Horsham students helping to reintroduce rare orchid

Horsham College students are helping to reintroduce the federally endangered Metallic Sun Orchid back to south-west Victoria.

Year nine students Firat Aytar, 16, Thomas Jorgensen, 14, and Alisha Hallam, 15, have completed three weeks of a 10-week community project.

They have been visiting an orchid glasshouse in Grains Innovation Park, Horsham, once a week to help with the conservation project.

The students' tasks have included potting orchids, labelling pots and helping to make tissue culture jars.

They will help with pollinator baiting in a few weeks.

The three students said they were interested in their tasks and liked helping the environment.

The Metallic Sun Orchid project is the first large scale reintroduction of an endangered orchid species in Australia. In mid-June volunteers helped plant 1000 plants in Kiata Flora and Fauna Reserve and the Little Desert National Park. A third planting of 500 orchids will be in the Glenelg Hopkins catchment management area this month and a further 500 will be planted in the same area.

Wimmera Catchment Management Authority orchid conservation project manager Noushka Reiter said conservation of the Metallic Sun Orchid, which is known for flowering in a variety of vibrant metallic colours such as red, blue, purple, green and yellow, was important.

She said prior to this year's planting, there were only 30 left in the Wimmera and only 1000 world-wide.

"This is part of a research project that looks at companion planting with orchids in the glasshouse to investigate tripartite relationships between the orchids, fungi and associated plants," she said. "And if we replicate this, do they grow better?

"Most of the orchids are companion-planted with natives.

"The orchid has its own family of fungi which is important, and is pollinated by native bees.

"Orchids are a good indicator of an ecology system's health."

The project team includes the Australian Orchid Foundation, Australian Native Orchid Society, RMIT University, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, Department of Sustainability and Environment, Department of Primary Industries, Wimmera CMA, Parks Victoria and volunteers.

The Australian Government Caring for our Country initiative also contributes funding to the project.

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