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First flowering at Kew for Critically Endangered Montserrat orchid

Marcella Corcoran
30 January 2013

Dust-like seeds of the orchid Epidendrum montserratense, collected on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, have been germinated and cultivated in carefully controlled conditions at Kew, to produce the first flowers of this species to be seen in the UK.

First flowers of Epidendrum montserratense

Kew’s first flowers of Epidendrum montserratense

Orchid under threat

Epidendrum montserratense occurs only on the volcanic island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. Montserrat is one of the UK’s Overseas Territories (UKOTs) and forms part of the Caribbean biodiversity hotspot, recognised for its large number of endemic plants and animals that live nowhere else in the world. Like other mountainous islands within this biodiversity hotspot, Montserrat supports many different habitat types, due to its wide variety of soils, temperatures and rainfall. It has nearly 800 native plant species, three of them endemic. One of these is Epidendrum montserratense, which is threatened in the wild, as a result of the devastating volcanic eruptions suffered by the island in the late 1990s.

Rescuing Epidendrum montserratense

The epiphytic orchid Epidendrum montserratense lives high above the ground, on tree trunks and branches. Many of the old mango trees that hosted the orchid have been damaged by volcanic ash or were threatened by flash floods. Some Epidendrum plants were carefully transplanted to the newly established Montserrat Botanic Garden, whilst seed pods collected from others were dispatched to the Conservation Biotechnology Section (CBS) at Kew.

Specialist propagation

Epidendrum seedlings on nutrient gel

Tiny seedlings of Epidendrum montserratense germinated on a nutrient-rich substrate (Photo: Jonathan Kendon)

The CBS team germinated the minute seeds on sterile nutrient medium. Seeds were first surface-sterilised to remove any fungal or bacterial contaminants. After germination, the seedlings were transferred to culture jars where plantlets were bulked up under artificial light. After they had grown substantial roots, plants were weaned from the humid conditions of the jars and were acclimatised to glasshouse conditions in the Tropical Nursery. There are now over 30 specimens of E. montserratense at Kew and many seedlings still in culture.

Epidendrum seedlings in culture jars

Seedlings in jar ready for transfer to the Tropical Nursery

A first for Kew

Kew’s horticulturists and conservationists were thrilled when the Epidendrum montserratense plants showed the first signs of coming into flower, just four years after the seeds had gone into culture in the CBS. This was the first time that this species had been cultivated at Kew and the delicate yellow flowers had never before been seen in the UK. Several of these flowers were collected and preserved for Kew’s Herbarium as a record of the successful flowering and for confirmation of the plants’ identity. When they flower again, plants will be isolated and hand-pollinated in the hope of producing seed for future conservation activities, such as reintroduction to their original habitats.

Nursery specimen of Epidendrum montserratense in flower

Examining a flowering specimen of Epidendrum montserratense in Kew’s Tropical Nursery

Kew’s UK Overseas Territories team is testing different sets of cultivation conditions to find which are the best for a range of Montserrat’s threatened native species. Once these plants can be routinely cultivated they can be grown in larger numbers for re-introduction trials.

- Marcella -


Related links

With thanks to colleagues in Conservation Biotechnology and the Tropical Nursery: Jonathan Kendon, Chris Ryan and Bala Kompalli.

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Comments

7 February 2013
Comment: 
very nice keep it up...
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