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Orchids: We marvel at their flowers, unaware of the complex interactions that enable them to thrive.

Specialized habitats, pollinators, and even fungi play an important role in an orchid's life cycle. This is why orchids can be a key indicator of the overall health of the environment—and why they are so vulnerable when this cycle is disrupted.

North America contains more than 200 species of orchids, and greater than half are threatened somewhere in their native range. Yet despite their beauty, there has been no broad-based effort to engage the public to understand or preserve them. The North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC) was established by the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Botanic Garden to meet this challenge. A coalition of public and private organizations across the continent, NAOCC is committed to ensuring the survival of native orchids and conserving our orchid heritage throughout North America. Our work focuses on:

  • Preservation: Promoting efforts to conserve habitats and to restore native orchids where populations have declined is essential. But we believe a national collection of orchid seeds, and a living collection of the fungi on which they depend, may provide the best insurance to preserve the genetic diversity of our orchids for the future.
  • Propagation: Our partners at regional botanical gardens have a long history of expertise growing rare and endangered species. Using our seeds and fungi combined with their tools, we are creating a collection of all North American orchid seeds and the fungi they require. We aim to develop protocols for growing them in lab, greenhouse and garden conditions, with the ultimate goal of one day restoring them to the wild.
  • Education: We will work to empower concerned citizens by sharing information about North America's orchids, in part by creating an interactive Website where they can learn about their local orchid flora and what can be done so future generations can enjoy them.

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Don't dig!
Attempting to transplant wild orchids into gardens can inadvertently kill them. Find nurseries that sell commercially-grown native orchids here.

To learn more about NAOCC and how you can participate in its development, contact Dennis Whigham at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (subject: NAOCC) or call 443-482-2226. Or, download our general brochure.