Revitalize Endangered Wild Orchid Populations


Target: Carl Lewis, Director, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Goal: Commend botanists for their plan to reestablish and grow wild orchid populations

Orchids are among the most beautiful, fragrant flowering plants in the world, and they once flourished throughout South Florida’s woodlands. Decades of logging and exploitation, however, have brought this area’s native orchid population to the brink of extinction. Carl Lewis, the director of the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, needs to be commended for leading the Million Orchid Project, a bold plan to repopulate South Florida with thousands of orchids.

South Florida’s hot, humid, semi-tropical climate has long served as the perfect environment for several orchid species to live, grow, and proliferate. The orchids that did flourish here were mostly epiphytes, or, plants that live and grow on other plants, like trees. A couple hundred years ago, prior to industrialization, South Florida’s landscape was rich in oak and mahogany woodlands, providing epiphyte orchids with ample living space. Unfortunately, decades of intense logging destroyed much of these habitats. Businessmen and individual collectors made things worse by harvesting wild orchids for their beauty or to be sold to collectors or perfumers. As Florida’s population grew, urban sprawl and increased agriculture further decimated native orchids. Today, the South Florida orchid population is so small, experts argue it will be impossible for it to revitalize itself without help.

Recognizing the grave state of affairs for South Florida orchids, Carl Lewis, along with his fellow botanists, came up with a bold orchid reintroduction plan called the Million Orchid Project. Under this plan, seedlings from such rare and threatened South Florida orchids as the Florida butterfly orchid (Encyclia tampensis), the cowhorn orchid (Cyrtopodium punctatum), the dollar orchid (Prosthechea boothiana), and the cockleshell orchid (Prosthechea cochleata) will be harvested, grown, and nurtured in labs at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden until they are old enough to be attached to trees in various locations throughout South Florida. According to Lewis, millions of seeds will be grown, and he wants “the first generation of reestablished orchids blooming throughout South Florida within five years.” Additionally, the plan calls for botanists to “teach visitors, students, and our local community about the complexity and fragility of natural South Florida environments and the importance of habitat restoration.”

The combination of reintroduced orchids and increased environmental awareness through education should allow South Florida’s wild orchid population to grow and to thrive. Carl Lewis and his associates need to be commended for their efforts. Sign the petition below to let them know how much you appreciate their work.


Dear Mr. Lewis,

I was gladdened to hear of your planned Million Orchid Project, which aims to reestablish a thriving wild orchid population in South Florida. Several fragrant and beautiful orchid species once flourished in South Florida’s semi-tropical woodlands, but years of industrialization, urban sprawl, and harvesting by personal collectors, have decimated the wild orchid population and brought it to the brink of extinction. These orchids need help to survive.

Your five year mission to harvest orchid seeds, grow and nurture them in your labs at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and then attach them to trees throughout South Florida is a bold plan that is sure to reap tremendous benefits. If successful, your work will create a thriving wild orchid population in South Florida. I applaud you and your colleagues for your efforts and I look forward to seeing the results.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Bob Peterson at Wikimedia Commons

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