Research + Recovery: Protecting and Preserving Native Orchids
By Tony Kiszonas
The Ridges Sanctuary has tremendous plant diversity including native terrestrial orchids. Following the idea that “lack of knowledge is as big a threat as any to sensitive species,” (Brzeskiewicz, M. September 25, 2000), The Ridges Sanctuary has the current research goal of developing institutionalized processes and protocols for the preservation and protection of native plant species. Because of our organization’s deep-rooted relationship with orchids, it was determined that orchid research and recovery would be the priority of our endeavors. We are currently working on orchid inventory, trying to understand specific environmental conditions for orchid growth and reproduction, asymbiotic germination techniques, shade house orchid growth, and determining the best possible restoration locations in our Hidden Brook living laboratory area.
Our amazing team of orchid trekkers is on a quest to locate as many orchids as possible that are naturally growing in The Ridges Sanctuary. Thus far, 29 species have been identified, with certain species recorded for the first time in Door County. This tenacious group recorded over 6,000 individual orchids last year, representing 21 different species, some of which are listed as either threatened or of special concern.
Currently, we have deployed 16 HOBO monitors that are dedicated to the Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper restoration project. Through grant funding and gracious private donations, these electronic monitors are collecting data on light values, soil temperature, and soil moisture which provide information about abiotic environmental parameters for orchid growth and reproduction. In combination with the specific plant data collected by our dedicated citizen scientist plot monitors, our statistician is crafting a picture of the Ram’s Head “sweet spot” that will determine where out planting has the best possible chance of success for this threatened orchid.
Following germination, the seedlings are reflasked in media, grown for months, vernalized for a selected time period in refrigeration, and planted in the shade house for transition. Ultimately, out planting of these orchids for population restoration/translocation will include extensive monitoring.Almost all orchids in the wild require a fungal partner for seed germination. Because of our current mycological limitations, we are using techniques developed by partner organizations to germinate orchid seeds in the absence of this fungal partner for our restoration/translocation needs. We will continue this asymbiotic approach until we have more data on the actual fungi needed for our orchids to germinate. This protocol includes hand pollination, seed collection, and experimenting with technique modifications to maximize orchid seed germination.
The orchid shade houses were established and are maintained by another group of citizen scientists. These folks planted the orchid seedlings and ensure that the plants are watered and the flats weeded throughout the season. This group also sets up the houses in the spring and strikes them in the fall, tucking in the orchids for the winter. The shade houses are important for our vernalization experiments and provide an opportunity for our guests to view three species of orchids in one spot, with great photo possibilities.
Orchids are fascinating plants that have evolved unique characteristics dependent on a multitude of factors that determine their survivorship. As some of these specific parameters are undergoing change, our hope is that the knowledge we are gaining through this project will contribute to the conservation of this marvelous group of plants.
If you have any interest in participating in citizen science programs, or want to learn more, contact Tony Kiszonas, Director of Research, at firstname.lastname@example.org.