Every year, populations of orchids vanish from the wild. Perhaps
the forest where they grow is felled for timber, or their swampland
habitat is drained for agriculture. Some species are decimated by
collectors in search of horticultural novelties or valuable sources
of folk medicines. As the threats that orchids face continue to
increase, conservation of these fascinating plants becomes ever
more essential to guarantee their survival.
Today, plant conservation is a key activity for botanic gardens
around the world. Through their research, they help to monitor biodiversity
and to identify species that face particular problems. The knowledge
and experience of Kew’s orchid specialists contribute to the
development of action plans for the conservation of the family.
For example, by establishing genetic fingerprints of different orchid
populations in the UK, they are supporting the conservation management
of endangered native species.
Kew’s Micropropagation Unit develops methods of propagating
terrestrial orchids from Britain, Europe and North America. Already
seedlings of five endangered British species have been reintroduced
to selected sites around the country. These include the ladies slipper
orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) which had been reduced to
a single location in the UK. The seeds of all the UK orchid species
are held in the cold dry conditions of the Millennium Seed Bank
at Wakehurst Place, ready to be made available for research and
possible reintroduction into the wild.