World first germination method maps a road to recovery for critically endangered orchids

A partnership between the NSW Government Saving our Species program and research scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria has developed a world-first germination method to secure the future of three critically endangered orchids.

Wyong sun orchid (Thelymitra adorata), Wallarah

NSW Government Saving our Species Senior Project Officer Lucinda Ransom said with many of NSW’s native orchids at risk of extinction, the success of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria germination trial paves the way for conservation of threatened orchids in NSW and around the world. 

“There are almost 80 threatened orchid species in NSW. Without intervention, many of these beautiful species won’t survive for future generations to enjoy,” said Ms Ransom.

Royal Botanic Gardens Senior Research Scientist Dr Noushka Reiter said that orchids are notoriously difficult to germinate, with each species of orchid relying on a particular type of fungi in order to germinate.

“Identifying these fungi and the conditions under which they germinate the orchid seed has been the biggest challenge to these germination trials,” said Dr Reiter

“After two years of research, we’ve finally identified the germination techniques and specific mycorrhizal fungi required for propagation of these three critically endangered orchids– the Variable Midge-orchid (Genoplesium insigne), Corunastylis sp. Charmhaven and Wyong Sun-orchid (Thelymitra adorata)”, said Dr Reiter.

Royal Botanic Gardens Research Assistant Richard Dimon said the success of the germination trial will help to create insurance populations for these critically endangered orchids.

“This is the first time that these orchids have been grown symbiotically with their mycorrhizal fungi successfully anywhere in the world,” said Mr Dimon.

“It’s very exciting because we believe these methods will lead to saving several other endangered orchids from extinction” said Mr Dimon.

The Saving our Species program is working with local landholders to conduct an annual monitoring program, erect fencing around sensitive locations, undertake erosion control and conduct slashing at the appropriate times of year to support the plant through its life cycle.

“We’ve been working hard on the ground in Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast to protect these rare and cryptic orchids in their native habitat,” said Ms Ransom.

“These actions have more than doubled the number of these three orchid species across several locations. This is a great demonstration of how research, partnerships and practical on-ground actions, when implemented together, can make a big difference for these incredibly rare and beautiful orchids,” said Ms Ransom.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Victoria are growing 200 individuals of each orchid species on behalf of Saving our Species. These will be used for seed orcharding, pollinator studies and to supplement existing populations.