Kew's work with orchids
Kew's botanists undertake studies of the orchid flora of various countries around the world. By providing baseline information on the species present, these studies contribute to assessments of the threats to particular orchids and are fundamental to all orchid conservation activities.
Kew has the oldest living orchid collection in existence, dating back over 200 years, and its horticulturists have acquired great expertise in growing species from different conditions. Specialised propagation techniques have been developed in the Micropropagation Unit, particularly for endangered European orchids, to increase the stocks of threatened species.
For more than 150 years, botanists at Kew have studied the world's orchids to describe, catalogue and research them. The Genera Orchidacearum project combines traditional botanical data on plant structure, anatomy and chemistry with the latest information from DNA profiles to give new insights into the family's evolution and relationships. This provides a firmer basis for a new classification of the family.
The genus Paphiopedilum has been the subject of intense research activity in Kew's Herbarium. All the known species have been described and illustrated in a book on the genus that also covers the classification, conservation, evolution, hybridisation and cultivation of this group of tropical slipper orchids.
There are some 50 species of British orchids. One, Spiranthes aestivalis, is already extinct. Seeds collected from each species are held in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, where they are stored under cool dry conditions. Research in the laboratories there is aimed at discovering their optimal storage conditions and how to store their fungal partners as well.
Kew's Micropropagation Unit has developed improved techniques of growing orchid from seed, either on nutrient gels or with fungal partners. The seedlings are grown on for fundamental research, conservation and display.