Corybas cryptanthus


Corybas: helmet flower

Common Name(s)

Hidden Spider Orchid, Icky

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 - Not Threatened


2012 - Sp


Corybas cryptanthus Hatch



Flora Category

Vascular - Native

Structural Class



Corybas saprophyticus Hatch; Corysanthes cryptantha (Hatch) Szlach.; Molloybas cryptanthus (Hatch) D.L.Jones et M.A.Clem.


Endemic. Three Kings, North and South Islands


Coastal to montane. In dense shrublands and tall forest. Confined to deep, partially decomposed leaf litter where it is easily overlooked except when fruiting. Current records suggest a preference for growing under kanuka (Kunzea ericoides (A.Rich.) Joy Thomps.) and Nothofagus Blume stands. It often grows with Corybas cheeseman (Hook.f. ex Kirk) Kuntze.


Saprophytic, rhizomatous, subterranean, orchid lacking chlorophyll and flowering usually buried within leaf litter, only rarely with flowers exposed. Fruiting stem greatly elongated, exposed and held well above the ground. Rhizomes, stems, and flowers hyaline white, usually flecked with red, purple or brown, rarely without any colour. Tubers scarcely evident, minute, globose, partially obscured by leaf-scales. Rhizomes horizontal, extensive, succulent, without roots, frequently and laxly branched, buried within leaf mould and litter, up to 1 mm diameter and 100-120 mm long. Leaves reduced to minute deltoid scales spaced at about 10 mm intervals along rhizome, the one at the base of the flower stem usually broadly ovate and larger. Flowers solitary. Floral bract > to >> ovary. Perianth usually hyaline white to pale pink, more or less streaked with red or purple, sometimes completely white. Dorsal sepal 10-14 mm long, narrow-lanceolate, acuminate; lateral sepals longer than dorsal sepal and labellum, filiform, often protruding from leaf litter. Petals similar to lateral sepals but distinctly shorter. Labellum up to 15 mm long, auriculate at base, the margins meeting behind the column and touching for about half the labellum length, central portion much thickened and papillose, the distal portion greatly expanded, more or less deflexed, usually not abruptly but sometimes so, with the free margin upturned, coarsely and abundantly laciniate, laciniae sometimes branched, margins finely ciliate. Fruiting capsule ovoid, hyaline, flecked with red or purple; terminal on a greatly expanded, erect stem up to 280 mm tall; capsule initially down-turned, at maturity either horizontal or erect.

Similar Taxa

Extremely distinctive - the saprophytic, subterranean growth habit, succulent, wide-spreading and branching rhizome, absence of chlorophyll, greatly reduced scale-like leaves and minute tubers, and the distinctive translucent almost crystalline flower with the coarsely toothed labellum apex readily separate this species from all other indigenous orchids. Because of its growth habit this species is easily overlooked, and it is most often found when in fruit. Because it often grows in the same habitats as Corybas cheesemanii which may also have its leaves buried within leaf litter it is easily overlooked. From C. cheesemanii it is easily distinguished by the absence of chlorotic leaves, and by the fruiting capsule which when it emerges is down-turned not erect, and at maturity is mostly held horizontally. The fruiting stem of Corybas cryptanthus is translucent-hyaline and usually red or purple flecked, that of Corybas cheesemanii is white and opaque.


June - October

Flower Colours

Red / Pink,White


October - April

Propagation Technique

As a saprophytic species this orchid is virtually impossible to cultivate. It should not be removed from the wild


Not Threatened but probably warrants listing as sparse

Chromosome No.

2n = 34

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Where To Buy

Not commercially available


Considerable research is underway to investigate the validity of the segregate genera split from Corybas R.Br. by Clements et al. (2002). Whilst much of that work has yet to be published, on advice from Australian Orchidologists Peter Weston and Stephen Hopper (pers. comm., July 2011, November 2014), all of the segregate genera recognised for New Zealand by Jones et al. (2002) are returned to Corybas (see also Garnock-Jones 2014; Lyon 2014).



Fact Sheet by P.J. de Lange (1 January 2005). Description adapted from Moore and Edgar (1970)

References and further reading

Garnock-Jones PJ. 2014: Evidence-based review of the taxonomic status of New Zealand's endemic seed plant genera. New Zealand Journal of Botany 52: 163-212.

Jones, D.L.; Clements, M.A.; Sharma, I.K.; Mackenzie, A.M.; Molloy, B.P.J. 2002: Nomenclatural notes arising from studies into the Tribe Diurideae (Orchidaceae). The Orchadian 13: 437-468.

Irwin, J.B. 1954. Corybas saprophyticus. Wellington Botanical Society Bulletin 27:22-23

Lyon, S. P. 2014: Molecular systematics, biogeography, and mycorrhizal associations in the Acianthinae (Orchidaceae), with a focus on the genus Corybas. PhD Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison. USA.

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

Whitaker, T. 1957. Corybas cryptanthus (saprophyticus). Wellington Botanical Society Bulletin 29: 3

This page last updated on 16 Jan 2016