Rare Orchid Restoration Project Uses Local Know How On USFS Lands
This project - to restore one of the rarest and most spectacular orchids native to the region - began with the initiative of a Shreveport high school student. It has evolved into a cooperative effort between the Kisatchie National Forest and the Central Louisiana Orchid Society; and yes, the high school student turned masters degree candidate Kevin Allen is still intimately involved in the project.
The project goal is to grow 200 state and federally- rare Kentucky ladyslipper seedlings (Cypripedium kentuckiense C.F. Reed) (CYKE) to a mature size, and return them to the Forest lands from which they were collected as seed. These orchids are currently known from only two locations (totaling 5 plants) on the KNF's entire 600,000 acres. Consequently, if even a fraction of these 200 seedlings can be reestablished, it will be the first time a plant this rare has been increased in this way on the Forest. That it happens to be the largest-flowered species of all the striking ladyslipper orchids found in the United States (Reed 1981), and one of the most spectacular plants in our flora, is just a bonus.
The decline of the Kentucky ladyslipper orchid most likely follows the impacts of European settlement, such as loss of habitat due to logging and grazing, non-native plant competition, wild hog predation, and illegal orchid collection. In fact, over the last twenty years, 50 percent of known sites throughout the CYKE's range have been eliminated (Medley 1985). Medley (1985) says that most of the [previously known] Louisiana , Oklahoma , Texas , and many Arkansas populations are extirpated [locally extinct, but present in other parts of its range].
The Orchid Hunter
In the grim context of the CYKE's declining populations, an exciting development took place on the KNF in 2004. Kevin Allen, an amateur botanist with an interest in native orchids, collected a CYKE seedpod from a plant on the Catahoula R.D. This was not a chance discovery. For several years, Kevin had monitored populations of CYKEs in Louisiana and Texas and was particularly interested in recovering a fertile seed pod on the KNF. For several years, Kevin was disappointed in his attempts to find the plant in flower, probably due to naturally infrequent flowering cycles. But persistence paid off. After three years of monitoring, Kevin found a flowering CYKE on the Catahoula Ranger District and caused it to be self-pollinated. Weeks later he was rewarded with a seed pod.
Orchid seedpods contain thousands of powder-grain sized seeds that are virtually impossible to grow in a conventional greenhouse arrangement. Consequently, Kevin sent the CYKE seed pod to orchid growing experts at the Spangle Creek Labs in Bovey, Minnesota . The seeds were found to be fertile, and the lab successfully produced seedlings using tissue culture methods. This orchid seed now represented an opportunity to revegetate forest lands with a dramatic and very rare native orchid.
It is very important to this restoration effort that the seed was gathered locally, because it maintains the genotype of the local population. This is especially important since KNF populations represent the southern extreme of the species in Louisiana . If CYKEs from other parts of the plant's range were to be introduced, centuries of evolutionary adaption to conditions on this southern range extreme could be lost.
The Kisatchie National Forest
Kevin Allen met with the Forest Botanist and described his vision of orchid restoration. The Forest set out to secure the grant monies needed to purchase the orchid seedlings. After a failed grant submission, the Forest Service met with the Cental Louisiana Orchid Society, a group of local orchid growers based in Alexandria, in January 2006. The goal was to see if they would be interested in rowing-outthe seedlings if they could be purchased. Growing out the seedlings would require sophisticated greenhouse facilities and expert care for up to 18 months.
The Central Louisiana Orchid Society
Although CLOS members usually work with horticultural orchids of exotic origins, CLOS enthusiastically agreed to participate in the CYKE project, committing time and facilities worth nearly $10,000. But that was not all. Byron McGraw, CLOS founder, was aware of a funding source from a regional orchid organization: the Southwest Regional Orchid Growers Association (SWROGA). Providentially, this new grant challenged local orchid societies to involve themselves in native orchid conservation projects. CLOS was awarded the first ever SWROGA grant in the amount of $1,390, enough to buy 200 CYKE seedlings. The final piece of the puzzle had fallen into place.
Shipment of seedlings from Sprangle Labs was made and seedlings distributed among 4 CLOS growers and also to Kevin Allen. Results were better than anticipated: over 95% of the seedlings successfully established themselves and grew to over 3 in height. The final step will occur when Kentucky ladyslipper orchids are returned to the USFS lands where they have grown for thousands of years.
Time will tell if working together - a student, a local orchid society, and the U.S. Forest Service, can restore a spectacular part of Louisiana 's natural heritage.
A Group Effort
When completed, this project will have included the time
and resources of an eclectic group of cooperators:
amateur botanist and master's degree candidate.
Central LA Orchid Society
S.W. Regional Orchid Growers Association
Spangle Creek Labs:
Minnesota based orchid lab that has donated
20% of the seedlings free of Charge.
LNHP: LA Native Heritage Program
offering expert help to locate ideal sites for reintroduction.
Fort Polk/US Army:
the Ft. Polk reserve will receive an undetermined
number of CYKE plants for planting.
Note : seedlings are available for public purchase from Spangle Creek Labs - $6.95 each.
Kevin Allen: amateur botanist and native plant enthusiast; graduate of Louisiana Tech University - Ruston with a BS in biology education; currently enrolled in a master's of education program at LSU - Shreveport . Kevin was a high school student when he started this work. Kevin is currently a senior majoring in biological education at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston .
Dr. James Barnett: Vice-President of the Central Louisiana Orchid Society (CLOS) and Emeritus Scientist, USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station
Byron McGraw: founder of CLOS.
Ted Jobet : president of CLOS.
Growers: CLOS Volunteers
Dr. James Barnett, Dr. Wilton Guillory, Al Taylor, Linda Roberts, and Kevin Allen
Laboratory Growers: seedlings are available for public purchase from Spangle Creek Labs - $6.95 each.
Spangle Creek Labs
21950 County Road 445
Bovey , MN 55709
Additional Notes of Interest:
Potential Research Articles and Results :
- Best techniques and conditions for growing CYKE from the seedling stage to maturity.
- Best techniques for outplanting CYKE in the wild, including site selection, caging, distribution.
- Longevity and natural reproduction in the longterm of reintroduced native orchids.
- Implications for restoration of rare plants on public lands.
Cypripedium kentuckiense Rarity Rankings :
- Louisiana : ranked as critically imperiled(S1) by the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program (LNHP 2004).
- Globally it is considered vulnerable to extinction throughout its range(NatureServe 2001).
- USDA Forest Service, Southern Region lists it as a sensitive plant.
Outplanting to KNF lands :
Selection of the transplanting sites will be based on the best information available. Site selection will be determined after consultation with KNF botanists, with participation with Kevin Allen, with involvement of the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, and with specialists from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service who are interested in monitoring the project for use of the orchids in their Louisiana Native Plant Initiative.
After planting, the juvenile plants will be protected by screened enclosures. The sites and surrounding areas will be maintained in accordance with the best information available CYKE habitat. Site management and monitoring primarily will be the responsibility of the KNF specialists.
The following table lists the resources contributed by the various cooperators in this research and conservation project.
|Partner:||Role:||Resources provided||Amount requested||Amount of in-kind support|
|SWROGA||Financial support||200 orchid seedlings at $6.95 each||$1,390.00|
|Central Louisiana Orchid Society||Propagate 200 seedlings||Provide greenhouse supplies, facilities, and growing expertise for 2 years||$9,500.00|
|Kisatchie National Forest||Provide sites, planting, maintaining, and monitoring sites||Provide botanists and other support personnel to select, prepare, maintain, and monitor sites||$12,000.00|
|Kevin Allen||Propagate seedlings and assist in site selection & monitoring||Provide greenhouse facilities, and expertise in culture and transplanting||$3,500.00|
|NRCS and LNHP||Assist in site selection and transplant monitoring||Provide specialists with expertise in orchid habitat and ground survey||$1,000.00|
|Spangle Creek Labs||Seedling production||Will contribute 25% of seedlings purchased without charge0 if 200 are purchased||$347.50|
TOTAL GRANT REQUEST: $1,390
- This project will provide knowledge to help conserve and restore a rare native orchid to sites within its range that will be maintained and protected.
- It will promote private industries to produce native plant materials through partnerships and cooperation. This will contribute to the conservation of the species by reducing the pressure of illegal collection
- The project supports the KNF land management plan in regard to revegetation with native plants, and conservation of sensitive species.
- This effort holds promise of successful wild orchid propagation with a species new to the commercial market, and has already generated commercial interests beyond the scope of the project.
Kisatchie National Forest Sensitive and Conservation Species List found at:
FEIS/Revised LRMP/KNF/3-23 to 3-25
Louisiana Natural Heritage Program (LNHP) Rare Plant Species of Louisiana (May 2004) found at: http://www.wlf.state.la.us/apps/netgear/clientFiles/lawlf/files/LA%20Rare%20Plant%20List%20-%202004.pdf
Reed, C.F. 1981. Cypripedium kentuckiense Reed, a new species of orchid in Kentucky . Pytologia 48: 426-428.
Region 8 Forester's Sensitive Species List , 2005
Medley, M.E. 1985. Status Report on Cypripedium kentuckiense C.F. Reed. Unpublished report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
USDA, Forest Service. 1999. Revised Land and Resource Management Plan for the Kisatchie National Forest . Pineville , LA : USDA Forest Service, Kisatchie National Forest .
USDA, Forest Service. 1998 revised 2002. Nationally Listed (by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) Endangered, Threatened, Proposed Species and Regional Forester's Sensitive Species: Subset of Species with known or expected occurrence on the Kisatchie National Forest .