Dendrobium kingianum

Distribution Map
Family: Orchidaceae
Distribution: Open forest from the Hunter river area of New South Wales to southern Queensland as a lithophyte or (occasionally) an epiphyte.
Common Name: Pink rock orchid
Derivation of Name: Dendrobium...from the Greek dendron, a tree, and bios, life, referring to the growth habit of many, but not all, species.
kingianum... after Captain Phillip Parker King, a Naval officer and friend of J.C Bidwill who named the species.
Conservation Status: Not considered to be at risk in the wild.

General Description:

Dendrobium is a large genus with around 1400 species spread throughout Asia and the Pacific. Australia has about 56 species, many of which are cultivated. Considerable hybridization has been carried out within the genus to produce improved horticultural forms and a number of naturally occurring hybrids are also in cultivation.

Dendrobium kingianum
Dendrobium kingianum - white
Pink and white forms of Dendrobium kingianum
Photos: Brian Walters

Major taxonomic revision of the Dendrobium group has occurred in recent years with many species being transferred to new genera. Some of these changes have been reasonably widely accepted (eg Dockrillia) while the status of others is less certain. Dendrobium kingianum has been transferred to the genus Thelychiton by some authorities but the earlier name is retained here until the taxonomic situation becomes more clear.

Dendrobium kingianum is usually a lithophyte (growing on rocks) but can sometimes be found as an epiphyte (growing on another living plant, but not parasitic in nature). Pseudobulbs are up slender, up to 35 cm long with a thick base. There are usually 3 to 6 thick leaves at the top of each pseudobulb. Flowers occur on stems from the top of each pseudobulb in racemes of 2 to 15 flowers per stem. They are usually pink to deep mauve but white forms are known. Flowers are seen from late winter to spring.

D.kingianum is a very variable species and a number of varieties of have been described. However, the status of these is dubious and in need of further research.

Dendrobium kingianum
A large plant of Dendrobium kingianum growing on a rock
in a suburban backyard

Photo: Jeff Howes

D.kingianum is popular in cultivation and is easy to grow in tropical to temperate climates. It can be grown on branches of trees or on rocks where it receives nutrients through the break down of leaf litter that accumulates around its root system. While the plant is establishing its root system, it may need to be fixed into position by wire or twine. Eventually new roots will form which will grip the substrate firmly. The plant should not be planted directly into soil as the root system is not adapted to constant moisture. It can also be grown as a container plant in a coarse medium such as pinebark chips. Glasshouse cultivation is not necessary except in colder climates as the plant is frost sensitive. It should not be grown in dense shade or flowering will be discouraged. Application of liquid fertilizer during the growing season (spring - summer) will promote healthy growth. Watering should be kept to a minimum during winter.

Plants can usually be obtained through specialist Australian orchid nurseries. The plant can be propagated by division of the clump but propagation by seed requires specialist treatment which is not really practical except for true orchid enthusiasts.

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