by Susan Taylor
Originally published in BellaOnline
Native orchids around the world are in trouble as a result of collection from the wild, habitat destruction, and increasingly climate change. Orchid societies and conservation groups are working to slow this by reintroducing seedling orchids back into the wild where they previously grew. This work has been aided due to the fact that it is now possible to germinate seeds in flasks. It is illegal to take any orchid seed without permissions since most of them are considered endangered, but with proper paperwork and help from local governmental conservation agencies some good work is being done.
Growing orchid seed in flasks has allowed conservationists to start returning wild orchids to areas where they used to grow, but have virtually disappeared. In the wild perhaps one of every 100,000 orchid seeds will germinate, grow and live long enough to produce seed. The seeds are like dust and can be carried by the wind great distances. But, since they are so small they do not contain food to sustain the growth of the nucleus and require specific fungi to sustain them in a delicate balance between the two. If the fungi grow too fast they kill the seed and eat it; if the seed grows too fast and there are not enough fungi
to sustain it, the seed dies. It is an amazing natural process!
When grown in a flask in the proper medium, up to 90% germination can be achieved. The plants are then treated like any other orchid and grown to planting size in flasks and then transplanted into community pots and then individual pots. There are a number of organizations such as the Native Orchid Conference which promote orchid conservation and provide a forum for those interested in the subject to gather.
Orchid societies around the world are using their expertise to help re-introduce native orchids by growing seedlings and then placing them back into areas where they once grew. Since these efforts are still new, the results have been mixed. But with more and more people trying different ways to do it we are hopeful that trial and error will produce some success stories that others can emulate.
There are some really interesting stories, both on conservation and habitat destruction – which is one of the main causes of the loss of native orchids around the world – at the Orchid Conservation Coalition website.