Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Endangered
Listing and Conservation Advices Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Pterostylis saxicola (Sydney Plains Greenhood) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2008fb) [Conservation Advice].
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan not required, included on the Not Commenced List (1/11/2009).
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Other EPBC Act Plans Threat abatement advice for predation, habitat degradation,competition and disease transmission by feral pigs (2013) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2014p) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Policy Statements and Guidelines Draft survey guidelines for Australia's threatened orchids (Department of the Environment, 2013b) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
State Government
    Documents and Websites
NSW:Sydney Plains Greenhood - profile (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2005kt) [Internet].
NSW:Pterostylis saxicola (an orchid) - endangered species listing (NSW Scientific Committee, 1997) [Report].
State Listing Status
NSW: Listed as Endangered (Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (New South Wales): August 2014 list)
Scientific name Pterostylis saxicola [64537]
Family Orchidaceae:Orchidales:Liliopsida:Magnoliophyta:Plantae
Species author D.L.Jones & M.A.Clements
Infraspecies author  
Reference The Orchadian 12(3) (1997) 132, fig.
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Formerly known as Pterostylis sp. E. (Harden 1993; NSW Scientific Committee 1997), the Sydney Plains Greenhood was first collected in 1803. It was previously regarded as a form of Illawarra Greenhood (Pterostylis gibbosa) but is now recognised as a distinct taxon (NSW DECCW 2005kt; NSW Scientific Committee 1997).

The Sydney Plains Greenhood is a tuberous, terrestrial herb, with scape to 25 cm tall (Jones & Clements 1997; James 1997). It has reddish brown and green translucent flowers on a slender stem to 35 cm tall (NSW DECCW 2005kt). It has concave, curved lateral sepals and a fairly broad labellum with setae to 0.7 mm long on basal lobe and with 5–9 pairs of marginal setae (Bishop 2000). Plants have 5–8 rosette leaves (to 2.5 cm x 1.1 cm), and 2–4 closely-sheathing stem leaves (NSW DECCW 2005kt).

The Sydney Plains Greenhood is a narrow endemic restricted to the greater Sydney region of NSW, and occurs between Picnic Point and Picton (Jones & Clements 1997; James 1997). In 1997, it was known from five locations: near Yeramba Lagoon in Georges River National Park, Ingleburn, Holsworthy Military Area, Peter Meadows Creek and St Marys Towers near Douglas Park (James 1997; NSW Scientific Committee 1997). The largest known population occupies an area of 20 x 15 metres (NSW Scientific Committee 1997).

From 2004 to 2006, Mount Annan Botanic Garden obtained Sydney Plains Greenhood seed by hand-pollinating potted specimens. This seed was used to isolate the mycorrhizal fungus required for germination, conduct experimental work on encapsulation of the seed and fungus (Sommerville et al. 2008), test the feasibility of storing soil samples for later fungal isolation (Sommerville et al. 2009) and generate a larger collection of adult plants. As a result, Mount Annan Botanic Garden now holds collections of seed and mycorrhizal fungi for the Sydney Plains Greenhood and also maintains a collection of potted plants (NSW DECCW 2010r).

In 1995–96 James (1997) undertook the Western Sydney Urban Bushland Surveys focused on the Cumberland Plain of western Sydney which included surveys of the Sydney Plains Greenhood.

The total known Sydney Plains Greenhood population is approximately 500 individuals, and individual populations are small. Up to 40 individuals have been recorded in Georges River National Park, but in 1996 only a few plants were found (NSW Scientific Committee 1997).

The Georges River National Park population is within a conservation reserve (NSW Scientific Committee 1997).

The Sydney Plains Greenhood grows in heathy forest, sclerophyll forest or woodland in shallow sandy soil over flat sheets of sandstone rock shelves above cliff lines and also in crevices between sandstone boulders; often in close proximity to streams. The plants grow at altitudes of 10–60 m as scattered individuals or in small groups and loose colonies (Jones & Clements 1997; Jones 1999 pers. comm.; NSW DECCW 2005kt).

Like other Pterostylis species, the above ground parts of the plant whither and die following seed dispersal and the plant persists as a tuberoid until the next year (NSW DECCW 2005kt). The Sydney Plains Greenhood flowers between September-December (Bishop 2000; Jones & Clements 1997) and is probably dependent on climatic conditions (NSW DECCW 2005kt).

Sommerville and colleagues (2008) studied a method for encapsulating both seed and fungi in alginate beads (known as encapsulation-dehydration) for the Sydney Plains Greenhood. They tested the effect of storage duration and temperature on fungal recovery and germination potential in vitro, and recorded survival for seedlings subsequently transferred to potting mix. Storage at 23 °C significantly reduced fungal recovery and germination for both species after only 3 months, whereas storage at 4 °C significantly reduced fungal recovery after 6 months. Storage for 6 months at and -196 °C to -18 °C had no significant effect on the fungal recovery and germination percentages of either species. All beads transferred directly from in vitro culture to potting mix resulted in the establishment of at least one seedling, and production of a healthy tuberoid, when transferred near the commencement of the natural growing season. The encapsulation-dehydration method may have a practical application for use in ex situ conservation of other terrestrial orchids, as well as their mycorrhizal fungi.

Sommerville and colleagues (2009) conducted a study to determine the potential for preserving fungal symbionts by storing site soil. Soil samples were removed from a potted collection of Sydney Plains Greenhood and subjected to storage at different temperatures and humidity levels. They were then tested for their ability to initiate germination after periods between 0–12 months. Storage duration was found to be the only factor significantly affecting fungal survival, with the ability to initiate germination declining steadily over the 12 month period. More research is required to determine optimal storage conditions for maintaining fungal viability.

The following table identifies differences between the Sydney Plains Greenhood and closely related species (Bishop 2000; NSW DECCW 2005kt):

Sydney Plains Greenhood Illawarra Greenhood (Pterostylis gibbosa) P. chaetophora
Lateral sepal (outermost part of flower) dark red-brown shiny, decurved with incurved free points strongly backswept, having filaments no more than 4 mm long and flat in the united part lightly backswept with filaments at least 15 mm long
Labellum (middle petal) broad obovate, dark red-brown which is broadly grooved centrally and with a very large basal lobe more than 3/5 as wide as it is long and with very short setae on the basal lobe and fewer than 5 pairs of marginal setae half as wide as it is long with numerous setae about 1 mm long on the basal lobe and up to 12 pairs of marginal setae

The localised habitat requirements mean that entire populations could be eliminated by events such as track creation, treefall or a single inappropriate fire. Part of one population has been destroyed by a track created by horse riders (NSW Scientific Committee 1997). Threats include (NSW DECCW 2005kt):

  • habitat loss due to clearing for development
  • habitat degradation related to unrestricted access and grazing
  • unauthorised collection
  • weed invasion
  • inappropriate fire regimes.

The overall strategy of the Cumberland Plain Recovery Plan (NSW DECCW 2010r) is to provide for the long-term survival of threatened biodiversity of the Cumberland Plain. In addition to the general list of actions, species-specific actions have been identified for the Sydney Plains Greenhood following a targeted threatened flora survey in late 2007 identifying the very small number of known sites containing this species. Sydney Plains Greenhood recovery actions from the plan include (NSW DECCW 2010r):

  • Coordinate the implementation of a monitoring program in consultation with landholders to monitor population dynamics and response to management.
  • Conduct additional surveys for this species within the Holsworthy and Wilton areas.
  • Investigate flasking or seed banking of existing populations.

A minimum fire interval of 7 years and maximum of 15 years are recommended for the Sydney Plains Greenhood (RFS 2004). Fire intensity and season of occurrence should also be considered when undertaking ecological burns (NSW DECCW 2010r).

Recovery actions identified by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW DECCW 2005kt) include:

  • Where developments or activities are planned in potential habitat, targeted survey should be conducted at an appropriate time of year and appropriate protection measures should be implemented if the species is present.
  • Introduce measures to prevent habitat degradation related to unrestricted access to habitat.
  • Undertake appropriate weed control activities when necessary.
  • Protect known habitat areas from clearing and disturbance.
  • Effective management of this species will require greater understanding of the role of fire in population persistence.
  • Survey and monitor known populations to gain greater insight into the current status of the species.

Management documents relevant to the Sydney Plains Greenhood are at the start of the profile. Other relevant management documents include:

  • Threat Abatement Plan for the predation, habitat degradation, competition and disease transmission by feral pigs (AGDEH 2005p).
  • Cumberland Plain Recovery Plan (NSW DECCW 2010r)
  • Threatened Species Hazard Reduction List - Part 1 - Plants, Codes of Practice (RFS 2004).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Grazing pressures and associated habitat changes Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Pterostylis saxicola (Sydney Plains Greenhood) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2008fb) [Conservation Advice].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Indirect Ecosystem Effects:Restricted geographical distribution (area of occupancy and extent of occurrence) Pterostylis saxicola in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006tj) [Internet].
Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human induced disturbance due to unspecified activities Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Pterostylis saxicola (Sydney Plains Greenhood) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2008fb) [Conservation Advice].
Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Recreational Activities:Habitat degradation associated with recreational activities such as horse riding Pterostylis saxicola in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006tj) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Grazing, tramping, competition and/or habitat degradation Sus scrofa (Pig) The threat posed by pest animals to biodiversity in New South Wales (Coutts-Smith, A.J., P.S. Mahon, M. Letnic & P.O. Downey, 2007) [Management Plan].
Natural System Modifications:Fire and Fire Suppression:Inappropriate and/or changed fire regimes (frequency, timing, intensity) Pterostylis saxicola in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006tj) [Internet].
Residential and Commercial Development:Housing and Urban Areas:Habitat loss, modification and fragmentation due to urban development Pterostylis saxicola in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006tj) [Internet].
Species Stresses:Indirect Species Effects:Low numbers of individuals Pterostylis saxicola in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006tj) [Internet].

Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage (AGDEH) (2005p). Threat Abatement Plan for Predation, Habitat Degradation, Competition and Disease Transmission by Feral Pigs. [Online]. Available from:

Bishop, A. (2000). Field Guide to the Orchids of New South Wales and Victoria. Sydney, NSW: University of New South Wales Press.

Harden, G.J. (ed) (1993). Flora of New South Wales, Volume Four. Kensington, NSW: University of NSW Press.

James, T. (1997). Urban Bushland Biodiversity Survey. Stage 1: Western Sydney: Native Flora. Hurstville: NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service.

Jones, D.L. (1999). Personal Communication.

Jones, D.L. & Clements, M.A. (1997). Characteristics of Pterostylis gibbosa R.Br (Orchidaceae) and Description of P. saxicola, a Rare New Species from New South Wales. The Ochadian. 12(3):128-135.

NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW) (2005kt). Sydney Plains Greenhood - profile. [Online]. Available from:

NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW) (2010r). Cumberland Plain Recovery Plan. Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Sydney.

NSW Scientific Committee (1997). Pterostylis saxicola (an orchid) - endangered species listing. [Online]. NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, Hurstville. Available from:

Rural Fire Service (RFS) (2004). Threatened species hazard reduction list: Part 1-Plants. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 12-May-2008].

Sommerville, K.D., J.P. Siemon, C.B. Wood & C.A. Offord (2008). Simultaneous encapsulation of seed and mycorrhizal fungi for long-term storage and propagation of terrestrial orchids. Australian Journal of Botany. 56(7):609-615.

Sommerville, K.D., M.M. Heslewood, J.P. Siemon & C.A. Offord (2009). Banking site soil for the germination of terrestrial orchid seed collections. Seed Science and Technology. 37:222-228.

EPBC Act email updates can be received via the Communities for Communities newsletter and the EPBC Act newsletter.

This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Pterostylis saxicola in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Tue, 23 Sep 2014 21:08:56 +1000.