Bletia purpurea, like most other orchids native to Florida, came to the brink of extinction when, starting in the 1800s, settlers exploited the seemingly unbounded supply of tropical orchids, removing them in enormous quantities from their habitat as plants to sell in northern states. Urban development and agriculture in Florida subsequently claimed almost all remaining native orchid habitats. The combined result of this history is that a minute fraction of original population sizes of native orchids remain. Orchids are wind pollinated and most require extremely specific conditions for their dust-sized seeds to grow, including precise humidity, light, and connection with fungal symbionts. Although mature plants produce millions of seeds the probability of survival is tremendously slim and small populations cannot survive on their own.
The pine pink has been targeted by the “Million Orchid Program” at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden as one of five orchid species to reintroduce into oak and mahogany host trees in urban Miami neighborhoods in an “unlimited quantity” to relieve these species from threat of extinction. The program aims to micropropagate thousands of individual orchids at a time in test tubes and recruit community volunteers and K-12 students to plant the seedlings in appropriate locations and follow their progress. The goal is to reestablish enough individuals throughout urban environments that the orchids will be able to reproduce on their own, be resilient to any collection they may be susceptible to, and along with associated education programs make these species and the plight of fragile native Florida habitats visible to city dwellers and visitors. The other orchid species in culture at Fairchild are: Encyclia tampensis, Cyrtopodium punctatum, Prosthechea boothiana, and Prosthechea cochleata.
A similar program through the Singapore Botanic Gardens has succeeded in restoration of native orchids in urban Singapore.
(Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden 2013; Wing 2013)
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