Not many people can say they’ve spent a day doing an insect’s work, but that’s exactly what Threatened Species Officers from the Saving our Species (SoS) program do by hand-pollinating threatened native orchids to help ensure their survival in the wild.
One of the main reasons they use hand pollination is because many orchids depend on a specific pollinator species, such as a flies or gnats for their pollination. If the specific insect pollinator isn’t present or active at the time of flowering, the plant is unlikely to develop seed and cannot reproduce.
Some of our threatened orchid species have very low pollination rates, and at this stage we can’t be sure if this is due to their pollinators being naturally low in numbers, whether pollinator numbers are declining, or whether the environmental conditions for the pollinators are not aligning with the time the orchids are flowering, or a combo of all three. We do know a low pollination rate results in low levels of natural seed set, which is a cause for concern.
That’s where our human pollinators come in!
In most cases, hand pollination is done to increase low levels of natural seed set, however, it may also help improve the quality of seed or minimise hybridisation between species.
For many of the orchids in the SoS program, we are also aiming to increase naturally low levels of seed production for the purpose of securing good seed collections for the Australian PlantBank where the seeds are stored and further research is being undertaken to work out how to germinate orchids, but that is whole other story! Contributing to seed banks is another way to preserve genetic diversity of our wild populations and have seed available for re-introduction in the wild if needed in the future.
Watch a video of how hand-pollination works with Saving our Species Threatened Species Officer Laura Canackle:
Read an article by Saving our Species Senior Threatened Species Officer Jedda Lemmon on hand-pollinating the Illawarra greenhood orchid.
Article written by Jedda Lemmon
The Saving our Species program is working to secure a future for NSW threatened plants and animals. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest updates from Saving our Species every month and be part of our conservation movement.