Orchid conservation in South Florida & Cuba
Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens has been involved in plant conservation for many years but began to focus on species in South Florida a few years ago. Partnering with Atlanta Botanical Garden, the horticulture department has assisted with monitoring populations of Cigar Orchid (Cyrtopodium punctatum) in Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve annually since 2013.
In 2016, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens joined Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Soroa Orchid Botanical Gardens, Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment - Republic of Cuba and Atlanta Botanical Garden to strengthen our relationship with the Cuban government in working towards the common goal of conserving rare orchids in Florida and Cuba. The species of focus for this trip were four endangered orchids - Spider Orchid (Brassia caudata),Rat Tail Orchid (Bulbophyllum pachyrrachis), Acuna’s Star Orchid (Epidendrum acunae),and Trinidad Macradenia (Macradenia lutescens).
Populations of these species in South Florida were decimated by hurricanes, urban development, and unchecked illegal poaching of plants until all populations of the four species were declared extirpated (locally extinct) by Florida Natural Areas Inventory by the 1980s.
It was observed that these species were facing the same threats in Cuba that caused their extirpation in Florida, so we decided to work with Cuba to better understand their conservation status in-situ (in-habitat) and build capacity for their ex-situ (outside of habitat) conservation efforts to prevent further extirpations.
In December 2018, Danielle Green, our Director of Gardens and Grounds, traveled to Cuba with Atlanta Botanical Garden staff and Jacksonville Zoo staff to locate and document the status of known populations of these orchids, deliver needed supplies, and consult with Cuban biologists on next steps for the project. They spent three days in the field at Cienaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp National Park) located in the south central part of the island. This protected area of Cuba is nearly identical to the habitat found in Fakahatchee Strand and Big Cypress Preserve! They located over forty new plants of Rat Tail Orchid previously undocumented and a white flowering form of Pine Pink (Bletia pupurea) ground orchid not observed in this area before!
On day four of their trip, they traveled to Pinar del Rio region to the next site along Rio Taco Taco, where they collected data on all four orchid species and a number of other orchids previously not documented.
Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is proud to be part of this project and is now displaying orchids in our garden to highlight the conservation partnership and efforts to save rare plants in Florida!