The crested fringed orchid is one of fifteen varieties found in North Carolina.
Orchids aren’t confined to exotic tropical locales or fancy greenhouses. One hot spot is Brunswick County. Fifteen species have been identified in the Green Swamp and surrounding areas. That drew the attention of the American Orchid Society, which recently raised $10,000 to restore the Conservancy’s Myrtle Head Savanna Preserve.
“In many parts of the country, a lot of people aren’t aware of how much diversity there is in terms of species, and these plants are often in their own backyards and in need,” explains David Horak, who chairs the Society’s conservation committee.
“Even though we are primarily tropical orchid growers, people have become increasingly passionate about native orchids,” he says.
Myrtle Head Savanna is a good example of habitat that is in real need. Small, low-intensity fires, which were once commonplace in the savanna, removed shrubs, allowing plants like orchids to thrive on the forest floor.
However, in the last century, fire suppression became the norm; and with that came a smaller population of orchids. Since that time the savanna has begun to fill in, shrubs shading out plants.
To determine restoration plans for the area, the Nature Conservancy used a comparison of 1938 and 2009 aerial photographs to compare current status to its pre-fire suppression state. In addition to controlled burning, the first of which occurred this summer, it is likely that there will be some mechanical removal of small shrubs and trees. Society funds will allow for continued controlled burning as well as other restoration work.
“We also need more information about the Savanna,” explains Sara Babin, conservation coordinator in the Conservancy’s Wilmington office. The last vegetation survey was done in the early 1990s; Babin is excited that this money will allow for an updated survey.
“We really want to see what is going on there so we can strive to bring back plants that should be there but aren’t there right now.”
Last year, the Orchid Society featured the area’s orchids in its magazine. Babin says that kind of attention is good for the Conservancy’s restoration work.
“These are the orchid experts. They see how special the area is. They tell their membership that it is really a cool orchid area. That is awesome,” she explains. “We had no idea how popular this would be.”
Horak says the Society will use this success to pursue other similar projects. This was the Society’s first attempt at crowd funding, where people with common interests come together over the Internet to raise money, but it won’t be the last.
“This project is helping us to build momentum to support other types of projects. This is a strategic way to fund conservation, because it allows people to focus on projects that are near to them,” Horak explains.September 20, 2012
Debbie Crane is Director of Communications for the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy; Laura Smith configured this story for the web.