Saturday, 15 November 2008


Doryanthes palmeri (April 2008)


Some gardens need big plants. This is a giant. When ‘The journal of horticulture, cottage gardener and country gentlemen’ of 1876, described Doryanthes it warned that it was a plant for the conservatory “as the flower stem grows to a great height before the flowers expand”. Perhaps there were a few Dukes amongst the readership, for this plant would require a most noble glasshouse. Flowered at Kew in 1882. It was exhibited at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886.

At Monserrate it is used as an accent planting at the foot of a monstrous Araucaria, just alongside an equally immodest clump of giant Strelitzia. It is a plant well adapted to the local climate with a number of clumps spread throughout the garden.

Doryanthes palmeri has leaves that can reach three metres in length. The flower spike is said to reach 5 metres, but arches down under its own weight. An Australian botanist describes it as a toothbrush?! Doryanthes excelsa is a (slightly) smaller plant. The flower spike is vertical. Walter Oates, head gardener at Monserrate in the 1920s, called it "a bowl of flowers".

Doryanthes excelsa (April 2008)

Recently reclassified into a family all of their own Doryanthaceae. The Botanical blurb describing the new group does not require much of a grasp of Latin to get the gist:

Plantae giganteae foliis in rosula maxima spiraliter aggregatis

The families of the Monocotyledons
Dahlgren, Clifford, & Yeo

Both species come from Australia. A place where I guess there is plenty of room! D. excelsa grows naturally in dry woodland on sandstone soils in NSW, whereas D. palmeri is found on exposed rocky outcrops in damper forests of coastal ranges of both NSW and Queeensland (no wonder it likes Sintra).

D. excelsa : details of inflorescence (April 2008)

Doryanthes excelsa Corrêa Trans. Linn. Soc. London 6: 211. 1802.

Doryanthes palmeri W. Hill ex Benth. Flora Australiensis: a description . . . 6: 452. 1873.

These plants are so distinctive the botanists seem to have left them well alone. Only Bailey tried to lump them together, reducing D. palmeri to a variety of its little brother.

Doryanthes excelsa var. palmeri (W. Hill ex Benth.) F.M. Bailey A Synopsis of the Queensland Flora 538. 1893. (Syn. Queensl. Fl.)

Dorothy English Paty (1805-36)
Gigantic lily - Newcastle Nov 6th 1835


Anonymous said...

Doryanthes excelsa is confined to New South Wales, mainly on Sydney Basin Sandstones, though with small outlying populations on different sandstones on the North Coast. D.palmeri clings to rhyolite cliffs in the very NE corner of NSW and adjoining southern Queensland.It exists in small,scattered colonies; there are only eleven known populations in NSW, but it enjoys a wider,though disjunct, east-west distribution over the border. The most accessable populations can be seen on cliff walks at Springbrook Plateau, a tiny wedge of high,wet land with fabulous rainforest including local endemics.

The arching flower stem of D.palmeri may be,amongst other reasons,an adaption to protect the reproductive parts from being dashed against the cliffs in the frequent summer storms characteristic of this area. They certainly are treading an ecological tightrope,unable to last in the fire-prone heath,eucalypt forest or warm temperate rainforest above, and unable to thrive in the shaded sub-tropical rainforest below the cliffs. Sadly, this plant is under threat from introduced weeds of the genus Ageratina.

Gerald Luckhurst said...

Ageratina is an introduced weed in Madeira too. So successful that the local name is "Abundancia". Both species of Doryanthes turn up occasionally in nurseries in Portugal. As small plants I have difficultry in figuring out which species I am buying - a long wait for the flowers.


Anonymous said...

I seem to remember that the very tips of the leaves of D.palmeri gathered into a somewhat yellowish cylindrical thickening, not so for D. excelsa...but this is not a rigorously tested observation!

Gerald Luckhurst said...

Thanks - I've noticed that, but is not always present - or gets knocked off. For now I'm assuming that palmeri has wider leaves. But it does not really matter both are magnificent landscape plants. One thin that I have noticed is that they need more water that I expected - you comments about proximity to Rainfrest areas helps to explain this.

D.A.Perry said...

I can see you have read my paper Anonymous! But to clarify a few points in this feed.
Both D. excelsa and D.palmeri have convolute then terete leaf tips. D. palmeri does indeed grow on in the montane heath and has adapted to fires. The arching inflorescences of D. palmeri are due to the weight of the numerous flowers (those with fewer flowers do not bend over) and not because it is avoiding getting smashed by storms!
D.A. Perry

Gerald Luckhurst said...

The flowerstems arching under the weight of flowers or remaining upright when few would perhaps explain why the Botanical Magazine show D. palmeri with an upright spike. I thought that it was a mistake based upon unfamiliarity and confusion with D. excelsa.