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1 Aug 2022

Fight to save ‘challenging’ Aussie orchid

Did you know a large proportion of Australian native terrestrial orchids are endangered or threatened in New South Wales? It's why they are a focus for the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program!

With funding from the program, Australian Institute of Botanical Science researchers have been studying eight rare species over the last three years to try and germinate the orchids in a laboratory at the award-winning Australian PlantBank facility, located at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.
“One particular genus, as far as we’re aware, no one has ever been able to germinate from seed,” explains Dr Zoe-Joy Newby.
“There’s obviously something quite challenging in its biology that no one has been able to grow them. On the opposite end of that, for one species we have over 2000 seedlings in tissue culture.”

An orchid

The species researchers studying, which are listed as either endangered or critically endangered, are:

  • Caladenia tessellata – Thick Lip Spider Orchid
  • Calochilus pulchellus – Pretty Beard Orchid
  • Genoplesium plumosum – Tallong Midge Orchid
  • Pterostylis despectans – Lowly Rustyhood
  • Prasophyllum petilum – Tarengo Leek Orchid
  • Rhizanthella slateri – Eastern Underground Orchid
  • Rhizanthella speciosa –  Barrington Tops Underground Orchid
  • Thelymitra kangaloonica  - Kangaloon Sun Orchid

“It seems we have some particularly challenging individuals to work with but we knew that going into this research,” Dr Newby says.
“It is quite a detailed process attempting to grow terrestrial orchids, requiring a lot of time and patience.”
Australian PlantBank researcher Jessica Wait said for one species the team has been working with, Genoplesium rhyoliticum, researchers hadn’t seen it flower for 10 years and with small populations in general, this made it extremely challenging for seed collection.
Terrestrial orchids are at risk from illegal orchid collection, climate change impacts, the loss of pollinators and bushfires and scientists are helping to increase their chances to survive
The team has seedlings growing in the lab for four of the species and two on the way.
“These orchids are definitely dealing with a lot of challenges,” Ms Wait says.
“There’s still two we haven’t been able to crack.”
The team hopes to make progress in orchid conservation security by being able to propagate the plants in the lab so that if environmental threats continue, they can relocate them into the wild and restore existing populations.

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