Genus Corybas

Corybas Salisb.,
Parad. Lond. (1805) t. 83

Very small sympodial terrestrial or rarely epiphytic plants arising from a small tuber. Stem short, one-leaved. Leaves not sheathing at the base, glabrous, persistent, convolute, heart-shaped to almost round, often with silvery veins, herbaceous. Inflorescence terminal, carrying a single flower. Flowers medium-sized, very large for the plant. Lateral sepals free or connate at the base, very different in size and shape from the dorsal sepal, which is often hood-like. Petals free, sometimes similar to the lateral sepals, but often quite different. Lip with two very short spurs or without spurs, not mobile. Dorsal sepal and the lip together forming a pitcher-shaped structure. Column-foot absent. Pollinia 4, mealy, caudicles absent, stipe absent, viscidium present.

India, southern China, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Pacific islands, east to New Zealand. About 100 species; in New Guinea c. 45 species.

Usually in ground moss in sheltered, not too shady places with little undergrowth, predominantly in the mountains, but also in the lowlands. Sometimes epiphytic on mossy tree trunks.

One of the most enchanting and characteristic of all orchid genera. From a tuber the size of a small pea a short stem with a single leaf is produced, which carries a disproportionally large flower. Often beautifully marked with red and purple, the flower is shaped more or less like a helmet or a pitcher. The species are often quite difficult to identify, especially as the striking colour patterns of the flowers disappear in preserved specimens. Identifying specimens of this genus from New Guinea is at present an almost impossible task, Van Royen's monograph notwithstanding. It seems as if, contrary to the general pattern seen in New Guinea, most species are highly local in their distribution. Undoubtedly, many still await discovery. Their cultivation is certainly not impossible, lack of availability being the main obstacle to would-be cultivators. Although it appears that even the New Guinea species have a dormant stage in which they survive as tiny underground tubers for a few months, they should not be allowed to dry out for too long, and are best kept in a loose mixture of living moss and leaf mould.