Rare sub-Antarctic orchid flowers far from home

The grooved helmet orchid from Macquarie Island.
The grooved helmet orchid from Macquarie Island. (Photo: RTBG)

The critically endangered grooved helmet orchid (Corybas sulcatus) has flowered for the first time away from its native home of Macquarie Island.

The orchid was collected by botanist Natalie Tapson from the sub-Antarctic island earlier this year, and transplanted in its new home at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) in March.

Listed as being critically endangered, the small orchid reaches just 1–2 cm in height. It is only found on Macquarie Island, making it one of the rarest species on Earth.

“The population is very small, so it’s important to secure the species with seed collections in case of threatening events such as drought,” Australian Antarctic Division biologist Dr Dana Bergstrom said.

The orchid will be used by the RTBG’s Native Orchid Conservation and Research Program to understand the conditions in which it can survive and flourish.

Dr Tapson, who spent three months on Macquarie Island collecting seeds for the RTBG’s Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre, also collected 12 other plant species, including the critically endangered Macquarie Island cushion plant (Azorella macquariensis).

The collection will help secure the plant diversity of the entire island’s flora.