Thelymitra formosa


Thelymitra: woman's hat

Common Name(s)

Sun Orchid

Current Conservation Status

2012 - At Risk - Naturally Uncommon

Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB

Previous Conservation Status

2009 - At Risk - Naturally Uncommon
2004 - Sparse


2012 - EF, Sp
2009 - DP, EF


Thelymitra formosa Colenso



Flora Category

Vascular - Native

NVS Species Code


The National Vegetation Survey (NVS) Databank is a physical archive and electronic databank containing records of over 94,000 vegetation survey plots - including data from over 19,000 permanent plots. NVS maintains a standard set of species code abbreviations that correspond to standard scientific plant names from the Ngä Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plants database.

Structural Class



Endemic. North, South and Stewart Islands


Mainly found in lowland to montane wetlands, scrub and open forest. Occasionally colonises roadside banks.


Very stout, robust, usually solitary (sometimes colonial) orchid which at flowering is up to 0.8 m tall. Stem dark red-green or dark green (sometimes glaucous) stout, smooth. Leaf 100-400 x 10-20 mm, linear-lanceolate to lanceolate, usually dark green to red-green, channelled and finely ridged, rather fleshy (almost succulent) and thick, sheathing high up stem. Inflorescences 10-15-flowered. Perianth 9-13 mm long, light to dark blue, without stripes or spots. Sepals, petals and labellum similar, all narrowly-obovate. Column-arms flattened, more or less channelled, with yellow or orange fringes and cilia arising from margins, each arm projecting from inner face of side lobule, usually standing much taller than anther; post anther lobe shorter than anther, erect, margins yellowish red and more or less thickened into finger-like callii; side lobules taller than anther, pinkish or yellowish, fleshy, with subulate erect projections on margins and with similar or more elongated tubercles across the surface.

Similar Taxa

A very distinctive and singular species of Thelymitra. It has no obvious close relatives though sterile plants or those in bud have some similarity to T. ixioides Sw., from which they can be distinguished by their smooth rather than finely rough stems and overall dark-green to reddish green, rather than somewhat glaucous-green to silvery red-green leaves. When in flower the combination of pale to dark blue unspotted to striped flowers, distinctively flattened yellow or orange fringed/ciliate column-arms which project from the inner face of the side lobule are especially diagnostic of T. formosa. Thelymitra formosa is very robust orchid which is usually found as solitary plants, though on occasion it may found quite substantial colonies.


November - January

Flower Colours

Blue,Violet / Purple


December - March

Propagation Technique

Difficult. Should not be removed from the wild


An apparently naturally uncommon, biologically sparse species. Based on old herbarium specimens it does not appear to have ever been common at any particular location.

Chromosome No.

2n = 40

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Where To Buy

Not commercially available.

Notes on taxonomy

There is some uncertainty over the application of the name T. formosa - the type suite is largely another species T. hatchii L.B.Moore so further work on the status of plants referred to by the New Zealand Flora Series, Vol. II as T. formosa is needed. Description adapted from: Moore, L.B.; Edgar, E. 1970: Flora of New Zealand. Vol. II. Government Printer, Wellington.


Fact Sheet prepared for NZPCN by P.J. de Lange 14 April 2007. Description subsequently published in Rolfe & de Lange (2010).

References and further reading

Rolfe, J.R.; de Lange, P.J. 2010: Illustrated guide to New Zealand sun orchids, Thelymitra (Orchidaceae). Jeremy Rolfe, Wellington.

This page last updated on 13 May 2014