Victorian Volcanic Plains Conservation Management Network

Raising awareness about the value and use of native grasslands, seasonal wetlands, grassy woodlands & other ecosystems on the Victorian Volcanic Plains

Saving native orchids through propagation

Sunshine Diuris

Sunshine Diuris

Recently I joined a Moorabool Catchment Landcare Group on a bus trip on a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, where the Orchid Conservation Program is housed. Late in 2014 the Orchid Conservation Program led by Dr Noushka Reiter and based in Horsham, was moved to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne. This site now has Victoria’s largest center for the conservation of rare and threatened orchids and the program is responsible for the propagation and re-introduction of some of south-eastern Australia’s most threatened orchids.

We were given a tour of the facility and the orchid lab is much smaller than I imagined, given all the work that goes on there. Growing threatened orchids is not a simple task and requires lots of skill and patience and the equipment is expensive. It was great to see a plaque thanking all who contributed financially to establishing the facility at Cranbourne. A fundraising  campaign was run to fit out a dedicated conservation laboratory with tissue-culture capability.

I am probably never going to see the endangered Sunshine Diuris in the wild, so it was exciting to see it in pots in the glasshouse. The next step is to get the plants to survive translocation back into a grassland.

It is a long, time consuming effort to get the orchids back into the wild and the following steps indicate the basic procedures undertaken to increase the number of threatened orchids plants and are from a poster used in the presentation we were given.  I have also included a few photos that give an idea of the facility. It is housed within a larger nursery complex where the staff and friends group grow plants for use in the gardens and for sale.

  • A piece of tissue is collected from the underground parts of the orchid in the field.
  • In the laboratory the fungi is isolated from the piece of tissue.
  • The seed is collected by putting an empty unused teabag over the developing seed head.
  • The seed is sown on agar together with the fungi.
  • After 6 to 12 weeks the seed germinates.
  • These protocorms with leaves are transferred into flasks containing agar and vermiculite.
  • The flasks are put in a controlled environment room where they grow for another 6 to 10 weeks.
  • Plants are put into pots and grown in the glasshouse for another 1 to 2 years.
  • When ready and hardened off the plants are planted back into the bush or grassland in a suitable site.
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