SPECIES IN CULTIVATION

Cultivation is seen by many people as the only way to guarantee the continued survival of many orchid species. This is considered to be a form of conservation. Anyone who has seen the remarkable TV documentary "Deathtraps and Lifelines", dealing with recent studies into the complex interactions between insectivorous plants, their prey and the environment, must to some degree sense how pathetic, hapless and uninteresting the greenhouse 'species' plant really is, out of its natural habitat, away from life-affirming interactions with other life forms.
Any definition of the word 'species' worth its salt must contain the words 'naturally-occurring', 'interbreeding' and 'population'. No greenhouse plant can lay claim to these. I doubt whether 99% of the plants in cultivation that we call species ever breed at all. Perhaps, from a semantics point of view, the use of the word 'species' here is totally erroneous, the plants rather being hopeless, expatriate derivatives of species DNA, waiting to succumb to disease, poor culture or acts of God or man in the near future. Those who wish to enthuse about the few documented examples of orchids being saved by cultivation, have not examined the history of orchid cultivation in toto. Conservation only takes place when a complete ecosystem is maintained, the best that we can do in a greenhouse is the preservation of some of the DNA of a species; and even that, apparently, not very effectively.
'Species' in cultivation do, however, have value. Since these plants have already been ripped out, they can become valuable resources for breeding or otherwise propagating more examples of the same, to supply material to those people who are insistent upon growing such plants; thereby reducing the pressure on natural stocks, still out there, still interacting.
Spectacular, newly-described species are at such enormous risk - the Parvisepalum paphiopedilums qualify here. One would have hoped that by the end of the twentieth century, the immorality and danger of "I must have one of those - Now" would have sunk in. In this regard, questions of morality are usually countered by "well everyone else is buying one". Such sickening greed has probably reduced natural populations of some Parvisepalum species to the point where life-affirming interactions have nearly or completely ceased. And this before anyone has even had the chance to discover such basic things as the pollinators, details of mycorrhizal associations and other factors affecting germination. In some Parvisepalum species, laboratory germination is proving difficult. Thank goodness some species in this group produce stolons.

© 2003-2009 Greig Russell

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