Vanishing species: an orchid in danger

Image by Andrea_44, courtesy of Creative Commons

Alyssa Elso/Staff Writer

“Orchids are a beautiful thing and when you tell people this species is going to disappear they tend to care”, said Hong Liu, Department of Earth and Environment Assistant Professor.

In 2008, Liu began exploring the newly preserved Yachang Orchid Nature Preserve located in southwestern China.

Within the preserve, Liu was surrounded by orchids and found that many of the 130 species of orchids that grew in the area were flourishing, except for one: the extremely rare Geodorum eulophioides.

This species was considered extinct for 80 years but was rediscovered near the preserve in 2006, where more than half of the area that hosted the only viable population of this plant had been illegally cleared for eucalyptus planting by a local villager.

According to Liu, there are three challenges to this species: the species itself is rare, there are human disturbances towards it, and the climate and environment in which it grows in.

Determined to save the rare orchid, Liu launched a campaign to preserve the plant and by October 2008 began to communicate with Chinese government officials in order to prevent local farmers from continuing to harvest their crop in that area.

Liu began to promote the research and conservation of this orchid, by speaking at the first Guangxi International Orchid Symposium and proposing a research institute in which scientists could learn more about the plant.

Shortly after, Liu returned to the Yachang preserve only to find that the eucalyptus continued to grow and that now half of the land was also planted with corn.

Once again, Liu called for a meeting among officials and farmers in the area to come to an agreement in which the farmers would be compensated for their crop and would in turn stop harvesting and fertilizing the land in order to give scientists enough time to learn about the rare orchid and to harvest seeds for future reintroduction of the once believed extinct Geodorum eulophiodes.

“It is still an ongoing struggle with local farmers and government, however I have been able to establish a special protection zone for the species that is fenced in,” said Liu. “The next step is to consider how to restore the habitat after it has been destroyed from farming activity.”

As for the rare plant’s value on society, Liu sees it as a horticultural oddity for people to enjoy and as a way to learn about endangered species overall.

On Jan. 17, Dr. Liu, in partnership with the Friends of The Key Largo Cultural Center (FKLCC) as part of the Ocean Life series, will discuss her journey in preventing the extinction of a rare orchid species.

A meet and greet will take place at 6 p.m. followed by Dr. Liu’s lecture at 7 p.m. at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center.

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