Australia’s southernmost tropical city, Rockhampton in Central Queensland, has just concluded its Spring 2021 Orchid Show. This annual event is not a large show by international standards, but there was a wide variety of high-quality flowering orchids on display.
Rockhampton is just inside the Tropic of Capricorn, so its climate is a mix of tropical and sub-tropical. What this means for orchid growers is that many species of tropical orchids that won’t flower in the warmer tropical lowlands further north (because the temperature range between day and night is not wide enough) can be flowered successfully in Rockhampton.
Central Queensland is also much dryer than the more humid wet tropical region of Far North Queensland, so Rockhampton growers get the best of both worlds in being able to grow both tropical and sub-tropical species and hybrids. That’s why there was such a big variety of orchids on display, the President of the Rockhampton Orchid Society, Jeff Bloxsom, told me.
The Grand Champion orchid of this year’s show was a magnificent specimen of Paphiopedilum esquirolei which originates from the highland regions around northern Thailand, northern Vietnam and the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. Some might describe this as a rare orchid, but as show organiser Jeff Glover informed me, rarity in the orchid world is subjective because what’s rare in some regions may be relatively common in others.
According to the IOSPE, Paphiopedilum esquirolei is an herbaceous humus epiphytic species found on steep north-east facing slopes above limestone caves between 800 and 1800 metres elevation, but other sources suggest that it’s also been found growing as a lithophyte (on rocks) and terrestrially.
There were quite a few other species of Paphiopedilum on display and winning prizes, as well as some magnificent specimens of Dendrobium and Cattleya species and hybrids. The ever-popular Phalaenopsis genera was well represented too along with many colourful intergeneric hybrids.
Most of the orchids pictured in this feature were prize-winning orchids, but there are some I have included simply because they were among my personal favourites.
Let’s start by having a look at some of the Cattleyas and related intergeneric hybrids because these are the orchids that tend to appeal most to those without any expertise in growing orchids, simply because they are so showy.
The Cattleyas weren’t the most represented genera at the show. That honour belonged to the Dendrobiums of which there were some magnificent specimens on display.
Let’s go back and have a look at some of the other Paphiopedilum orchids on display as this was one of the most well-represented genera at the show. They are commonly known as slipper orchids because of their prominent pouch, but orchid growers usually refer to them simply as “paphs”.
Although there were some excellent specimens of Paph species on display such as Paph. rothschildianum and Paph. philippinense on the tables, it was the hybrids that won the prizes.
The other genus that was well represented after the Dendrobiums was the ever-popular Phalaenopsis. This genus is found naturally in both tropical and sub-tropical climates and it’s a popular genus with growers throughout the world because of their long-lasting flowers.
In the tropics many Phalaenopsis species require a cool house to bring them into flower because daytime temperatures about 25 or 26 degrees can inhibit flowering, but growers in the Rockhampton region on the edge of the tropics don’t have that problem.
There was a wide variety of other genera on display at the show to which the images below will attest. What was consistent throughout the show was the high quality. Many of the prize-winning orchids at the Rockhampton show were as good as I’ve seen at international shows.
Editor’s note: David Astley was the photographer for the popular book ‘The Essential Guide to Growing Orchids in the Tropics’ by Dr. Chia Tet Fatt published in 2012 by Marshall Cavendish International. The 2nd edition of the book is now available from The Book Depository with free shipping worldwide.