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Unravelling the Hidden World of the Metallic Sun Orchid

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria's Orchid Conservation team, led by Dr Noushka Reiter working with colleagues from RMIT and ANU, discovered that the secret to conserving the endangered Metallic Sun Orchid isn't in the plants you can see, but in the fungi you can't.

Nationally endangered and now presumed extinct in New South Wales, the Metallic Sun Orchid (Thelymitra epipactoides) is strikingly gorgeous, sweetly scented and boasts a uniquely beautiful metallic sheen. On the brink of disappearing completely, it survives in Victoria and the south-east corner of South Australia, where it can be found in heathland, swamps and above the little desert. Rising temperatures and habitat degradation and loss mean that some of the locations where it's sparingly found are unlikely to be viable in the future. 

The Orchid Conservation Program team have been investigating ways to give Thelymitra epipactoides the best chance of success. All orchids are dependent on mycorrhizal fungi for germination in the wild, the trick to growing each species for introduction is discovering which species of mycorrhizal fungi are involved and if these are specific to different habitats. 

As you may be able to tell from these gorgeous images of Thelymitra epipactoides blooming in the Orchid Conservation Program Shade House at Cranbourne Gardens, the team were able to successfully unravel the hidden relationships between Thelymitra epipactoides and mycorrhizal fungi, and after establishing from seed, they are now growing these beauties for future conservation and introduction with project partners, to combat extinction. Cases like Thelymitra epipactoides emphasise how Fungi are particularly important for orchid conservation. Successful re-introductions and translocations of our rarest species depend upon matching orchids to specific fungi for each location, as it turns out that different fungi are required for different habitats. You can read more about the relationships between orchids and fungi here

Amazing success stories like Thelymitra epipactoides can only continue to occur with your help. Entirely dependent on donations, the Orchid Conservation Program team need support to save these beautiful and precious native orchid species. You can help them combat extinction by donating here.


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