If you’re looking for something to pin on a prom date, or give mom for Mother’s Day, just move along.
This is not a story about THOSE kind of orchids. This is about native orchids, tiny botanical beauties that are showy, but not to the extent of picking and wearing them.
For those interested in seeing orchids return to the local natural areas, Carmen Rodriguez of the Pine Jog Environmental Center is your expert.
Rodriguez is program coordinator of the orchid program at Pine Jog, which is part of Florida Atlantic University. The goal of this program is to collect seed pods from orchids growing in the wild, sprout and grow them, then return the little ones to natural areas in the county.
“We’ve put about 1,500 just on scrub sites,” Rodriguez says. “We promised 6,000.”
So far, the biggest beneficiaries have been the Yamato, High Ridge, Lantana and Hypoluxo scrub areas, where plantings began in 2017. Jupiter and Juno scrub areas had orchids added this past year as well.
On a recent Friday, Rodriguez and lab tech Fernando Rocha were busy placing 100 seedlings in the 98-acre Hypoluxo Scrub near U.S. 1 and Hypoluxo Road. It’s a long process. It takes 6 months for the seeds to sprout and two to three years until those seedlings are ready to place in the wild. Even then, they are only a couple inches tall.
They are reintroducing epiphytic, semi-epiphytic and terrestrial orchids in the scrub areas. These are orchids that grow on the ground under scrub plants, or in trees. On a recent Friday, they were placing Tolumnia bahamensis orchids, also known as Florida dancing lady, under native Florida rosemary plants in the Hypoluxo scrub. While the orchids are placed on the ground under the rosemary, which look like but are not related to the herb rosemary, they are expected to grow up through the plant. They attach to their hosts rather than rooting into the ground.
Rodriguez says the orchids should do well there.
“Apparently they do better with the rosemary,” she says. “They also work with cocoplum.”
The Pine Jog folks have also found that they are better when they are near sand pines rather than slash pines, possibly because those pine needles are less acidic.
In other scrub areas, they also have placed epiphytic orchids known as butterfly orchids on trees. They glue them to the trees where they will eventually attach themselves.
The wild orchids’ enemies include gopher tortoises, and possibly curly-tail lizards, which eat them. But they have seen some success. Some of the orchids first placed in the scrub areas in 2017 bloomed this year for the first time.
“Flowering is really the clue that the conditions are right for the orchids to succeed,” Rodriguez says. “Three out of four of the (initial scrub) sites had flowering” so far.
The Pine Jog folks monitor the orchids after six months and a year to check on their status. The blooms are the best clue that the reintroduction has worked.
Rodriguez says that historically the orchids are known to have been in the local scrub areas. Restoration to the way it was before man interfered through development is the goal.
The orchid work is also a way to get school children involved in Pine Jog’s work. A grant-funded program called “Orkids” has children visit the plant propagation lab at Pine Jog, and six schools this year will be given eight tubs of orchids to monitor in their schools.
“We create a botany lab in the classroom,” she says.
The children are tested about their orchid knowledge before and after the program to see what they have learned. The orchid program helped Pine Jog win the 2019 Innovative Education Award, the highest award from the North American Association for Environmental Education.
While all the kids have different reactions to the program in the schools, Rodriguez says, there is always an increase in their knowledge of the orchids and the natural areas where the Pine Jog botanists hope these dancing lady and similar orchids will now take root.