Million Orchid Project
A native orchid reintroduction program for South Florida
Fairchild has established the Million Orchid Project (MOP), the nation’s largest educational outreach program dedicated to orchid conservation. The MOP has successfully propagated hundreds of thousands of native orchids and planted them in urban landscapes with the ultimate goal of reestablishing one million plants in the region. The project is unique in its scale, its experimental nature, its focus on public spaces, and its involvement of the local community from its inception.
South Florida was once an orchid paradise, with a rich variety of tropical orchids growing naturally on the branches of every tree. In the late 1800s, as the Florida East Coast Railroad extended southward, orchids were among the first natural resources to be exploited. Flowering orchids were ripped from the trees and packed into railroad cars, destined to be sold as disposable potted plants in northern flower shops. Orchid populations dwindled rapidly, and now our iconic native orchids exist in such small numbers that they have little hope of recovering on their own. Today, our region has countless suitable landscape trees for orchids including parks, schoolyards, roadways, and other public spaces.
Over 20 community partners and more than 100 schools, have been enlisted to grow orchids in their classrooms and surrounding neighborhoods. With the help of these students and volunteers we are now propagating ten species of rare native orchid from seed using micro-propagation. Plants are also produced on The STEMLab; Fairchild’s mobile micro-propagation laboratory built within the frame of a decommissioned school bus. To date, school landscapes, hospitals, and urban tree plantings have been the primary recipients of the reintroduction initiatives.
At its core, The Million Orchid Project is a massive science experiment that allows us to make important discoveries about how native orchids grow and reproduce while educating and informing the public. Our citizen science approach actively engages the community in the conservation actions. Additionally, the science of The Million Orchid Project may help us develop more general strategies for orchid conservation and rescuing rare plants within a highly developed urban environment.