Apr 23. - In an effort to resurrect orchid populations in South Florida, researchers and botanists plan to germinate and plant one million of the critically endangered plants over the next five years. The project aims to reverse the damage done by urban development that has all but destroyed the region's native species. Ben Gruber has more.
For Lise Dowdon this moment has been two years in the making. She, along with a team of volunteers, is attaching orchid seedlings to an oak tree in Coral Gables, near downtown Miami. It's the first batch of the critically endangered flowers to be planted as part of an ambitious effort to resurrect orchid populations across South Florida, where decades of urban expansion have almost wiped them out.. To do that, Carl Lewis, the director of the Fairchild Botanical Garden, says he and his team will need to germinate, carefully nurture and attach one million of the tiny plants to trees over the next five years. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CARL LEWIS, DIRECTOR, FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANICAL GARDEN, SAYING: "South Florida has about 50 native orchid species which is more than any other region of the United States. Most of those are very difficult to find now, they have been hunted almost to extinction in the wild so really we launched this project in an effort to bring those orchids back." That effort starts here... in Lewis' lab... where seeds, the size of a speck of dust, are placed in sterile bottles filled with nutrients that trigger the plants to start germinating. After a couple of months the plants need to be separated and placed in a second set of bottles for incubation under LED lights. Once the seedlings sprout enough roots, they are moved to the nursery, the first stage of their lives outside of bottles. In total the process can take two years for these fragile plants to mature to the point where they are ready to be attached to trees. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CARL LEWIS, DIRECTOR, FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANICAL GARDEN, SAYING: "We would like to get these up to a critical mass where they can reproduce on their own. Right now the levels have been brought down to such catastrophically low levels that there is really no hope that they will bring their numbers back on their own. This is supposed to be an infusion, to get so many out there that they start reproducing on their own." Lewis says he hopes these news orchids, which will take 5 years to reach maturity once attached to trees, will turn back time on the ecology of South Florida, attracting insects and micro-organisms that haven't part of the local eco-system in decades. He says its painstaking work... but that he and his team are up for the challenge and will continue to bring orchids back to Florida...one seedling at a time.