Hope for en­dan­gered ghost or­chid

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECOWATCH -

SCI­EN­TISTS be­lieve they are on the verge of help­ing con­serve the pop­u­lar but en­dan­gered ghost or­chid, a plant that’s of­ten poached.

“We’ve suc­cess­fully de­vel­oped pro­ce­dures to cul­ture plants from seeds in the lab and then suc­cess­fully ac­cli­ma­tise them into our green­house,” said Michael Kane, pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal horticulture at Univer­sity of Florida In­sti­tute of Food and Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences ( UF/ IFAS).

“We’ve also ob­tained a high sur­vival and vig­or­ous re- growth rate when they’re planted back into the wild.”

This rare or­chid is unique for sev­eral rea­sons. First, it re­sem­bles a ghost when its white flower moves at night; hence, it is known as the ghost or­chid. It is also leaf­less, and its roots at­tach to the bark of the host tree.

About 2,000 ghost or­chids re­main in Florida, all the more rea­son to step up ef­forts to sta­bilise the cur­rent pop­u­la­tions, Kane said. The species also grows in the Ba­hamas and Cuba. How­ever, re­searchers are learn­ing that th­ese pop­u­la­tions are thriv­ing in very dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions than those in South Florida.

The sci­en­tists are try­ing to give ghost or­chids the best chance to sur­vive af­ter they’re planted back in the na­tive en­vi­ron­ment. Un­til now, there’s only been non- sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion on ways to grow the ghost or­chid, Kane said. There’s no in­for­ma­tion on how to re­li­ably pro­duce them in a lab or rein­tro­duce them into na­ture.

Kane and doc­toral stu­dent Hoang Nguyen are try­ing to change that trend. For three years, Kane and Nguyen, with fund­ing from the US Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, have worked to bring ghost or­chid seeds back from south- west Florida to a prop­a­ga­tion lab at their cam­pus in Gainesville to see if they can ger­mi­nate the seed un­der ster­ile con­di­tions on a gelled medium and then trans­fer the plants into a green­house.

Their lat­est re­sults showed they could de­velop a suc­cess­ful seed cul­ture tech­nique for the ghost or­chid so they can re­plant it in the wild. Or­chid seeds in the wild won’t ger­mi­nate un­less they are in­fected with a my­c­or­rhizal fun­gus, Kane said. The re­searchers worked with Larry Zet­tler, bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the or­chid re­cov­ery pro­gramme at Illinois Col­lege, to stim­u­late seed ger­mi­na­tion in the lab.

The sci­en­tists’ work has been so suc­cess­ful that Nguyen won the out­stand­ing re­search poster con­test at last June’s meet­ing of the So­ci­ety for In Vitro Bi­ol­ogy.

Re­cently, they brought some of the plants back to their na­tive habi- tat in the Florida Pan­ther Na­tional Wildlife Refuge in east­ern Col­lier County, Florida, and about 70 out of 80 of th­ese ghost or­chids have sur­vived and are vig­or­ously grow­ing, Nguyen said. They are see­ing sim­i­lar re­sults with or­chids planted later at the Naples Botan­i­cal Gar­den.

“For or­chid con­ser­va­tion, this is big,” Kane said. “We are very ex­cited.”

Ghost or­chids be­came more fa­mous through a pop­u­lar book, Or­chid Thief, about a man ar­rested for steal­ing them from trees in a for­est in Col­lier County, near the Ever­glades. The book was made into a 2002 movie, ti­tled Adap­ta­tion, with Meryl Streep. – Univer­sity of Florida

The rare and of­ten- poached ghost or­chid. sci­en­tists have found a way to cul­ture the plant. — uF/ IFAs

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