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Cayman Island Orchids

The last several years have been very difficult for the Caribbean Islands and parts of Mexico as a result of extremely strong hurricanes which have decimated populations of native orchids as well as the native vegetation that it depends on for support. I was recently able to visit the Cayman Islands where a conservation effort is underway at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park on Grand Cayman Island.

The Cayman Islands Orchid Society, in conjunction with the Botanic Park, have constructed a shade house where orchids rescued from construction areas will be nurtured as well as flasks of orchids which are endangered on the island. The shade house was built with funds from Coutts (Cayman) Ltd., a financial services company. It is a part of what is known as the Darwin Initiative in the Caymans supported by Kew Gardens and the Cayman government.

Seed grown plants in flasks as well as rescued plants will be cared for in the shade house. After the plants are raised in the shade house they will be reestablished in protected areas as well as in the Botanic Park in order to keep this botanical heritage of the islands alive.

According to Andrew Guthrie, General Manager of the Park, there are 26 orchids native to the islands, but most are rare. The three endemic to the Cayman Islands are Myrmecophila thomsoniana, Dendrophylax fawcettii , and Encyclia kingsii. Myrmecophila thomsoniana comes in two varieties, one on Grand Cayman and one on Cayman Brac Island and Little Cayman Island, close smaller islands. In addition to these three there are 23 more which have been found on the islands, but most are only found in inaccessible areas now.

Myrmecophila thomsoniana, or Banana Orchid, is the National Flower of the islands and is quite common both in the wild and in gardens. It was originally put in the Schomburgkia genus, but recently moved to Myrmecophilia which means “and loving” as the hollow pseudobulbs often harbor colonies of ants which protect the plant from sucking insects. It comes in both a yellow and an alba (white) variety which I was able to see while visiting the Park.

Dendrophylax fawcettii, which is related to the Ghost Orchid of Florida, is extremely rare now and its native habitat has almost disappeared especially after the destruction caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

>Encyclia kingsii is thought to be virtually extinct in the wild where it is found only on Little Cayman Island.

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