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.

Bandicoot

‘I think I smell something special!’ ‘Truffle’ for a bandicoot.

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.

Tubers of the orchid cinnamon bells

They look a bit like Jerusalem artichokes.

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.

 

Austrlian native potato orchd

A rarity?

 

Gastrodia sesamoides

The flowers are really charming.

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.

Cinnamon orchid.

What one earth? (Image courtesy of Signora Srhoj)

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.

Australian orchid Cinnamon Bells pushing up through straw mulch.

What on earth is going on here?

 

Ntive orchid Cinnamon Bells

Quite a crop.

My Partner Rob  says they resemble brown asparagus and I have to agree.

Cinnamon Bells

Flowers forming.

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.

 

Cinnamon bells.

Oh my hat!

Here is one showing admirable tenacity!

Tenacious cinnamon orchid.

Finally made it!

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.

 

Australian native orchid Cinnamon Bells

Gentle and fragrant; perfect for the bathroom.

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.

Tubers of the orchid Gastrodia sesamoides.

∗UPDATE – OK, I cooked them up in boiling, salted water.

Boiled Potato Orchid tubers.

Herbed orchid tubers.

And I did try them myself.

VERDICT

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.

ROB’S VERDICT

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!

Sliced cinnamon orchid tubers.

Not bad as a potato salad.

 

 

 

2 Comments
  1. You’re lucky to have so many Potato Orchids in your garden! If you still have so many next season try roasting a tuber, it’s delicious. Of course people should know that it’s illegal to dig them up or pick the flowers in the bush. Every flower picked robs the plant of its chance to reproduce that year.

    Incidentally, I think Australia’s strangest orchid would have to be one of the underground orchids, Rhizanthella sp.

    Cheers and thanks for an interesting blog.

    • Pauline

      I’ll try some roasted. The boiled ones weren’t wonderful. I’ll look up the Rhizanthella.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.