The North American Orchid Conservation Center, based at the Smithsonian Institution’s Environmental Research Center, is looking to Illinois College and its Orchid Recovery Program to lead the way in conserving orchids in North America.
“Illinois College is now looked upon as a leading facility on the continent for orchid conservation,” Larry Zettler, professor of biology, says. “What the NAOCC and the Smithsonian are trying to do is to have IC and our students have a much bigger role in the propagation and the growing of these orchids.”
Having the Smithsonian linked to Illinois College speaks volumes about the work that is produced inside a small corner of the Parker Science Building. “We’re on the map now,” Zettler says. “This is a huge responsibility, and it is also a huge opportunity.”
Zettler’s lab door has always been open to students – they do projects, they publish papers, and they even get to take orchids to various locations around the globe. “The Smithsonian has noticed this,” Zettler says. “What I see happening in the next five to 10 years is that students here at IC will continue to do what they have been doing since 1996, except on a more expanded scale.”
Expanding the role that IC will have in orchid conservation is not as simple as increasing the workload. This expansion requires a plan, and Zettler has worked with Elizabeth Tobin, dean of the College, on a strategy that will make this opportunity successful. “Having the support of Dean Tobin, along with President Farley, has been very helpful throughout the process,” Zettler says.
Part of Zettler’s strategy is to connect with leading botanical gardens throughout North America.
“Students will be able to travel, maybe have internships in places like the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington,D.C., the Chicago Botanic Garden, places like that,” Zettler says. “So we will be under the umbrella of the Smithsonian, but we are actually going to be the working pieces of the machinery that get these orchids to grow, and the students will be taking these plants to various places to help grow them.”
About the NAOCC
The NAOCC is a coalition of organizations dedicated to conserving the diverse orchid heritage of the U.S. and Canada. Based at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, it also includes the National Zoological Park, the National Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian Gardens. The U.S. Botanic Garden is the other founding partner. The initial group of public and private organizations that support the NAOCC have joined forces with a common goal: to ensure the survival of native orchids for future generations. To this end, the NAOCC’s collaborators are working to preserve habitats, creating and maintaining national collections of seeds and orchid mycorrhizal fungi, and supporting research on orchid ecology, conservation and restoration. An important goal of the NAOCC is to provide the public with opportunities to join in the effort to conserve native orchids.