With the coming of spring, we’re all trying to spend more time outdoors exploring and watching the world unfold to green again. There are flowers everywhere, and of course, there are wild orchids to hunt and catalog, photograph and enjoy. Unfortunately, the popularity of these plants has led to a drastic decline caused mainly from illegal digging, but also from the effect of so many feet compacting and ruining the environment directly around them. We have all seen how a human or animal trail through a forest or thicket looks, nothing grows on it. That is a direct result of human or animal trampling. The same thing is going to happen around any vegetation that is exposed to constant pressure from feet.
The digging of wild plants is one of the most critical issues for orchids today, especially the terrestrial (or growing in soil) orchids of North America. These plants are being removed in great numbers and they almost never live when they are removed. Terrestrials are very dependent upon specific soil conditions and once removed from these conditions will rapidly die. Please also be aware that in many areas it is illegal to remove any native plants, so leave them there so others can enjoy them. For native orchids raised from seed, which have a much better chance of living for you, visit Spangle Creek Labs.
Studies have shown that compacting the soil around plants changes the entire environment and often results in the death of the plant after several years. If a group of people surround a plant to study or photograph it, the damage is even worse since a larger area is impacted. Often there will be nothing left the following year. Another problem is that resulting from the touching of the plant and flowers. The oils on our skin will coat that part of a leaf that is touched and then the leaf will burn when the sun hits it. On a flower, the petals will be destroyed.
When hunting orchids in the wild, or any other ventures, stay on the paths provided when at all possible. If possible walk on rocks rather than in soil areas and try not to damage any areas around the plants. If you are in a group, encourage others to be very careful and not get too close. Remember that running shoes are less apt to damage soil than hiking boots which are larger and have thicker soles.
For more information about North American native orchids, please visit the Native Orchid Conservation Inc. based in Canada. They have a wonderful field guide, Orchids of Manitoba which can be ordered from their site. It is one of the most comprehensive and well written guides I have ever seen.