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Thelymitra: woman's hat
longifolia: long leaf
White Sun Orchid
Current Threat Status
2012 - Not Threatened
Previous Threat Status
2009 - Not Threatened
2004 - Not Threatened
Thelymitra longifolia J.R.Forst. et G.Forst.
Vascular - Native
Thelymitra alba Colenso, Thelymitra nemoralis Colenso, Thelymitra angustifolia Hook.f., Thelymitra aristata sensu Hatch nom. inv., Thelymitra forsteri Sw., Thelymitra grandis F.Muel. ex Benth., Thelymitra longifolia var. alba (Colenso) Cheeseman, Thelymitra longifolia var. forsteri (Sw.) Hatch, Thelymitra purpureo-fusca Colenso
Indigenous. Three Kings, North, South, Stewart, Chatham and Auckland Islands. Also on Norfolk Island.
Coastal to subalpine (up to 1200 m a.s.l.). Occupying a wide range of habitats from open ultramafic talus to dense forest. However, it is most common in shrublands. This species is extremely variable and it is likely that following taxonomic revision, a number of forms, some with distinct ecologies, may be formally segregated.
Terrestrial, tuberous, glabrous, spring to summer-green perennial herb, either solitary or in dense colonies of 4-20 plants arising through vegetative extension. Plant at flower up to 1 m tall (usually much less). Leaf solitary, erect, suberect or trailing the ground, very fleshy to subcoriaceous, deeply to weakly channelled and prominently ribbed longitudinally, 50-380 x 10-40 mm, green, dark green, reddish-green, reddish brown or yellow-green, lanceolate to linear-lanceolate, base closely sheathing, margins, surface and apex often disfigured by black spots and sometimes by prominent dark orange-brown rust pustules. Flowering stem stiffly erect, rather wiry, green, reddish green to brownish green. Bracts 1-2(-3), foliaceous, closely-sheathing, fleshy, of similar colour to stem and leaf. Raceme bearing (1-)5(-20) scented or unscented flowers. Flowers 8-18 mm diameter, externally red-green to dark green, internally white or very pale pink, segments spreading, widely spreading or scarcely opening, dorsal sepal slightly broader than laterals. Petals and labellum alike, narrowly ovate, subacute. Column up to 8 mm long, erect, basally brown or white grading to dark brown to almost black toward apex; column arms terete, mostly bent inwards such that they are lying more or less under post-anther lobe; cilia abundant, floccose (like cotton) or coarsely ciliate, white or cream, short and crowded in globose masses; post anther lobe overtopping anther, dark and smooth above middle, and usually yellowish on the semi-circular cucullate apex.
Most likely to be confused with T. colensoi Hook.f. and T. pauciflora R.Br., from both of which it differs by its usually white, sometimes pale pink flowers. From T. pauciflora it is readily separated by the broad, undivided, hooded column which usually completely encloses the cilia of the column arms. Smaller forms are separated from T. colensoi by their white flowers and broader, taller column which completely encloses the cilia of the column arms.
September - February
Main Flower Colour
Other Flower Colour
Red / Pink
October - April
Moderately easy to grow. Does well in a pot. Should not be removed from the wild. This species often naturalises into gardens adjoining indigenous vegetation. It is sometimes seen as a pot contaminant of commerical plant lines.
2n = 26
Where To Buy
Not commercially available.
At least three forms of T. longifolia are included here. One is usually associated with montane beech (Nothofagus Blume) forests. This is a small slender plant, which has a linear-lanceolate yellow-green leaf and usually a single, scarcely opening, self pollinating white flower. Another is a widespread variable plant with numerous flowers, which are unscented, and mostly only open on hot, still, sunny days. This form has column arm cilia that are distinctly floccose (like cotton wool). It is self pollinating and matches the type. The last form has numerous scented flowers, which open in sunny or cloudy weather, and coarse column arm cilia. This form is insect pollinated.
References and further reading
de Lange, P.; Rolfe, J. St George, I. Sawyer J. 2007: Wild orchids of the lower North Island. Department of Conservation, Wellington. 194pp.
Rolfe, J.R.; de Lange, P.J. 2010: Illustrated guide to New Zealand sun orchids, Thelymitra (Orchidaceae). Jeremy Rolfe, Wellington.
This page last updated on 26 Oct 2016