Protecting native orchids

We have developed the most comprehensive reference guide for Australian orchids which can be used for identifying different varieties and ensuring their conservation.

The Challenge

Accurately classifying species

Known for their exquisite flowers, orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in the world with more than 30,000 identified species.

Orchids make up 10 per cent of Australia's flora. © Australian National Botanical Garden

Australia is home to the world’s most diverse terrestrial orchids and about 80 per cent of these are not found anywhere else in the world.

Yet, many of Australia’s 1,300 native orchid species – which make up 10 per cent of the country’s flora – are threatened by agricultural and urban development.

Accurate classification of orchid species is critical to their conservation. For example, a localised or threatened species may look very similar to a widespread and common species.

Its survival may be at risk if the differences between the two are not brought to the attention of conservation authorities.

Our Response

Capturing botanical information

Through the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity, our scientists are studying the evolutionary relationships within and between groups of orchids to help establish a classification system.

Using the Australian National Herbarium collection of more than 86,000 orchid specimens, we have produced an electronic identification key that will help to classify and protect our native orchids.

We modified orchid classification, scientifically naming new varieties and renaming existing species to better reflect ancestral development and features.

Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants.

The Results

An essential guide to Australian orchids

Australian Orchid Genera is the most comprehensive collection of data on orchid genera recorded in Australia.

It covers morphology – floral parts, fruit, leaves, stems and pseudobulbs – geographic information, illustrations of unique flower structures, images and a distribution map.

This is an important, easy-to-use reference guide for identifying orchids and is used by:

  • botanists
  • taxonomists
  • orchid lovers
  • specialist horticulturalists.

The guide can be used to inform decisions for commercial propagation – an area that has previously been complicated due to terrestrial orchids’ symbiotic relationship with fungi.

It has broader applications as an informant of environmental conditions too as orchid health is a reliable indicator of ecosystem health.


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