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Rebuilding depleted populations of rare tree orchid

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Recently a group of Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul Women Rangers completed training in orchid propagation and culture techniques at North Regional TAFE in Broome.

The training is part of a collaboration between NR TAFE and Curtin University to support the local community to rebuild wild populations of the increasingly rare Cymbidium Canaliculatum tree orchid, which is now locally extinct in many areas of the Kimberley where previously it could be seen regularly in flower, including the Dampier Peninsula and along the Gibb River Road. The decline of the plant is attributed largely to illegal collection but may also be due to altered fire regimes and other environmental changes.

For the Rangers, the training provided opportunities to learn about more advanced techniques in plant propagation, nursery management and understanding of this species.

Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul ranger programs are facilitated by the Kimberley Land Council and have a strong focus on propagation of native plants and rehabilitation of threatened species and ecological communities. “Rangers are passionate about growing plants and caring for country – this course helped us to do that work better and understand the nurturing needed to grow orchids” said Bardi Jawi Oorany Ranger, Vivien Hunter.

This was the first-time indigenous rangers have undertaken advanced training in tissue culture techniques that enable the Kimberley tree orchid to be grown for reintroductions in to the wild.

“It was really interesting learning about different plants and how to grow them. I reckon we could do more research on the orchids and try grow some in our nursery. I hope our nursery can look as good as the TAFE Nursery and have more plants so we can rehabilitate more areas of country for the future” said Bardi Jawi Oorany ranger, Tiayana Edgar. “The women were just such a great group to teach and share with, so I am glad that they found the exercise of value. The questions they asked indicated they were ready to do some deep dives into propagation theory which is so encouraging” said Kingsley Dixon FLS ATSE (John Curtin Distinguished Professor) who presented to the rangers during training.

It was really interesting to learn more about orchids and we are interested now to record where they still are on country. We were given some baby orchids to experiment ways to split and grow locally – on bark and different media” said Nyul Nyul Ranger, Lilian Lawford.

The Orchid Program aims to develop a seed collection, propagation and replanting program in consultation with local indigenous communities in the Broome and Derby regions. With support from three major station properties (covering a significant portion of the range of the species along the Gibb River Road), local care and maintenance of the replanted material will be undertaken. A key aspect of the program will be to locate and obtain seed material for the rare apple-green variety which has been particularly hard hit by illegal collections.  Propagating this variety and making both it and the common brown/green orchid available to community nurseries will ensure that collectors can access these orchids without damaging wild populations.

The program will run through to 2026.