Thelymitra matthewsii


Thelymitra: woman's hat
matthewsii: after Mathews

Common Name(s)

Spiral sun orchid

Current Conservation Status

2012 - Threatened - Nationally Critical

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 - Threatened - Nationally Critical
2004 - Non Resident Native - Coloniser


2012 - EF, RR, TO
2009 - EF, TO, RR


Thelymitra matthewsii Cheeseman



Flora Category

Vascular - Native

Structural Class



Thelymitra daltonii R.S.Rogers


Indigenous. In New Zealand known only from the northern North Island where it is locally present around Te Paki. It appears to be extinct at its original New Zealand location on sandhills between Ahipara and Kaitaia. Present in Australia (South Australia and Victoria).


Coastal to lowland (0-200 m a.s.l.) in open clay pans, on old semi-stablised but sparsely vegetated sand dunes and in open, ultramafic outwash and gullies. Also found on recently exposed soils and sand blow outs within shrubland. Requiring open sites this species soon disappears when taller plants invade its habitat.


Terrestrial orchid up to 150 mm tall occurring as single plants or in small groups of up to 10 individuals. Leaves of three types; those of seedlings to juveniles 5-10 mm long, solitary, flexuous, not twisted, apex hooked; those of subadults 10-30 mm long, narrow of uniform width, spirally twisted, apex not hooked; those of mature plants 30-80 mm, broader at base, tapering, mostly linear, spirally twisted around stem, apex not hooked; sheath of adult leaves broad, finely puberulent, dark green to glaucous-green. Stem puberulent at base, terete, dark green to glaucous green. Inflorescence 1(-2)-flowered. Perianth 8-14 mm long, very dark purple-blue with darker veins. Sepals, petals and labellum alike, lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate, acute to shortly acuminate. Column short; anther exposed; connective prolonged; column arms more or less oblong, thick, fleshy; neither lobed nor ciliate, bright yellow; post anther lobe absent; small calli occasionally present across back of anther between bases of column arms. Capsule broadly ovoid 10-15 mm long.

Similar Taxa

A very distinctive orchid quite unlike any other indigenous New Zealand Thelymitra J.R.Forst. et G.Forst. The spirally twisted adult leaf through which the flowering stem protrudes is unique to this species in New Zealand, while the absence of a post anther lobe is shared only with the quite unrelated T. cyanea (Lindl.) Benth., which can be immediately distinguished from T. matthewsii by its requirement for acidic wetlands, absence of a spirally twisted leaf, and ribbon-like, spirally twisted rather than erect and fleshy column arms. No other Thelymitra in New Zealand has such deep purple (almost purple-magenta) flowers as T. matthewsii.


(July-) September (-October)

Flower Colours

Blue,Violet / Purple


September - December

Propagation Technique

Difficult. Should not be removed from the wild


Habitat loss and plant collectors have been the main cause for the decline and extinction of this species at its original New Zealand sites. It was rediscovered in the late 1980s in what are largely secure reserved sites. However, even there weeds such as Hakea spp. are a constant threat. It is also very vulnerable to trampling as it prefers open, somewhat unstable, erosion-prone soils. In Australia it is regarded as threatened (at least Vulnerable) and may be extinct in South Australia.

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Where To Buy

Not commercially available.

Notes on taxonomy

As of 2004 APNI list Thelymitra matthewsii as a synonym of the highly variable Australian T. spiralis (Lindl.) F.Muell. This decision is disputed by J. Jeanes (MEL) who is revising the genus. Jeans maintains that T. matthewsii is distinct from T.spiralis - NZPCN follow his advice but further research is desired.


Description adapted from Moore and Edgar (1970).

References and further reading

Moore, L.B.; Edgar, E. 1970: Flora of New Zealand. Vol. II. Government Printer, Wellington.

This page last updated on 19 Jan 2014