Approaches to Reducing Collecting Pressure
On Terrestrial Orchid Species

- by Carson E. Whitlow*

The continuing demand for native terrestrial orchids endangers the existence of many of the showier species. Though only one of many concerns, reducing collecting pressure is a very important factor in maintaining populations in the wild.

The most straightforward approach to reducing collecting pressure is to produce an abundance of plants from seed of normal, representative populations to supplement existing populations, reestablish extirpated populations and meet commercial needs. Even with excess plants being produced economically and available at reasonable cost, the incentive to collect plants from the wild is only partially reduced. Collecting wild material, legally taken or otherwise, will continue as long as there is a market.

However, the demand for wild-collected plants can be significantly reduced. One alternative would be to develop strains of superior quality plants, along with unusual and rare variants, by seed or clonal multiplication techniques for the commercial market. Unfortunately, many of the difficulties inherent in cultivating the species would remain and increase their mortality potential.

Another alternative is to develop hybrid strains such as those in the large, showy, tropical orchid genera. These plants would also be developed for the commercial market and offer greater diversity in size, shape, color and have broader environmental tolerance, thus offering the consumer a wider choice, generally better overall quality and greater adaptability than found in wild populations.

Increased commercial exploitation of our native orchids is a two- edged sword. On the one hand, commercialization would bring increased awareness and demand, which must be met quickly with sufficient artificially produced plant material in order that increased wild-plant harvesting will not occur. On the other hand, greater awareness and appropriate public education could bring about increased concern and protection for wild populations, in addition to enhancing pride in them.

The naturalist can and should play an important role in developing these alternate plant sources. Providing seed to produce plants of normal populations for field needs is, of course, self-evident. Working with individuals in producing superior strains and hybrids is also a very important role.

It is not desirable for commercial growers to purchase hundreds of wild-collected plants to bloom, select out the best for continued propagation and throw the rest on the open market, as has been done with the tropicals. The naturalist, on the other hand, often has the opportunity to view hundreds of blooming plants in their natural setting. With a little training, he or she could readily recognize superior, unusual and rare forms. The option then is to determine if it is feasible to bring divisions of the plants into cultivation, or if they must be utilized in the field. With some of the botanical gardens developing areas for preservation of certain native species, bringing selected plants or divisions of them into these areas for propagation, distribution and hybrid production minimizes the need for collecting of wild material. Likewise, making commercial interests who have continued to show concern for conservation and selective harvesting of wild areas aware of populations of desirable plants in areas which are scheduled for destruction would allow this resource to be utilized instead of wasted.

By playing a major role as facilitators, naturalists could help minimize the negative impact of commercial exploitation. Commercialization and conservation/preservation need not be incompatible.

* As it appears in the American Orchid Society Bulletin, Volume 59, Number 1, January 1990, Pages 51-52.
Carson E. Whitlow
22957 - 280th Street
Adel, IA 50003

Phone: (515) 993-4841
Fax: (515) 309-2302

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