tenacity!
I like to pick the orchids. They look very sweet on my kitchen window sill.
And look how perfectly the colours match this little Carrara marble vase.
I feel very privileged to have these strange little orchids in my garden. They are extremely difficult to propagate from seed and thus are not available commercially. If you attempt to transplant them they die. We humans like to control nature, but Cinnamon Bells have a mind of their own.
On a positive note, they are very easy-care!
I’m deciding whether to cook these fine specimens for Rob’s dinner tonight. I don’t have an oven until our new house is finished, but I suppose I could boil them.
∗UPDATE – OK, I cooked them up in boiling, salted water.
And I did try them myself.
Were they better than native dianella berries? YES
Were they better than pine mushrooms? YES
Were they wonderful? NOT REALLY
Would I follow a bandicoot if I ran out of food in the bush? YES.
Tolerable…..would certainly follow the bandicoot.
We tried them again when cold…..sliced with salt and pepper and chopped mint. Not too bad at all Mate!