Caleana major care infographicThe Caleana Major plants are small orchids normally found growing in the woodlands, the coastal lands, or the wild swampy areas in the eastern and southern parts of Australia.

The plant is known for its remarkable flower with petals that resemble a flying duck during the flowering season. The dramatic blooms are enough to have the plant immortalized on Australia’s postage stamp in 1986.

What Is a Caleana Major?

The Caleana Major is a small terrestrial orchid that can be found in the coasts of Australia. The orchid produces flowers that are smooth, dark reddish-brown blooms with a purplish tint that are highly suggestive of flying ducks. The flowers of the Flying Duck Orchid are waxy and shaped exquisitely.

Caleana Major Care

Caring for the Caleana Major is quite tricky and can nearly be impossible to grow in any garden. This is because the orchid plant is considered a protected plant under Australian law and is not for sale.

– Water

The Caleana Major grows in the open wild forests of Australia and depends on the climate for water sources. Australian weather mostly dictates the watering schedule of the Flying Duck Orchids. Due to this factor, the plant can be found in arid areas where water is adequate for it to flourish and flower.

– Light

The Caleana Major can be found in exposed locations where levels of sunlight exposure are high. The Flying Duck Orchid can be found in the clearings of open dry forests in small colonies or in sparse groups where the sun exposure lasts for several long hours.

– Soil

The Caleana Major prefers sandy, gravelly soils where the water can drain quickly. This keeps the plant’s tuberous root system hydrated but not overly wet. The Flying Duck Orchid has a symbiotic relationship with the soil in Australia.

Soil Adjustment in Caleana Major


The fungal component of the soil is crucial to the growth and survival of the species. This fungal component is unique to Australia, as it comes from the specific organic decaying matter of the eucalyptus woodlands.

– Temperature

The Caleana Major is usually found in the coastal regions of Australia, where it can be found in relatively humid woodlands and wet swamplands. The Flying Duck Orchid requires no special care in temperature, as it depends mainly on Australia’s natural climatic conditions. However, like most orchids, this terrestrial tuber cannot stand cold and die if exposed to cold temperatures.

– Humidity

The Caleana Major is like most orchids. This means it requires a relative amount of humidity to keep it alive and thriving. The level of humidity is highly dependent on its local surroundings, which are mostly composed of coastal forests and swamplands.

– Rest Period

The Caleana Major is a perennial, terrestrial orchid, and herb. The perennial nature causes it to rest slightly after the flowering and fruiting period. The leaf and flower stalk may eventually wither in dormancy while the tubers and runners spread out and propagate.


The Flying Duck Orchid is naturally pollinated by male sawflies, who often mistake the modified labellum for a female sawfly. The pollination process yields a dense capsule that may contain up to 500 Caleana Major seeds, which eventually open and fall to the ground.

The minute seeds eventually sprout into seedlings, but the survival rate is highly dependent on the environmental factors of its habitat. Repotting Caleana Major seedlings is also highly discouraged.


Once the labellum is touched by an insect, it turns downwards. The insect falls into the reproductive system of the flower. Upon emerging, the insect visits other flowers, and this is where pollination occurs.

Pollination in Caleana Major


This method of reproduction is called pseudocopulation, where a male insect attempts to mate with a flower that highly resembles its female counterpart. While doing so, the male insect spreads pollen among other flowers.


The Caleana Major orchid is considered vulnerable due to the threat of destruction of its local habitats, which may lead to its extinction. Threats to their existence include wild animal grazing, pine forestry activities, land clearance operations, weed area competition, forest fire frequency, and forest fire management.

The presence of specific fungal soil components and natural pollinators is challenging to mimic in cultivation. Even the most skilled gardeners have been able to replicate the Caleana Major orchid’s natural reproductive cycle.

Endangered Plant

Since The Caleana Major is a protected plant, commercial and personal cultivation is highly discouraged. Under Australia’s list of vulnerable plants, the orchid is on the edge of becoming endangered due to the destruction of its native habitats.

Cultivation attempts have been made, but the results have not been so successful, as the cultivated plants progressively deteriorate and perish. Plucking the Flying Duck Orchid from its native soil is considered prohibited and can cause severe consequences for the perpetrators.


Features of the Caleana Major

– Name Origins

Based on the physical attributes of the flower, the Caleana Major is frequently referred to as the Flying Duck Orchid, the Duck Orchid, and the Large Duck Orchid.

The Caleana Major was formally described by Robert Brown in 1810 from a sample that he collected from Bennelong Point, Australia. The name “Caleana” is in honor of George Caley, an avid botanical collector, and the epithet “major” connotes the seemingly large size of the flower. The description was then published in Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae et Insulae Van Diemen, an extensive list of the Australian flora

– Size

The Caleana Major can grow to a height of eight to 20 inches from a tuber. A single narrow reddish leaf can often be found growing from the base of the plant. A slender, wiry stem produces one to five flowers in an unusual shade of reddish-brown with a waxy sheen.

The perennial tuberous herb attracts various insects, such as male sawflies, that act as pollinators.

– Leaves

The leaf of the Caleana Major is flat, narrow, and lance-shaped. The single supine leaf usually is four inches long. The dark green leaf is usually liberally dotted with purplish-pink spots and is folded lengthwise.

The leaf emerges from the tuberous root system of the plant, which is hidden under the ground. The leaf eventually withers once the flowering season arrives, making it deciduous.

– Roots

The Caleana Major roots are fine, coming out from a dark red elliptical ovoid tuber. Tubers eventually get replaced, called droppers, and form at the end of long runners, which can seem like roots.

– Flowers

The Caleana Major has extremely remarkable flowers that resemble ducks in flight. The blooms are from a single, wiry maroon flowering stem. The single stem can produce one to five flowers almost an inch long, with each flower having a small, leaf-like bract.

The orchid produces flowers that are smooth, dark reddish-brown blooms with a purplish tint that are highly suggestive of flying ducks. The flowers of the Flying Duck Orchid are waxy and shaped exquisitely.

Floral Shape

The dorsal sepal is narrow with a pointed bulbous tip, and the two lateral petals echo its size and shape. The dorsal sepal faces down and sits against the column of the flower. The two lateral sepals and the two petals usually point downwards and sideways, respectively.

Floral Shape of Caleana Major

A modified petal is very common among orchids. With the Caleana Major, the central labellum is the modified petal. The central labellum resembles an insect, which the plant uses as an attractant for pollinators.


The labellum is shaped like a flask, narrow near the end, and covered with tiny raised glands. The small textured glands give off pheromones, which are chemical attractants designed to tempt insects.

Flowering Season

The flowering season of the Flying Duck Orchid is usually around September to January in Australia.

Fruits eventually follow after the flowering season, where hard pod capsules may contain up to 500 Caleana Major seeds.

– Habitat

The Caleana Major is often found in its native habitat, which is Australia. The various eucalyptus woodlands, heathlands, and wild shrublands are frequent hosts to this remarkable orchid. Normally found in the coasts of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria, the Flying Duck Orchid can also be found at higher altitudes.

The Caleana Major orchid is uniquely Australian and has grown acclimated and accustomed to its native environment. They can be found widespread in open forests and woodlands. The plant itself may be hard to spot, as its size and coloring often allow it to blend into its surroundings.


Does Caleana Major need winter rests?

Caleana Major benefits from a winter rest period to promote blooming in the following season.

What is the best potting medium for Caleana Major?

The best potting medium for Caleana Major is a well-draining mix of orchid bark, sphagnum moss, and perlite.

Should I trim Caleana Major roots?

It’s generally not recommended to trim Caleana Major roots as they play a crucial role in nutrient absorption.


The Caleana Major orchid is Australia’s famed flower due to its uncanny resemblance to a beautiful dark purple duck in flight. This perennial, terrestrial orchid is one of the most desired plants for many orchid enthusiasts.

Let’s review what we’ve learned so far about the Flying Duck Orchid:

  • The Caleana Major is a native orchid plant found exclusively in Australia.
  • The Flying Duck Orchid is considered a protected plant, and removing it from its native environments is extremely discouraged.
  • The Caleana Major is tough to grow in cultivation, as it requires unique soil components and specific pollinators to survive.

The remarkable flowers of the Caleana Major orchid capture the imagination and fancy of many orchid admirers. The resemblance to gorgeous aubergine ducks in flight makes this a desired sight.

Protected by Australian law, orchid lovers can still appreciate the flowers through various images online. As for the more adventurous ones, a trip to the Land Down Under is a must to see the Flying Duck Orchids in person!

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