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A Lady’s Slipper Update on the Eve of Orchids Forever

February 12, 2021


A lot of science and conservation is learning by doing, so I would like to provide an update on our lady’s slipper orchid conservation project. This is our first time growing orchids from seed. On December 11, 2020, Field Station Specialist Jing Wang and I sowed seeds of Cypripedium reginae, the showy lady’s slipper, collected in a Holden natural area. Details of the first steps can be seen in a previous blog entry here. It has now been nine weeks since we sowed the seeds, and we have good news to report. We have germination!  

The first step after sowing the seeds was to place them in darkness (i.e. a filing cabinet outside Research Scientist Na Wei’s office) for several weeks. One week after sowing we checked for contamination – the germination environment should be kept free of microbes (mostly bacteria and fungi). When sowing the seeds, we work under a laminar flow hood that reduces particles in the air, and we sterilize our tools before use. The challenge is that it is impossible to see these microbes with the naked eye, and any contaminants will take over the culture tube if given time to incubate (see the unknown contaminants on the right). We think the COVID-19 mask precautions may have improved our sterile technique by reducing the risk of contamination from our breath. 

A few weeks after sowing, germination is evident. The orchid seedlings grow into a structure called a protocorm with shoot (A) and root (B) tips and rhizoids (C) (below). The shoot and root tips will grow into the respective above- and below-ground structures of a mature orchid, while the hair-like rhizoids aid the developing seedling in anchoring itself to the growing medium and uptaking water and nutrients.

Once the seedlings were about 7 weeks old, we transfered them from germination test tubes to flasks or individual test tubes where they can be spaced out. These seedlings will remain here for several months in the dark, growing larger and larger until the shoot tip is approximately 0.5-1 cm tall. At this stage, they will be ready to be taken out of their sterile environment! 

We were fortunate to have many more seedlings than we needed, so we prepared some to share with the visitors of Orchids Forever at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Stop by to see some of these seedlings and thousands of other orchids in person! 

Connor Ryan, MS

Connor Ryan, MS

Rhododendron Collections Manager

My interests sit at the intersection of ornamental horticulture, conservation, and botany. At Holden, my group is engaged in three things: curating the Rhododendron collection, breeding landscape plants, and stewarding the David G. Leach Research Station. The rhododendron collection is by far the largest collection at Holden, comprising some 2500 plants and 50+ acres. It is foundational for our decades long breeding program at the Leach Research Station and more recently has been used in support of plant biology research. We are slowly modernizing the collection, maintaining the extensive existing ornamental collection while increasing its utility for conservation and scholarship. Mostly this means increasing the representation of rhododendron species in the collection. We are also actively building a conservation collection for Rhododendron prunifolium and Ohio’s native rhododendrons.   Our breeding work focuses on improved rhododendrons, mostly through resistance to root rot disease, zone 5 cold hardiness, and sun tolerance. We also work with other landscape plants, including evergreen azaleas, Pieris, Calycanthus, and Hamamelis.   I can most frequently be found at HF&G’s David G. Leach Research Station in Madison, though I have an office at the arboretum and am there through winter. Get in touch if you’re interested in collaborating, utilizing our collections or facilities, or just want to talk plants.  

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