Monday, 2 September 2013

Fungus, the lifesaver

There is a secret ingredient that orchids need. OK, it’s fungus. A team of researchers and volunteers is using fungus as they work to rescue two threatened orchids in Australia.

Both the Rosella Spider Orchid and the Wine-lipped Spider Orchid rely on underground fungi to germinate. So, for those working to boost each species' chances of survival, the fungi need to be in ready supply in the laboratory.

A team from the Royal Botanic Gardens, nine landcare groups and the Nillumbik Shire Council travelled to Cottles Bridge and Panton Hill, north-east of Melbourne, to collect wild samples from the orchids.

The work is so finicky they need to use dental tools. Conservation volunteer Neil Anderton removed samples less than a centimetre in size from just below the soil line.

According to the report, the microscopic fungi are located in clumps known as pelotons in the tissue of each orchid species.

Once each sample is cleaned at the gardens' herbarium, experts isolate and remove the fungi before placing the material on a jelly-like culture in a petrie dish to grow.

The orchid seeds, collected 12 months earlier and stored in a freezer at -20 degrees, will then be scattered over the fungi and jelly. Growth should commence in a fortnight.

The seedlings are transferred to larger pots in a year's time and then graduate to cardboard Chinese take-away containers two months after that.

However, it could be two years more before the orchids could be planted in the wild and four or five years before the propagated plants flowered.

The Rosella Spider Orchid is listed as endangered in Victoria, while the Wine-lipped Spider Orchid is listed as vulnerable.

The project is back-up plan to ensure the future of the species.

Caption: Not a Rosella Spider orchid, but something rather similar and just as beautiful, the Candy Spider Orchid. 

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