The Sarcochilus genus is endemic to eastern Australia and New Caledonia. There are around 20 of these diminutive species with 16 of them coming from Australia. The common name is fairy orchid and they may be epiphytic (growing on branches or tree-trunks) or lithophytic (growing on rocks). In their native regions they are found in humid gullies and gorges and on the fringes of rainforests. The showy blooms take many forms and colours. Most flower in spring or summer and have short inflorescences. The lithophytes are mostly clump-forming types and are the main varieties under cultivation.
The well-named fairy bells or pink bells has the scientific name of Sarcochilus ceciliae. It grows to 20cm with a spread of 30cm and is a lithophytic species native to sunny dry areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales. The leaves are linear to lance-shaped, up to 10cm long and can be channelled with brown markings. The pink flowers are 6mm wide with the lip marked with yellow. They are produced on erect racemes to 20cm in spring and summer.
Also from south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales is Sarcochilus hartmanii. This variety has thick leaves and upright to arching sprays of round white flowers. Up to 25 flowers may appear on a single spray. They are 25mm wide with a tiny labellum and reddish brown markings in the centre. The flowers are produced in spring.
A more rare species which also flowers in spring is Sarcochilus serrulatus. This shade-loving epiphyte comes from northern Queensland and has short spikes of brick red to brown flowers.
The orange blossom orchid (Sarcochilus falcatus) is a striking epiphyte commonly found in the rainforests of eastern Australia. Up to 12 white to cream flowers are produced in late spring. The flowers may reach 35mm wide and have gold and purple markings on the labellum.
Sarcochilus fitzgeraldii grows in cool, heavily shaded locations in south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales. The white blooms have light pink to dark crimson spots or bands in the centre. The spikes have up to 12 blooms which may be 30mm wide. The flowers are produced in spring.
The little gem sarcochilus (Sarcochilus hilllii) occurs from subtropical coastal Queensland to south-eastern New South Wales. It has very narrow leaves and round, 12mm wide flowers in spring and summer. The flowers may be a crystalline white to pale pink.
There are now a number of hybridised and line bred fairy orchids. Lithophytic species can be easily grown in pots. Use a coarse mix of 2 parts medium-grade pine bark, 1 part pea-size gravel and a handful of perlite. These little beauties need at least 70% shade and humid conditions. They should be protected from frost and excessive heat. Keep them moist with high humidity and good airflow and they will give much pleasure to the home gardener.