Australian Tropical Rainforest Orchids

Acianthella sublesta

Northern Elf Orchid

Acianthella sublestus (Dockrill) D.L.Jones & M.A.Clem., Orchadian 14(7): 331 (Mar 2004).

Acianthus sublestus Dockrill, North Queensland Naturalist 23(110): 3, f. (1956); Acianthopsis sublestus (Dockrill) Szlach., Richardiana 3(2): 97 (June 2003). Type: Ravenshoe district, North Queensland, 16 Apr. 1954, W.W. Abell and W.G. McPherson s.n. (holo NSW).


Occurs in north-eastern Queensland where it is disjunctly distributed between the Atherton Tableland and Eungella west of Mackay.

Altitude: 700-1300 m.


Terrestrial herb forming small loose colonies. Tuber solitary, ovoid, fleshy. Leaf solitary, prostrate, basal, held above soil level, ovate, 1-2.5 cm x 0.5-2 cm, thin-textured, green on both surfaces, margins entire or deeply lobed. Inflorescence a terminal raceme, erect, 30-60 mm tall, green, fleshy. Flowers 1-12, resupinate, erect to porrect, 3 mm x 3 mm, green, short-lived. Dorsal sepal erect or recurved, linear, 3 mm x 0.5 mm. Lateral sepals free, obliquely deflexed, widely divergent, linear-lanceolate, 3 mm x 0.5 mm. Petals spreading or decurved, linear to lanceolate, 2.5 mm x 0.5 mm. Labellum porrect to deflexed, flat, oblong, 3 mm x 2 mm, apical margins with 5-7 coarse teeth. Callus a narrow plate extending the full length of the labellum. Column erect, linear, 2.3 mm long, curved forwards near the apex. Anther green, pink or purplish. Column foot absent. Capsules erect, ellipsoid, 8 mm x 2.5 mm, green, smooth.


Forms small localised colonies in sheltered locations in moist forests. Usually found in rainforests growing in accumulations of litter, but also colonising embankments, track margins and abandoned forestry tracks. The plants emerge in the later part of the wet season and die down in winter. The flowers are self-pollinating and the capsules swell rapidly and shed seeds within two weeks of flowering. Each flower lasts 2-3 days.

Highly localised.

Flowering period: March to May.


Due to its small size this species is often difficult to locate and the flowering period is brief. Plants are often more conspicuous in fruit than when in flower.

Name Changes

Until recently known as Acianthus sublestus. Also confused with A. amplexicaulis from southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. Also placed in the genus Acianthopsis.

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