Orchid Life Cycle

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11 Questions

Why can orchid seeds spread easily?

Because they are very small and can be carried by the wind

What is necessary for orchids to grow?

A special fungus to provide nutrients

What is the scientific term for the relationship between fungi and roots?


Where do scientists currently do the 'matchmaking' between fungi and orchid seeds?

In the lab

What is the purpose of putting the fungus and seeds together in a tea bag?

To get the roots to attach to the tree

What is Karin van der Walt and Jennifer Alderton-Moss specialized in?

Long-term storage through seedbanking and cryopreservation

What is the role of the microscope in the process of identifying the fungal partner of orchids?

To tease out coils of fungi from the root cells

What is the goal of the Native Orchid Conservation Project?

To match rare orchids with their fungal partner

What is Carlos Lehnebach's role at Te Papa?

Botany Curator

How many species of native orchids have been discovered and scientifically described by Carlos Lehnebach?


What is the purpose of the incubator in the process of germinating orchid seeds?

To trigger germination

Study Notes

Fungal Partners and Orchid Conservation

  • Scientists are using DNA to identify the fungal partners of threatened orchids and developing methods to germinate orchid seeds in the wild.
  • The fungus that partners with each orchid lives in their roots, and scientists extract coils of fungi from the root cells of adult orchids to grow in Petri dishes.
  • DNA methods are used to identify the fungus, and a subsample of the fungus is then paired with orchid seeds in an incubator to trigger germination.

The Importance of Fungi in Orchid Growth

  • Orchid seeds are tiny and lack a food source, relying on special fungi to provide nutrients and food for growth.
  • Each orchid has its own fungal partner, and the relationship between fungi and roots is scientifically termed "mycorrhizae".
  • Fungi act as an umbilical cord, providing the nutrients and food required for orchid growth.

The Native Orchid Conservation Project

  • The project, funded by Te Tahua Taiao Ngā Taonga – Lottery Environment and Heritage Committee, aims to match rare, endangered NZ orchids with their fungal partners.
  • Carlos Lehnebach, a Botany Curator at Te Papa, has discovered and scientifically described seven of the 110 known NZ orchid species.
  • The project is a collaboration between Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush and Te Papa.

Orchid Conservation Efforts

  • The conservation project is developing methods to germinate orchid seeds in the wild, as the shock of moving from the lab to the wild has proven too much for sensitive orchids.
  • The project is testing its methods with the epiphyte or perching orchid Drymoanthus, using tea bags stapled to trees to facilitate germination.
  • Karin van der Walt and Jennifer Alderton-Moss at Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush are specialists in plant conservation and storage through seedbanking and cryopreservation.

Explore the fascinating way orchids grow and thrive. Learn how they rely on special fungi to obtain nutrients and food, and why their seeds are so difficult to germinate. Test your knowledge of these unique plants!

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