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Member Snapshot: Jan & Margaret Mohandas

This month, our Field Trips and Conservation Officer Jan Mohandas together with his wife Margaret share with us their passion for native orchids and photographing them in our Australian bush.

Q: How did you come to be an orchid enthusiast?
Jan & Margaret: One of us (Jan Mohandas) participated in research studies on Medicinal plants which were used in indigenous medicine, in India as well as in Australia. This work was carried out in India on an orchid called Vanda roxburghii and in Australia on an orchid called Liparis reflexa (Cestichis reflexa). This initial contact with native orchids provided a lifelong interest in Native orchids and almost a passion to search for orchids everywhere.


We have also been bush walking in National parks and in Wilderness areas for many years as members of a number of bushwalking clubs in Sydney. This provided us with a great opportunity to see native orchids in the wild. In many locations we came across different kinds of orchids including some common orchids, like Rock Lily – Dendrobium speciosum and Rat tail orchid – Dockrillia striolata which were easily recognisable. We had no idea about many other orchids we saw during our bush walks and that prompted us to join the A.N.O.S. Sydney. It has been a journey of learning more and more about the native orchids of Australia. This also helped us to look for them on our bush walks and take their photos.

Q: Do you mainly take photos of native orchids or do you also grow some?
Jan & Margaret:
We mainly take photos of native orchids in the bush in National parks, in Wilderness areas and in Local reserves. We also have a large collection of native orchids in an orchid house. There are also large specimens of native orchids, Dendrobium speciosum, Dockrillia pugioniformis, Dendrobium gracilicaule and Dockrillia striolata growing on a Jacaranda tree in our backyard. We usually have a big display of Dendrobium speciosum and Dendrobium kingianum (both pink and white) on one side of our driveway during spring time.

Caladenia picta - Wentworth Falls

Pterostvlis revoluta - neat Bathurst

Q: How often do you do your photo safaris and mainly what areas do you visit?
Jan & Margaret:
This happens very frequently and quite often very suddenly when we hear from friends or contacts that an orchid which we have been waiting to see has just started to flower. One has to get there as soon as possible due to the fact that many native orchid flowers do not last long. If it is missed, it may be necessary to wait for another year. This has happened to us on many occasions.
We travel a lot to various locations in Australia looking for orchids; over the last few years, we have been to almost all the states and territories in Australia. Most often we go to Blue Mountains, Barrington tops NP (National Park – Ed.), Myall Lakes NP, Southern Highlands, Royal NP, Nowra; Cowra, Nelson Bay and Canberra. We love to go to Tasmania at least once a year, usually for a month.

Q: What was the most memorable photo shoot you’ve experienced?
Jan & Margaret:
There have been many memorable photo shoots we have experienced. The most memorable one is when we finally got to the location, there was a water board sign posted warning us not to enter the area along with cost of about $10,000 if found within the restricted area. This made it difficult for us to access this location. Then we saw a photo of this orchid posted on Facebook. 


We contacted the person who took that photo, but it also did not help as we found out that the photo was taken in the previous year and that orchid did not flower last year due to the fact that its habitat (within a private property) was too wet during the flowering season. We were told it required dry conditions to flower. However, that photographer was happy to let us into her property near Clarence town to enter and take photos when it flowers next time; probably later this year. Realising that it had flowered in that area, we made many visits to nearby locations in a number of National parks and reserves.
On one occasion after we almost had given up hope, Margaret wandered into an area which did not look like a place for that orchid. Surprise! Surprise!!! Many of that very beautiful Rustyhood, which is on the front page of the book “Orchids of the Hunter Region – by Elisabeth Burton” were there! Although due to their very small size, they were hard to spot. It is called Taree Rustyhood, Pterostylis chaetophora (Oligochaetochilus chaetophora). We were both very delighted. We had been to that area a couple of times before, but did not wander into this very special habitat.

Q: What was the worst mistake you ever made taking photos of native orchids?
Jan & Margaret:
We still do this mistake quite frequently, forgetting to smell the orchid either before or after taking photos. After the excitement of spotting the orchids and taking the photos, we remember afterwards that we had not tried to smell the orchids. It is very important to smell the orchid flowers as it gives a strong clue for the correct identification of the species, especially when other species of the same orchid genera look almost identical except for the smell. It is an essential habit to cultivate, but we have not been able to practice regularly yet.

Q: What would you advise novices thinking of or just starting out doing bush walks and taking photos of native plants in general?
Jan & Margaret:
As there are many lightweight compact cameras available now, always carry one of these cameras in the pocket or handbag whenever going for a bushwalk. Compact cameras with GPS are very helpful as it would enable anyone taking photos to go back to the same spot again. It is also useful to take many photos in different angles to get all the segments and to include leaves as well as the habitat. Accompanying an experienced photographer is an excellent idea. A small group of enthusiasts can be very good to comb through an area with several pairs of eyes as many of the terrestrial orchids are very small and difficult to spot. Scanning through the bush with eyes trained over a period time is necessary to successful spot some of the very small orchids. An ability to discern your eyes to see the orchids and disregard the other flora surrounding the orchids can only be acquired by constant practice and diligence. Once that habit is developed, it becomes a pleasurable experience and almost becomes an addiction for wanting more and more of it. Better photos become possible with continuous practice and using better cameras like DSLR and using macro lens as well as flash units. There is so much information available on the Internet especially through youtube videos on how to use cameras, macro lenses and flash units. Joining a Photography club is also very useful.


Chiloglottis diphylla green Royal National Park

Q: Which are your favourite native orchids and why?
Jan & Margaret:
We love all native orchids and do not have a particular group as our favourite. We do particularly enjoy looking for Greenhood orchids as they vary a great deal in their size, colour and appearance. They are also often very challenging to take photos which show the various segments well.

Corybas hispidus - Lithgow

Adenochilus nortonii  - Wentworth Falls 

Q: What do you like about our club A.N.O.S. Sydney Group and what activity do you enjoy (or look forward to doing) the most?
Jan & Margaret:
It is great to be part of an Orchid Society like Australian Native Orchid Society (ANOS) Sydney, dedicated to give opportunity to new members to mingle with other members who have immense knowledge about various aspects of Australian Native orchids. 

This provided opportunity for when we joined the club, to learn about the various native orchids of Australia (Total is about 1900 now), their distribution, special requirements for their habitats, cultivation, nutritional requirements, susceptibilities, need for conservation, prevention of habitats from urban demands, preservation of vulnerable species, naming requirements and protection of their environment in general. Membership and attendance of monthly meetings also provided opportunity to gain information about many facets of Australian native orchids from those members who had acquired a wealth of knowledge about them. Joining A.N.O.S. Sydney branch also gave us an opportunity to see many native orchids on display and learn the names of species and genera.


The activity we are really looking forward to doing, is field trips with other members who are interested to do some walking in National parks and local reserves to look for native orchids. We also love to show how to take photos of Native orchid flowers which are very tiny, using Macro photography. It does help to watch someone who has been taking photos of small orchid flowers in the bush. Often disturbing those orchid flowers can trigger sudden fold back of the labellum and change the normal appearance of the flowers.
Taking special care of the surrounding areas is necessary to prevent any damage to the habitat. Information about the location of any vulnerable orchid species is usually only given out to those who are careful about the preservation of the habitat.

Q: What is on your photo shoot and conservation wish list?
Jan & Margaret:
One of the orchids in our photo shoot is an orchid which is only in a particular location which is pretty awkward as it is in a Water board restricted are in the Southern Highlands. That orchid is a Sun orchid called Thelymitra kangaloonica. Many others have managed to get the photos of this orchid and we are trying to find out a way of seeing this orchid and taking some good photos so that we don’t have to go back there again.  It is disappointing to realise that there is no easy way of convincing Water Board and similar authorities to give special permission to people whose genuine interest is only in getting short access to these special habitats in order just to take photos or orchids which are very special and precious and these orchid enthusiasts are also interested in protecting their important habitats.


Our conservation wish list is to find a mechanism to convince the local councils to provide recognition and protection to certain areas in the suburban reserves as special habitats for Native orchids. We have a list of orchids from a number of suburban reserves in Carlingford, Beecroft, Pennant Hills, Turramurra and Berowra which we would be happy to co-ordinate with A.N.O.S. Sydney group to approach the local councils in order to proceed with some positive approach in the conservation of these orchids.


Q: Is there anything else you may want to add?
Jan & Margaret:
One of us (Jan Mohandas) is hampered by a recent mishap while walking back from Mount Feathertop in Victorian Alps. It was a 22 km walk with almost 900 m ascent and descent and in very rough terrain, but with outstanding views all around on a sunny Autumn day. A collision with a rock just before the finish, probably looking around for orchids while walking, resulted in a broken bone in the left big toe requiring a double metal splint to immobilise the area for 6 weeks. Until the bone fracture is healed, any walking around in the bush was not encouraged. This meant it was not possible to organise any field trips for orchid hunting in the bush at least until next week. Furthermore, during a 3 month long period there was no rain in the Sydney region and most of the orchids which usually appear during that period, did not come out. Now it is a different story after we had plenty of rain recently. Orchids are appearing everywhere. We hope to organise 2 field trips, one in May and another on in June. Our wish is to take groups of orchid enthusiasts from ANOS to locations which are not too far to travel from Sydney and see a number of flowering orchids and take photos. Prior to doing that we both will be travelling to different locations to assess the situation and make sure about the best locations for flowering orchids.


We are planning to be away in Western Australia for an extended period with the main purpose to see and photograph as many native orchids as possible in areas north of Perth, in areas south of Perth, in areas along the Bibbulman track from Pemburton to Albany and in areas around Stirling range, Mt Barker and Esperance.  One of the native orchids we hope to see in WA is the Queen of Sheiba, a very colourful Sun Orchid.

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