Friday, 14 March 2014

Secret life of fungus

Researchers are using fungus as a secret ingredient to save threatened spider orchids in Australia.

The rosella spider orchid  (Caladenia rosella) and the wine-lipped spider orchid (Arachnorchis oenochila) are both at risk. Labs are using fungus to assure that each of the species survive. A team from the Royal Botanic Gardens, nine landcare groups and the Nillumbik Shire Council searched the area to collect the wild orchid samples.

Because of the delicate nature of the work Neil Anderton, a volunteer from Royal Botanic Gardens, used dental tools to remove samples less than a centimetre in size from just below the soil line, reports a recent issue of Pollinia. 

The sample is cleaned and the fungi removed. They are then allowed to grow in a petri dish. Orchid seeds that were collected 12 months earlier and stored in a freezer at -20F degrees were then scattered over the fungi and jelly.

Mr Anderton said that it will take at least two years before these orchids could be planted into the wild. Data suggests that there are less than 100 rosella spider orchid plants left in the Nullumbik Shire.

The rosella spider orchid is listed as endangered in Victoria, while the wine-lipped spider orchid is listed as vulnerable.

There are fewer than 100 rosella spider orchid plants spread over four populations in the Nullumbik Shire, while the largest number of wine-lipped orchid plants on one site is at St Andrews, where about 800 plants grow.

Recreating wild conditions for the orchids to propagate in protected conditions is a challenge due to the complex interactions between the fungi and the orchids being pollinated by wasps. 

Caption: Several Caladenia species from Pelloe's West Australia Orchids

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