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Donkey orchids
Diuris corymbosa
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Orchidoideae
Tribe: Diurideae
Subtribe: Diuridinae
Genus: Diuris

Diuris, commonly known as donkey orchids, bee orchids, nanny goat orchids or pansy orchids,[2] is a genus of more than sixty species of flowering plants in the orchid family, Orchidaceae and is endemic to Australia, apart from one species endemic to Timor. The name "Diuris" refers to the hanging sepals but the common name "donkey orchid", derives from the ear-like petals common to all species. Many have mainly yellow flowers with darker markings and are thought to mimic nectar-producing flowers which open at the same time.


Orchids in the genus Diuris are terrestrial, perennial, deciduous, sympodial herbs, usually with a few inconspicuous, fine roots and one or two tubers lacking a protective sheath. The stem is short, erect and unbranched with a leaf-like cataphyll at each node. There are between one and ten grass-like leaves at the base of the plant.[3][4][5][6]

Labelled image

The inflorescence is a raceme with a few to many brightly coloured, resupinate flowers on a wiry stalk. The dorsal sepal is shorter but wider than two lateral sepals and forms a hood over the column. The long, narrow, lateral sepals hang like a pair of tails below the labellum. The petals are different from the sepals, having a narrow base with the main part widely expanded, in the form of donkey ears. As is usual in orchids, one petal is highly modified as the central labellum, differing markedly from the other petals and sepals. The labellum has three distinct parts with the central part folded and the lateral parts arranged on either side of the column, often spreading widely, sometimes with a scalloped or wavy edge. The column is short with narrow wings. Flowering time depends on the species but most species flower between September and November. One of the earliest to flower, D. brumalis flowers in June and D. emarginata sometimes flowers as late as January. The fruit which follows flowering is a thin-walled, dehiscent capsule containing up to 100 winged seeds.[3][4][5][6]

Taxonomy and naming[edit]

The genus Diuris was first formally described in 1798 by James Edward Smith and the description was published in Transactions of the Linnean Society of London. Smith did not nominate a type species.[7][8]

The common name "donkey orchid" refers to the ear-like petals.[3] The scientific name is derived from the Greek dis meaning 'double' and oura, 'tail', referring to the two narrow lateral sepals.[2]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Donkey orchids occur in all Australian states, but not the Northern Territory with one species (D. fryana) found in Timor. In New South Wales, most species grow among grasses in sclerophyll forest.[6] In Western Australia, most grow in moist places such as coastal swamps or near granite outcrops.[3] Donkey orchids usually grow as individual plants or in loose colonies and most occur at low altitudes, although D. monticola grows at up to 1,800 m (6,000 ft). Some species flower more profusely after fire and D. purdiei will only flower following a summer fire.[4] In fire-prone areas, the tubers lie dormant in the soil and are not harmed by bushfires.[3]


Donkey orchids are coloured like flowers that attract pollinating insects such as wasps, bees and flies but no Diuris produce nectar and very few have a scent. It is thought that Diuris species deceive insects by falsely advertising the presence of food and this hypothesis is supported by experiments on only one species, D. pardina.[4]



The following is a list of Diuris species accepted by the Plants of the World Online as of September:[9]

Natural hybrids[edit]

  • Diuris × fastidiosa R.S.Rogers 1927 (D. lanceolata × D. palustris)
  • Diuris × nebulosa D.L.Jones 1991 (D. aurea × D. punctata)
  • Diuris × palachila R.S.Rogers 1907 (D. behrii × D. pardina)
  • Diuris × polymorpha Messmer in H.M.R.Rupp 1944 (D. lanceolata × D. platichila)


  1. ^ "Diuris". Australian Plant Census. Retrieved 17 April 2023.
  2. ^ a b Brown, Andrew; Dixon, Kingsley; French, Christopher; Brockman, Garry. Field guide to the orchids of Western Australia : the definitive guide to the native orchids of Western Australia. Simon Nevill Publications. p. 200. ISBN 9780980348149.
  3. ^ a b c d e Hoffman, Noel; Brown, Andrew (2011). Orchids of South-West Australia (3rd ed.). Gooseberry Hill: Noel Hoffman. pp. 456–497. ISBN 9780646562322.
  4. ^ a b c d Pridgeon, Alec M.; Cribb, Phillip J.; Chase, Mark W.; Rasmussen, Finn, eds. (2001). Genera Orchidacearum, Volume 2, Orchidoideae (part 1). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 126–131. ISBN 0198507100.
  5. ^ a b "Diuris". FloraBase. Western Australian Government Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
  6. ^ a b c Jones, David L. "Genus Diuris". Royal Botanic Garden Sydney: plantnet. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  7. ^ "Diuris". APNI. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  8. ^ Smith, James Edward (1798). "The Characters of Twenty New Genera of Plants". Transactions of the Linnean Society of London. 4: 222. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  9. ^ "Diuris". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 19 September 2023.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Diuris at Wikimedia Commons