Orchids

 

As the largest public garden in the region, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (JZG) is committed not only to conserving wildlife in wild places, but we also help save plants in Florida.

Orchids are charismatic, beautiful plants, whose continued existence is in jeopardy. Due to environmental and human pressures, orchids are losing habitat, and are often irresistible to poachers who take them from the wild for their own collections. This, combined with urban development, industrial-scale pine plantations and the invasion of exotic species, has led to the decline of many orchids, and JZG is working with Atlanta Botanical Garden to help save them.

Chapman's Fringed Orchid - Platanthera chapmanii
This terrestrial orchid is limited to only 6 known populations in southeast Georgia and little is known about this plant's numbers in northeast Florida. Found primarily along roadsides, teams, including JZG staff, traverse certain areas looking for new populations of orchids and GPSing their locations. The project consists of four major steps:

  • In the spring of each year, teams look for associated species that are found to grow in the same habitat/conditions as the Chapman's Fringed Orchid.
  • Once those areas are known, the teams will meet with the landowners to make sure the areas won't be mowed or sprayed with herbicides or pesticides before the orchids have a chance to flower.
  • Traverse those areas again in August/September, looking for, and documenting the beautiful orange blooms.
  • Once they stop blooming and go to seed, some of those seeds are collected to bank in cold storage, and grow ex situ populations to help augment struggling populations.
 
Chapman's Fringed Orchid in full bloom
 
JZG staff inspecting a Chapman's Fringed Orchid

Cigar Orchid - Cyrtopodium punctatum
In Spring of 2015, JZG sent Zoo staff to assist with a cigar orchid outplanting. A species that fell victim to poaching by orchid enthusiasts, its population was decimated to only 17 known individuals in the 85,000-acre Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, a swamp forest in south Florida. After seeds were collected and propagated, orchid conservationists, including JZG staff, traveled down to the swamp to help augment the population of these beautiful plants in their natural habitat. 

Knowledge gained from this outplanting will be utilized for four additional species - the Lost Orchids of Florida. The Fakahatchee Strand is home to more orchid species than anywhere else in the U.S., but four have become extirpated (extinct in the region). Now the nearest known populations occur in Cuba, and scientists are working with project partners to collect seeds from those Cuban plants to propagate and bring home to their habitat in the Fakahatchee Strand. Once seeds are collected, it takes a total of 3 years to grow plants to the minimum size for their increased chance at survival.