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Sainsbury Orchid Conservation: in vitro propagation and re-establishment of UK terrestrial orchids

Helping to conserve British and European orchids through propagation and re-establishment.
Cypripedium calceolus

The Sainsbury orchid conservation project was started in 1983, in the Conservation Biotechnology unit, to help conserve British and European orchids through propagation and re-establishment. The objectives are:

  • to investigate techniques for in vitro mycorrhizal-assisted germination, asymbiotic propagation and planting methods for target species, selected from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and from prioritised lists prepared by English Nature
  • to provide plants for re-establishment and other conservation purposes

Seeds of most of British orchid species have been collected and stored. Germination techniques have been developed for 66 species of European orchids and ten British species have been reintroduced. Cryopreservation of mycorrhizal fungal associates and orchid protocorms is underway.

British native orchids have been introduced in both wild and cultivated areas at Kew, and plants grown in the laboratory have been provided for orchid gardens at Sussex University and the Natural History Museum. An orchid garden at Kew is planned and enhancement of the orchid living collections is taking place.

As well as planting out orchids into public areas, several species have been planted into nature reserves and protected areas, in collaboration with English Nature and Wildlife trusts.

Kew is a lead partner for two orchid species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan:

  • the fen orchid (Liparis loeselii)
  • the lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus)

Experimental reintroduction trials are taking place for L. loeselii. Reintroduced plants have survived and set seed.

Several thousand seedlings of C. calceolus have been grown at Kew and planted out by English Nature as part of the Species Recovery Programme. The first flowering was reported in 2000. Members of Kew staff are members of the Cypripedium Committee, which makes decisions about management of the wild site and re-introduction sites.

Techniques developed for growing British orchids have been applied to other European species. Advice and plants have been provided for conservation and reintroduction projects in countries including the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. We are involved in a joint project re-introducing native orchids along the highways in Switzerland, where ten species have been reintroduced, including C. calceolus.

Outputs of the project during the period 2006-2010 include annual reports to English Nature and the Cypripedium Committee, in excess of 500 plants of C. calceolus per year to English Nature, and publication as book chapter (2010).

Key publication

Sprunger, S. & Prendergast G (2010). Experimental introductions of the heath spotted and early marsh orchids into a restored ecosystem in Switzerland. pp 332-335. Soorae, P. S. (ed.) Global Reintroduction Perspectives: Additional case-studies from around the globe. IUCN/ SSC Re-introduction Specialist Group, Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

Project partners and collaborators

University of Basel

English Nature
Wildlife Trusts

Project funders

English Nature