For many orchid enthusiasts, hunters, and photographers, it is something of a pilgrimage to go and see the Queen of Sheba in the wild. And its easy to see why. These spectacular orchids have the most vivid, eye-watering shades of purples, reds and yellows that come together in the most harmonious and unique way. Each individual has a slightly different combination of colours and spots.
Queen of Sheba belong to a group of orchids collectively known as sun orchids. They are so called because of their tendency to only open flowers on warm, sunny days. This is the case with the Queen of Sheba, although because they flower from early spring they do open when it is a little cooler.
There are 3 types of Queen of Sheba, which share a similar appearance. Unfortunately for those of us on the east coast, they all occur in Western Australia. While we were in WA for fieldwork recently, we took a short detour to visit Tozers Bush Camp on the road to Bremer Bay, east of Albany. There, the owners have a large population of the eastern Queen of Sheba and run daily tours for the numerous orchid enthusiasts who come to see them. [Tozers Bush Camp is an awesome little place...I will devote a whole post at a later date to the many wildflowers we saw there.]
Although the eastern Queen of Sheba is not classified as threatened, well-known populations are nevertheless at risk from trampling by overzealous enthusiasts and photographers, or even worse, illegal digging of plants by people ignorant to the requirements of terrestrial orchids. If orchid plants are dug up they are highly unlikely to survive as they have very specific requirements. There are also hefty fines for those caught doing it.
Although they are absurdly colourful, Queen of Sheba orchids are very hard to locate. When the flowers aren't open, or they are not yet flowering, they are completely inconspicuous. The spiral leaves are almost impossible to differentiate from surrounding grasses or sedges. The final photo shows one in situ at the Stirling Ranges - its obvious now, but imagine if the flower was closed...