Orchid award

Here’s a little skite (for overseas readers, a ‘skite’ is a boast) … and as it may be something that never happens to me again, I reckon I can get away with it.

Coelogyne cristata alba ‘Kotuku’, awarded a Certificate of Cultural Commendation. The plant which grows in a now-invisible basket is just over 1m wide at its widest point and about 80cm high. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In early October last year five New Zealand orchid judges turned up at my place to inspect one of my plants. I stayed out of the way and made a cuppa while they conferred, walking round the plant, looking at it closely, murmuring and making notes on official forms. Nerve-wracking.

The way the system works is that the judges who look at the plant can’t say one way or the other if an award will be given by the Orchid Council of New Zealand, as that organisation’s committee on awards (COA) has to meet and ratify all recommendations.

Last year was an unusual one for awards because not many orchid shows were held and shows are normally where the bulk of judging recommendations originate. To gain one of the several awards on offer, a plant has to achieve a minimum standard. A plant that doesn’t get the points across a variety of categories, doesn’t get a recommendation.

My plant was put forward to the COA and, after much impatient waiting from me, was given a Certificate of Cultural Commendation (CCC) which has a threshold of 80 points. My plant was given 85.5 points.

Each stem on the plant carries multiple flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the nice things that happens when an award is made is that the owner, as well as being able to add the ‘letters’ of the award on to the plant’s name tag, can also give their plant a name that stays with that plant from then on (a cultural award is given to the grower, not the plant so the ‘letters’ stay with this plant only and don’t go with any divisions). I chose ‘Kotuku’ as the pure-white flowers with their feathery and winged look reminded me our native white heron.

Details about the plant are also sought, so fortunately I had a few records. Purchased in July 2013 at the BOP Orchid Society auction – that year it had 2 stems of flowers. After flowering last year I cut off 82 stems! For almost the entire year it grows outside, only moving under cover when the flowers start to open.

Herb Awareness Month

March is Herb Awareness Month in New Zealand and although I’m coming late to the party, there’s always time to raise a toast to these plants that offer health and healing.

In that marvellous old children’s television programme The Herbs (written by Michael Bond who created Paddington), Parsley was the shy, but friendly, lion who welcomed us along each time. So it’s no surprise that humble parsley is the 2021 International Herb of the Year.

Easy to grow (try and stop it) and useful in many dishes my only beef with parsley isn’t its fault – the bits that, in some cafes, are popped on everything savoury as a garnish. I always pick it off, put it to one side and feel sorry that the plant gave itself up for this.

A parsley flower head. Image: Wikimedia Commons

My grandmother said a woman of child-bearing age should not buy a parsley plant so was horrified when my mother (her daughter-in-law, who had never heard this tale) had done just that. The problem was solved when my grandmother passed some coins to my mother and took the pot off her. Whew! I have since read that ‘plant parsley and get pregnant’ …

Here’s the Herb Federation of NZ sheet on parsley for some factual information!

The other herbs being honoured this month are lichen (Usnea species), used both for medicinal purposes and dyeing; pennyroyal (Mentha Mentha pulegium), a distinctive scent when crushed, is used externally only for healing; and the New Zealand native makomako/wineberry (Aristotelia serrata; A. fruticosa) used for medicinal purposes, food and for dyeing. Click on the links to read the fact sheets.

Tree of the moment: Corymbia ficifolia

Just a month late posting this … at present the gold dust that is time seems to be leaking away from me like I’m a greenhorn prospector of the worst type! I once worked with a man who always worked on deadline, not towards a deadline. He said he just threw all his balls in the air and dealt with them, or not, as they landed. I didn’t think it was a very good way of working, but it appears I have officially become that man!

Anyway, on to the much more interesting topic of the red-flowering gum. What a showstopper of a tree it is. This one was spotted beside Heads Road in Whanganui, possibly on hospital land. There was another nice one across the road too.

Red-flowering gum tree in Whanganui. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The trees are native to the southwest of Western Australia and are one of the most widely planted ornamental ‘gums’ with flower colour varying – orange, pink or red. The Trees of Stanford website, posits of the varying flower colour that “it is almost certain that the ornamentals in commerce are hybrid, having an admixture of C. calophylla (syn. Eucalyptus calophylla), a distinctly different, but related, larger tree with the same large fruit but little or no pink in the flowers.” 

The genus Eucalyptus was named in 1792 by a French botanist and refers to the cap that protects the flower before it opens (eu = well; kalyptos = covered in Greek). However, botanists have since determined that the genus should be divided and today the name ‘Eucalyptus’ covers three genera: Eucalyptus (about 760 species), Angophora (10) and Corymbia (93). Corymbia wasn’t split until 1995. There is still controversy! (This information is from a magnificent 2012 book, Eucalypts: A Celebration by John Wrigley and Murray Fagg.)

The name Corymbia, by the way, is a botanical term chosen because of the way the flowers present – a terminal arrangement forming a hemispherical dome (corymb).

The large ‘nuts’ of the red-flowering gum are popular with floral artists. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The tree will grow to a rounded specimen of about 9m in a temperate climate with low summer rainfall and low humidity.

The world’s largest single-trunk specimen of Corymbia ficifolia is claimed to be in Hamilton, New Zealand at nearly 19m high and a trunk girth of 6.8m. It is believed to be 111 years old. See more details at the NZ Tree Register.

The large nuts on Corymbia calophylla are credited with being the inspiration for May Gibbs (1877-1969) when she created her gumnut babies for the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories that have now achieved ‘iconic’ status in Australia. Read more at the May Gibbs website.