Plants can be endangered, too?

Written by Conservation Associate Julia Walker

When you hear ‘endangered species’, what do you think of? I would bet you’d think of manatees, panthers, sea turtles, and other animals. I’m here to shed some light on a few other endangered species that you might find right in your back yard!

Protecting our endangered species is important work. We are losing species at an alarming rate, and often it is due to human causes. With hard work from scientists (and people like you), species can be removed from the endangered species list.

The bald eagle is an excellent example; after a steep population decline, scientists discovered a major cause of this sudden drop. DDT, an insecticide, was contaminating their food source and causing the shells of their eggs to be too fragile. By banning DDT, bald eagles rebounded, and are no longer listed as an endangered species.

There is still a lot of work to do, though. In the United States alone, there are 1,662 endangered and threatened species. (See the breakdown here from USFWS).

However, did you know: 946 of those listed species are plants?!

Florida has many natural treasures, but perhaps none quite so coveted as the orchid. It may be because Florida is a hot-spot of orchid diversity. The National Park Service reports orchid diversity is the highest here in the Everglades, over any other NPS unit in the continental US. In such a warm and humid climate, orchids receive plenty of moisture and nutrients, without hurting the trees they grow on.

As a result of their beauty and prestige, their populations have been exploited for commercial gain. In the 1800s, the railroad first came to Florida and began shipping orchids north as a house plant. Due to a century of over-harvesting, their populations have steadily decreased. According to the National Park Service, they believe collection is the direct cause of the loss of three species in Everglades National Park.

So now, we have determined that plants can be endangered, too. The good news is we have started to protect these precious plants.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 protects both plants and animals on a federal level, but 32 states have laws that also protect endangered plants. (USFS). This means endangered plants are protected from the trade industry, and require permits to collect or study these species.

Here in Florida, we have some beautiful and interesting orchids. The five species below can all be found here in Collier County. Take a look to see some of Florida’s hidden treasure.

Craighead’s Noddingcaps

(Photo credit: Florida Native Plant Society)

Crooked Spur Orchid

(Photo credit: Friends of Fakahatchee; North American Orchid Center)

Tiny Orchid

(Photo credits: North American Orchid Center)

Leafless Beaked Orchid

(Photo credits: Patricia Hunter)

Ghost Orchid

Here in Collier County, we have a number of natural treasures to protect. We have come a long way in protecting our environment, but there is still work to do. To learn more about orchids, the Ghost Orchid specifically, the Everglades, and more: come visit the Conservancy of Southwest Florida! Be sure to stop in the Dalton Discovery Center to find out how we can protect these natural wonders.

(Photo credits: Keith Davis)

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