Most of our local orchids flower in spring, but there are a few exceptions. Hyacinth orchids do it in high summer, usually after rain, as with this one which I saw yesterday.
The common name of this plant seems a misnomer to people who know other hyacinth orchid species as well. They are all blotched!
This one is more blotched than the others, though. Notice that the blotches extend to the flower stem (the pedicel and ovary) which doesn’t happen with the others.
It’s always a pleasure to find a hyacinth orchid, as they can’t be grown. They occur only where they’ve planted themselves, and I’ve never heard of one choosing to come up in a garden.
This plant was living in the typical habitat of the species, which is open eucalypt forest with a light grassy understorey. Most of its life is spent completely underground. It only puts up flowering stems once a year, when it’s time to try for babies. A flourishing plant might put up three or four stems.
This flower has its "tongue" hanging out, hoping for a native bee or wasp to be tricked by its bright colours into thinking it will find nectar here so it can be roped into the job of pollination. Like most orchids, it's a cheat. It has evolved to look like a nectar-producing flower, but makes no nectar. It takes a lot of energy to make nectar, and this plant is a miser where energy is concerned.
Hyacinth orchids don’t do leaves. They are often described as parasites or saprophytes (the latter meaning meaning plants that get their nutrition and energy from decaying matter under the ground). rather than the usual method, which is to make it in leaves by photosynthesis.
Saprophytes are not the same thing as parasites. Parasites live on other living organisms. Saprophytes live on plant material which is already dead. They are usually bacteria and fungi, and are an important part of the growth and decay cycle of their ecosystem, breaking down dead material and making it available for re-use by other plants.
Strictly speaking, hyacinth orchids are neither parasites nor saprophytes. They are myco-heterotrophs, which means that they attach their roots to a mycorrhizal fungus which is the true saprophyte, living on dead eucalypt roots. Most myco-heterotrophs live in partnership with their fungi. They take some nutriment from them, but also photosynthetise, making carbohydrate which they share with their fungus hosts. Despite their lack of leaves, hyacinth orchids do photosynthise. Those green stems are doing the job. But considering the short life of the flower on what is a perennial underground plant, I suspect that the fungus is the partner that does most of the work.
(A few plant species of myco-heterotroph are 100% parasitic. These are the ones that have no green on them at all, such as or local bootlace orchid, Erythrorchis cassythoides.)
To grow hyacinth orchids, all we need is some land with an open eucalypt forest ecology (complete with its cycle of growth and decay), some relatively open grassland, and the right species of fungus. Nature does it without apparent effort, but we humans have not managed to copy it.