Waxlip orchid is attractive to bees

ATTRACTORS: The bright flowers of the waxlip orchid do a great job drawing in bees. You can expect to find them in bushland across the Ballarat district every spring.

ATTRACTORS: The bright flowers of the waxlip orchid do a great job drawing in bees. You can expect to find them in bushland across the Ballarat district every spring.

The flowers of the waxlip orchid could be regarded as one of the signs of the main wildflower season.

They appear mostly from around mid-September in northern parts and a week or two later in slightly cooler, damper forests south of the Divide.

Like most native orchids, the waxlip attracts its own special insect pollinators.

These are small native bees. As they visit seeking nectar, pollen from the flower is attached. It’s then carried by the bee to the next flower, and so on.

Native bees tend to be attracted to blue or mauve flowers such as waxlips, blue stars and, in a garden situation, lavenders and others.

Waxlip flowers are about 30mm across and are usually single, on stems 15–30cm tall. Occasional pale flowers are found, as well as rare white ones.

Waxlips can be locally common. They are reliably found in bushland across the Ballarat region every spring. Today’s photo was taken a fortnight ago north of Clunes. Numerous pink fingers orchids were growing nearby, and a few of the much scarcer swan greenhood.

There are a few similar mauve or blue “finger orchids”, but the waxlip has the largest flower and the tallest stem. It also has a distinctive, bicoloured mauve and white centre part (labellum).

COOTS LEAVE LAKE

For a few years, there have been 1000 or more coots at Lake Wendouree.

Almost all of them departed rather suddenly with the heavy rains, along with other Lake Wendouree waterbirds including most musk ducks, black ducks and hoary-headed grebes. Hardly a swimming waterbird could be seen early this week.

Where and why have they gone? With rains filling wetlands all over eastern Australia, it’s hard to guess where all the coots have gone. Perhaps to far western Victoria, to  recently filled lakes around Edenhope. But they may have journeyed into the Riverina or even further inland. There will be extensive habitat for them all over eastern Australia.

There, they will find a completely different range of fresh plant food, perhaps flooded grasses, while aquatic plants regrow. Their departure from the lake does not necessarily mean it was unsuitable, but probably rather that they have simply moved on to “greener pastures”.

Despite their usual abundance, coots seldom breed at Lake Wendouree. They find suitable breeding places on the numerous, more isolated lakes and swamps.