Plants of
South Australia
Corybas unguiculatus
Pelicans Helmet-orchid,
Small Helmet-orchid,
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Regional Species Conservation Assessments per IBRA subregion.
Least concern
Near threatened
Critically endangered
Data deficient
Coober Pedy
Mount Gambier
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Botanical art

Kath Alcock paintings: 4

Prior names

Anzybas unguiculatus

Corysanthes unguiculata

Common names

Pelicans Helmet-orchid

Small Helmet-orchid



Corybas from the Greek 'korybas' one of the dancing priests of the goddess Cybele in Phrygia, or a drunken man, an allusion perhaps to the flower's resemblance to the priest's head-dress, or to the stoop of a drunken man. Unguiculatus from Latin meaning meaning clawed, referring to the lower part of the dorsal sepal which is abruptly narrowed into a claw-like base.

Distribution and status

Found on Kangaroo Island, southern Mount Lofty Ranges and the lower South-east in South Australia, growing in small colonies in damp sand in stringy bark forest, coastal scrubs, woodland and low, heathy vegetation on winter-wet sandy or peaty soils. Also found in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Native. Uncommon in South Australia. Common in the other states.
Herbarium regions: Southern Lofty, Kangaroo Island, South Eastern, Green Adelaide
AVH map: SA distribution map (external link)

Plant description

A terrestrial orchid with a single egg-shaped, heart-shaped or round leaf to 30 mm long and 20 mm wide, greyish green on the upper surface and reddish on the lower side. Flower single reddish purple to reddish black which leans downward almost touching the ovary, to 15 mm long. Flower stem to 20 mm long with a bract about 5 mm long just below the ovary. Dorsal sepal is spoon-shaped and bulbous, to 16 mm and 12 mm wide and smaller than the labellum. Lateral sepals are white, narrow linear, to 10 mm long with the petals similar but only half as long. Labellum to 15 mm long, entirely purple and tube-shaped with the opening pointing downwards and forwards with a few small teeth on the edge. Flowering between June and August. Fruits are tiny brown papery ellipsoid capsule. Seeds are very small  with a long cylindrical translucent brown mesh-like covering.

Seed collection and propagation

Collect seeds between July and September. Collect fat capsules as they start to dry and turn brown. Pods will split and release the seeds quickly and will require monitoring. To increase the chances of collecting mature pods, it is recommended that a small breathable bag (ie. Organza bags) be used to enclose the developing capsules. Place the capsules in a container that will hold fine seeds and leave to dry for a few weeks or until the capsule split. Then carefully hold the capsule and tap it gently to release the seeds. Store the seeds with a desiccant such as dried silica beads or dry rice, in an air tight container in a cool and dry place, a refrigerator or in liquid nitrogen.