Dendrobium foelschei (Queensland)
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Dendrobium foelschei is reported by many authors as occurring on parts of Cape York Peninsula, particularly on the western fall. To occur on Cape York, Dendrobium foelschei would have to persist with very little geographic separation from Dendrobium canaliculatum var. canaliculatum, which is well-established as occurring throughout Cape York Peninsula and into the Torres Strait Islands. Based on observing how extensively var. tattonianum and var. canaliculatum intergrade at the junction of their distributions, it seemed unlikely to me whilst foelschei was simply considered a variety of Dendrobium canaliculatum that this could occur. I did therefore not given much weight to observations of Dendrobium foelschei (Dendrobium canaliculatum var. foelschei) from Queensland, and considered them likely as sightings of atypical, individual plants as occurs in any wild populations. A droopy flower a Dendrobium foelschei does not necessarily make.
On a trip to Cape York Peninsula in September, I observed a population of flowering Dendrobium in the upper Dalhunty River catchment. Note that on the same trip I had already observed populations of typical Dendrobium canaliculatum var. canaliculatum both south and north of this point – caramel, thickly textured flowers. So I was surprised to observe all of these upper Dalhunty River plants having a thin white and yellow flower (somewhat similar to var. tattonianum colouration). Inflorecences were gently arching and flowers slightly pendulous. They grew on both Melaleuca viridiflora and rather large Burdekin Plum trees on the ridgelines.
Closer examination of the flowers confirmed Dendrobium foelschei characteristics including narrow, rolled labellum with high, ‘hairy’ ridges and distinct purple disk on the labellum. The labellum's base colour was rather bright yellow and these stood out when flowers were viewed upside down. The racemes and flowers were more pendulous than other populations on Cape York (though not as pendulous as NT/WA Dendrobium foelshei). The plants themselves had long, thin leaves and the bulbs were relatively narrow.
In summary these plants are to my eyes more similar to Northern Territory plants than to populations of Dendrobium canaliculatum plants found elsewhere on the Peninsula.This same form is reported as common around Weipa and up the inland of Cape York to the Jardine River. Possibly, they are found as far south on the west coast as the Mitchell River / Kowanyama area (by some reports).
A lilac(ish) colour form of Dendrobium reported from some Torres Strait Islands is apparently Dendrobium foelschei (although the images I have of the lilac form are inconclusive to form). Across its range in Queensland, Dendrobium foelschei is found on the typical Melaleuca species, but is often more common on other trees, including reportedly on some small heathland bushes.
The evidence (including some preliminary genetic work) is that Dendrobium foelschei is found in the northern part of Cape York, and is widely reported from the Torres Strait Islands and into New Guinea. I a number of places the populations are in close proximity to Dendrobium canaliculatum yet no signs of intergrading (interbreeding) are apparent. It would not be surprising if Dendrobium foelschei and Dendrobium canaliculatum were found growing together in the northern part of Cape York.
This Queensland Dendrobium foelschei is extremely uncommon in cultivation as is NT/WA Dendrobium foelschei. Labelling of the few plants available generally doesn't distinguish. However it seems if you want the interesting colours (e.g. purple) plants from NT/WA Dendrobium foelschei breeding are required, whereas the Queensland plants may be the better for presentation of the flowers. I doubt it has ever been used in hybridising or flasked as a species. The Queensland variety of this species has some interesting and unique characteristics (e.g. the bright yellow base colour to the labellum) and flowers present significantly better than type form Dendrobium foelschei. Better clones of this species have horticultural potential and hopefully will be developed in the future.
For a discussion of the type form of Dendrobium foelschei (from the Northern Territory / Western Australia) please click HERE.