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Australian Plants online

On the Brink - 7

A series on Australian Plants at risk in their natural habitat.

Phaius tancarvilliae

Phaius is a small genus of about 20 species of evergreen terrestrial orchids, three of which occur in Australia. P.tancarvilliae is found from north Queensland to north-eastern New South Wales, usually in wet areas. Although commonly called 'swamp lily', it is not a lily but a member of the orchid family (orchidaceae).

Phaius tancarvilliae   

Photo: Keith Townsend
Click for a larger image

The species is listed as endangered under the Australian Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This listing means that the species faces "a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future, as determined in accordance with the prescribed criteria". Under the ROTAP* coding system it is classified as "3CV-". One of the threats facing this species is illegal collection by orchid enthusiasts.

P.tancarvilliae is a robust plant with elongated, oval shaped leaves up to about a metres or more long and flowering stems which may reach 2 metres. The flowers are the largest of any Australian orchid and occur in clusters of between four and twelve. The individual flowers are about 100mm diameter and are reddish brown and white in colour. Flowering occurs in spring.

Unlike most Australian terrestrial orchids, P.tancarvilliae is easily grown. It does best in a large container with a potting mix which is high in humus content. It prefers a position in semi-shade.

Note: there has been some conjecture over the spelling of the specific name of this species. The following explanation by A.W.Dockrill in the journal Australian Plants, December 1970 issue has been used as the basis of the spelling adopted here. However, it is understood that the NSW Royal Botanic Gardens has reverted to the old spelling "tankervilliae":

"Information from the Kew Herbarium has shown that the above spelling ("tankervilliae") is incorrect. The species was named after Tankerville but obviously Banks realised that this name could not be properly Latinised so he called the plant Limodorum tancarvilleae. As this spelling was deliberate and not an unintentional error, those later workers who altered the spelling to tankervillei, tankervilleae or tankervilliae erred. Modern convention has decreed that endings of "eae" should be altered to "iae"......."

* ROTAP: Rare or Threatened Australian Plants (1988). J.D.Briggs and J.H.Leigh, CSIRO Division of Plant Industry (Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Special Publication No.14).


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Australian Plants online - September 2003
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants