Recovery work which began in 2014 is now paying big dividends, with another 63 nationally endangered metallic sun-orchids (Thelymitra epipactoides) transplanted into the wild at Meningie, Tailem Bend and Tilley Swamp.
Natural Resources SA Murray-Darling Basin (SAMDB) Restoration Ecologist Kylie Moritz said there are possibly fewer than 1500 of the orchids left in the wild, so our reintroduction program is turning into a real labour of love.
“In August 2017 we translocated more than half of our seedlings (80) into three carefully chosen sites at Tailem Bend and Meningie,” she said.
“These sites had the precise vegetation community, pollinators, fungi, and microclimate the orchids required while also being free from threats like grazing and weeds.
“A further 63 endangered orchids were planted in August and September across similar sites.” Volunteers from the Native Orchid Society of SA (NOSSA) have been assisting by planting a number of the metallic sun-orchids at Tilley Swamp in the South East and will water the plants in October.
Ms Moritz said it has been great to have NOSSA involved with the project. “In 2014 we commenced hand-pollinating and bagging metallic sun-orchid flowers, then revisiting sites weeks later to gather seed,” she said.
“Orchids are not easy to propagate; they require a particular mycorrhizal fungus for the tiny germinant to grow. “The relationship between the fungi and the orchids is so specific and essential that, without the fungi, the tiny orchid seeds don’t have the energy reserves to grow.”
An orchid specialist at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne, Victoria, carried out the elaborate work of introducing the fungi and seed, then cared for the orchid seedlings for the past three years.
Metallic sun-orchids produce a 50cm flower stalk with as many as 20 flowers in late winter and early spring.
There are fewer than 300 of the rare plants left in the SAMDB region, with other populations on Eyre Peninsula, in the South East and into Victoria.