Monday, January 14, 2013

Endangered Orchids

Orchids are often ostentatiously ornamented. Like the slipper orchid. But not all. Among the 25,000 orchid species, many are relatively muted, subtle and subdued. Like this one found in Northern Thailand.

The ecologist explains…
There are two main threats endangering plants in northern Thailand.
Orchids, like so many plant species, are collected, often illegally. Others have their habitats destroyed by logging, legal and illegal.

An Example of a Rare Orchid
Vanilla siamensis
This is Vanilla siamensis. Like many orchids, it is epiphytic; it lives on other plants. It’s not a parasite, it doesn’t damage the host, it just uses the trunk of a tree to grow on. Its environment is important to it. Its seeds need a fungus to get enough carbohydrates for growth until it can make its leaves, and it needs a special insect for its pollination. If any of these are missing from its environment, the orchid will not grow.

History of Endangered Plants
Hunting plants and removing them from their natural environment is not new. In Victorian times, hunters would collect rare plants, especially orchids for wealthy English collectors. In extreme cases, some orchid smugglers would destroy remaining plants and burn the environment to make the specimens more valuable due to scarcity.

What can we do?
  • Multilateral agreements such as CITES can help to make it illegal to collect and transport rare plants.
  • Schools can include ecology in their curricula. Teachers should make plant identification interesting.
  • The tourism industry has a responsibility to make travellers aware of endangering plants. Take photos, not specimens, and don’t disturb the environment.
  • Plant growers should develop an ethical sense of sustainable collecting.

 (from Endangered Orchids, 2013)

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