The Sainsbury Orchid Conservation Project:
Propagation for Conservation
Pilot studies to establish seedlings in the wild have now begun with laboratory-raised seedlings of lady's slipper orchid, bee orchid (Ophrys apifera), marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris), southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa), fen orchid (Liparis loeselii) and two species of Anacamptis the lax-flowered orchid (A. laxiflora) and the green-veined orchid (A. morio). The first trial was made in 1987 with the lax-flowered orchid. This species does not occur in mainland Britain, so seedlings may be easily recognised among other orchid species in the area. The plants are now well established at Wakehurst Place and have flowered every year since 1988. Plants grown from native seed from Jersey have been raised in the laboratory for a re-establishment project there. Seedlings of the spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) grown from seed collected at Wakehurst Place were added to the wild flower plantings there in 1989 and have flowered subsequently, as have symbiotically raised seedlings of the green-veined orchid planted out at both Kew and Wakehurst.
A few seedlings of marsh helleborine flowered within months of being planted out on the Rock Garden at Kew and the following year, almost every plant produced flowers which later formed seed capsules through natural pollination.
Southern marsh orchid seedlings raised symbiotically by the Project have been planted in the Loder Valley Reserve at Wakehurst Place as part of a postgraduate project to study the ecological requirements of orchid seedlings.
The most recent plantings have been in a habitat garden and natural sites controlled by English Nature and the National Trust. These plants are being closely monitored.
The project works in close collaboration with English Nature, various county Naturalists' Trusts and other conservation and land agencies who not only supply much of the seed but also the local expertise on sites suitable for re-introduction and establishment of plants.
Many of the rarer populations of orchids are at the edges of their natural ranges in the British Isles and their insect pollinators may not be present. They are watched over during their flowering season by volunteers who are trained to pollinate the plants while guarding them against theft. Some of the seeds are collected under licence for use by the Project.
The genetic integrity of plant material is a major concern when attempting this kind of work. Genetic fingerprinting is being carried out in the Jodrell Laboratory at Kew to ascertain whether those specimens of lady's slipper orchid in British Gardens come from the original native stock and their degree of genetic diversity. Similar studies are to be carried out on other threatened orchids.
A number of the methods developed by the Project could be used to raise some species in large numbers for introduction in gardens and public areas. Specialist nurseries are now starting to adopt the symbiotic technique to raise seedlings. Plants of horticultural merit, such as the Dactylorhizas, are becoming more widely available.
In summary, we are taking positive steps to conserve threatened orchids and their habitats, not only through re-establishing and augmenting the natural populations, but also by emphasising their educational, horticultural and amenity value.