A Voice in International Orchid Conservation


The impact of research at Selby Gardens is felt far beyond Sarasota. Our program of orchid conservation by propagation was described at the First International Orchid Conservation Congress, held this past September in Perth, Australia.  Selby Gardens prepared one of the 30 posters on display during the 4-day meeting.  The 1 x 1.5 meter color posters were viewed by 132 delegates (orchid growers to research scientists) from 21 countries.

                In my presentation on the poster, I explained that the Selby Gardens propagation program emphasizes native Florida orchids and IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red Book listed species.  Fieldwork and hand pollination of native orchids takes place in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, east of Naples, Florida.  The 80,640-acre preserve in Collier County has a mixed subtropical-tropical flora unique in North America.  Famous for its 50 species of orchids (including the ghost orchid), the Fakahatchee also boasts rare ferns and bromeliads growing in swamp lakes, marl prairies, hammocks, and cypress domes.  With a state permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Selby Gardens volunteer Mike Plecas collects seed capsules and propagates them aseptically in flasks.  From the native species now growing in flasks, many plants will be donated to the Orchid Conservation Committee, Inc., and other nonprofit groups for re-establishment in approved wild areas.

            Dr. Dale Jenkins, Selby Gardens Research Associate and former Director of Ecological Programs at the Smithsonian Institute, leads the ex situ (off-site) conservation of IUCN Red Book orchids.  By comparing the orchids listed as extinct, endangered, vulnerable, or rare in the wild with plant records of living orchids at Selby Gardens, he has identified 91 listed species growing at the Gardens: 1 species extinct in the wild, 22 endangered, 38 vulnerable, and 30 rare in the wild.  After hand-pollination in a Selby Gardens greenhouse, horticultural staffers send capsules to a private lab for germination.  These plants will be distributed to other botanical gardens and institutions for ex situ conservation.  I also was able to introduce Orchid Conservation, a new publication from Selby Botanical Gardens Press. 

            The Congress was hosted by Kings Park & Botanic Garden.  Sponsors were The Orchid Specialist Group (OSG), Species Survival Commission (SSC), IUCN,  American Orchid Society, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, and the Australian Network for Plant Conservation.  The roster of 65 speakers included the following keynoters:  Mark Chase on Orchid Phylogeny; Phillip Cribb on Orchid Conservation – Setting the Scene; Peter Wyse Jackson on Plant Conservation – The International Imperative; Steve Hopper on Australian Orchid Conservation; and Alec Pridgeon on  Taxonomy for Conservation.  The Congress included two field trips to observe native orchids in situ (on-site) and an Orchid Conservation Techniques Workshop.

            Delegates concurred on the concept of integrated conservation, using orchids as flagship species (the furry-cuddly factor) that leads to collateral conservation.  The large number of young delegates suggests a renaissance in orchid conservation.  Fire was seen as an emerging threat to epiphytic orchid survival, as changing global weather patterns and ecosystem disruption reduces rainfall in many areas.  Although global orchid trade consists of 97% live plants artificially propagated, still half a million wild plants are traded each year. 

            The Draft Resolution of the IOCC: Orchids represent a flagship plant group known from all vegetated continents on earth.  They are high profile in human culture, science, and horticulture yet one third of the 30,000 species are under threat.  The delegates to the IOCC are committed to achieving meaningful conservation of orchids by recommending to the IUCN adoption of the Draft Global Strategy for Conservation of Plants setting conservation targets for orchids based on the generic plant targets in the Draft Global Strategy, i.e. that by 2010, 90% of threatened orchids are in ex situ collections, fifty percent of these orchid taxa are in recovery programs, no orchid taxa are threatened by unsustainable harvesting and that every child aware of plant diversity.  Furthermore that the Orchid Specialist Group is funded to facilitate and track the implementation of these conservation actions and to coordinate and report on actions to the next IOCC.

- Wes Higgins, Ph.D. -