From little orchids big things grow

More than 6000 orchids from three endangered species will be propagated at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria in the coming years as part of an exciting new project which is protecting these majestic plants, also commonly known as the ‘Jewels of the Bush’.

Oaklands diuris orchid

Australia boasts over 1,800 species of orchids but many are facing a doubtful future without dedicated management. Around 17 percent of all threatened plants are orchids. They face a combination of threats including a complex biology which makes it challenging for them to reproduce.

The Sand-hill Spider-orchid (Caladenia arenaria), Crimson Spider-orchid (Caladenia concolor), and Oaklands Diuris (Diuris callitrophila) are three species currently listed as endangered in NSW. Those behind the Wild Orchids Project – a consortium which aims to preserve these species in the wild – have a 10-year plan to conserve these beloved native plants.

Dr Noushka Reiter who manages the Orchid Conservation Program at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, said their strategies include reintroduction of the threatened species which initially involves detailed study of the ecology of the plants.

“For orchids, at first we focus on their pollinators and mycorrhizal associations,” Dr Reiter said.

Crimson spider orchid flower (Caladenia concolor) is endangered in NSW“We need to understand the special symbiotic relationship each orchid has with its specific root fungi which delivers nutrients to the orchid. Without this knowledge we couldn’t propagate them in the lab.

“We’ve been lucky this year as our dedicated staff have managed to germinate hundreds of seedlings using mycorrhizal fungi, which is quite a detailed process!

“We firstly harvest the fungi and the seedlings from the sites where these orchids grow. We then use this fungi in the lab to germinate the seeds. The new orchids will boost the existing wild populations and will also help us establish new ones in 2018-21,” Dr Reiter said.

Pollination is also key to ensure the orchids continue to thrive in their new environment once they have been relocated.

“We have been fortunate to confirm the pollinators of each species of orchids last year and we will begin the task of determining the pollinators’ presence at potential reintroduction sites this spring,” Dr Reiter added.

Funded through the NSW Environmental Trust Saving our Species Partnership Grants, the project is a long-term joint effort. Murray Local Land Services, OEH, Department of Primary Industries and Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria are working alongside the Australian Network for Plant Conservation, Forestry Corporation of NSW and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The local community has also played an important role with the Friends of Woomargama National Park and Oaklands Country Women’s Association supporting the project over the past few years. Six volunteers also recently worked on seed germination counts.

Over the next decade the project will include the installation of fencing and other infrastructure, weed management, community education and monitoring of the orchid populations.

Orchids are among the most beautiful, mysterious and popular of all Australian native flowering plants, a testament to their unique flowers which bloom for only a few weeks of the year during spring.

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