Saturday, 12 April 2014

Orchids back on track

Orchids and railways don’t mix.

In the late 1800s, when railroads first arrived in Florida, the plants were among the first resources exploited. Literally millions of orchids were picked to be despatched north as potted plants. Now, after more than a century of logging and harvesting, it’s rare to find them growing in the wild.

Researchers at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden hope to change that with their Million Orchid Project, encouraging flowers to bloom amid the hustle and bustle of city life.

According to a heart-warming report, “the basic concept is to get these orchids out into the community,” says Carl Lewis, Fairchild’s director. “We’re trying to get them into some of the most population-dense urban areas here in South Florida.”

The plan will start with three orchid species, cultivating from seeds in the Botanic Garden’s micro-propagation lab.

Volunteer scientists and others with lab experience will grow the orchids from miniature seeds. Currently, there are racks upon racks full of bottles, each containing dozens of tiny orchids.

Transferring them from one container to another as they grow ‘is a bit like building a ship in a bottle’, which is a wonderful image. Volunteers use forceps to move each little shoot, one by one.

Later, the orchids are moved to a greenhouse. In time, and commencing this spring, the team will start inserting them into trees throughout Miami. The idea is based on a similar orchid project in Singapore. Not all will survive, but there are high hopes that some of Florida’s most beautiful native plants will return to the wild.

Caption: The Florida Butterfly Orchid is one of the species that volunteers are hoping to reintroduce. Photo by Andrea Westmoreland.

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