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Protected orchid site about to get boardwalk

Taking native orchids out of their natural habitat only leads to a 
truncated lifespan; buy from greenhouses instead

Often found flourishing amid superlatives, orchids have been inspiring poets, painters, photographers and gardeners since the inception of their respective crafts.

His interest kindled by a visit to Thailand, Lorne Heshka has been growing and photographing orchids for the last 20 years. He took part in the Manitoba Orchid Society’s 2012 Annual Orchid Show & Sale at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory this March.

“The people in Thailand took me to an orchid butterfly house, and I said, you go look at the butterflies, these flowers really intrigue me,” he explained. “My eyes lit up when I saw those orchids, and when I left Thailand they gave me a bunch to bring back.”

Heshka, also a past president of the Manitoba Orchid Society, said it was the best thing that could have happened to him.

But you don’t have to travel abroad to find spectacular orchids. Manitoba is home to 37 species of native orchids, including the lesser rattlesnake orchid, great-plains ladies’ tresses, the small purple fringed orchid, the ragged fringed orchid, heart-leaved twayblade and many other colourfully named treasures.

“Most people just think about the yellow lady’s slipper… when they think about orchids, but there are many, many more in Manitoba,” said Doris Ames, president of Native Orchid Conservation (NOC).

However, the beauty and allure of these flowers can put them at risk as more people head off the beaten path to view them, trampling habitat and orchids along the way.

To allow for both protection and enjoyment, NOC has worked with government and other stakeholders to protect sensitive areas.

Last fall, the Manitoba government announced $1 million in funding to build an interpretive trail and boardwalk alongside the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve. A $600,000 donation from the late naturalist, Eugene Reimer, will pay for the site’s upkeep.

“I expect you’ll see work begin there this June,” Ames said.

NOC also organizes field trips to see Manitoba orchids as they bloom, and offers tips on non-invasive viewing at www.nativeorchid.org.

“I think the only way we can protect them is through public education,” she explained. “I used to think laws and fines were the way to do it… but no government could afford to patrol all the areas even if the laws did exist.”

Ames said there are still people who dig up wild orchids to replant them at home, but she stresses there is no need to. Many greenhouses now propagate species of Manitoba orchids.

And not only does transplanting wild orchids damage natural populations, the NOC president notes they only live a few years before dying.

“Orchids have a symbiotic relationship with fungus in the soil where they grow,” she said. Once that fungus dies, so too does the orchid.

Heshka is a fan and cultivator of both native and exotic orchids, and said it isn’t as hard as people think to grow the flowers.

“I find they aren’t that difficult to grow if you get a few tips on how to do it,” he said.

Jonelle Tinsley of Winnipeg came out to the Orchid Show to replace an orchid that didn’t make it through the winter. She bought two the previous year and had a 50 per cent survival rate.

“I just think they are really beautiful to look at and kind of exotic,” she said. “But based on my current track record, I don’t think I’ll buy too many.”

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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