Million Orchid Progress Report

By Butch Swank

In late May, our office had a visitor. Jason Downing, the lead orchid biologist from the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, drove from Miami with hundreds of orchids. He had a variety of orchids from both Florida and from all over the world. Dr. Downing leads the Million Orchid Project, which aims to bring back the orchid population to what it was in the 1800s. Back then, orchids could be found in a wide variety of trees but were collected to the point they could no longer sustain themselves. Today, the only place you see orchids is at Publix or Lowes.

Back to the hundreds of orchids at my office. We worked for hours putting these orchids high up into the trees. Orchids naturally live on the bark of trees and do not harm the tree. They live off sunlight, rain, and morning dew. Orchids also use moss and algae to help them eat, which is why you, in the future, will begin to see orchids growing on the north side of trees – that is where the moss and algae grow! We got so many orchids because the denser the orchids are, the more seeds they can disperse to the neighborhood. Orchid seed pods produce many thousands of teeny, tiny seeds that blow in the wind. They must land on the right location of the right tree, with the right mold or algae, the right amount of shade, with the right amount of moisture… you get the point. So, by having a large number of orchids, we massively increase their ability to reproduce around the neighborhood. An interesting fact is that Florida has become the home of orchids blown here from Cuba and the Bahamas. Big storms can really stir up the atmosphere, and that can bring us all kinds of different seeds. Again, these seeds are tiny, so even under normal Florida weather conditions, the seeds could be disbursed for miles around our office.

Back to the different species around our office. Dr. Downing and his team selected some Florida natives so we could begin growing our population back up here on Florida’s west coast. They also selected orchids from other areas because they wanted us to be able to show off orchid blooms throughout the year. I thought that was a stellar idea! How cool would it be to walk around the office regardless of the season and be able to see some gorgeous flowers? If you have any interest in seeing our orchids, I encourage you to come by the office. If I can, and I darn sure will try, I will show you around personally and show you all the different types. It is just beginning and is already very compelling to see. I cannot wait to see what all these orchids will look like in the future when they mature and really start cranking out the flowers.

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