Illinois College orchid expert to speak at stamp unveiling
Hitchcock Professor of Biology Lawrence Zettler will represent Illinois College at a ceremony in February for the unveiling of 10 new U.S. Postal Service stamps depicting beautiful native orchids of North America.
Zettler was invited to speak at the Feb. 21 event at the Miami-area Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, where the American Orchid Society is headquartered. One of the orchids featured in the series, the eastern prairie fringed orchid, has been the focus of research at Illinois College for more than 20 years, Zettler said. He plans to speak about ongoing work at the College and the need for orchid research and conservation.
"I'm going to represent the College and the work that over 100 students have done here over the past 23 years or so. It's an honor,” Zettler said. “There is a lot more work that needs to be done."
The Orchid Recovery Program at Illinois College is a leader in orchid research and conservation efforts in the Midwest and around the world, from Palau to Madagascar to Ecuador. The program, led by Zettler, is in high demand, with collaborations growing over the years with organizations, such as the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and other institutions of higher education, including ongoing ghost orchid research with scientists at Soroa Orchid Garden in Cuba.
Student-faculty research opportunities resulting from the program’s work have helped prepare IC students for their careers and to pursue advanced degrees at top graduate schools. Students have been very involved in the important research and publications that have come out of the Orchid Recovery Program, Zettler said. He plans to speak about the importance of including students in that work, because they are tomorrow's stewards.
"When we're gone, they're going to have to take this on. That's one of the things I find very rewarding about being at IC. Because we've done that now for almost a quarter of a century."
One of the Orchid Recovery Program’s current projects involves the recovery of fungi the eastern prairie fringed orchid needs to germinate. The orchid, with its cluster of flowers with white petals and a fringed lip, is a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The eastern prairie fringed orchid is among a growing number of orchids in decline around the world, Zettler said, adding, “Orchids are the first plants to disappear from the landscape because they are sensitive to acute environmental changes.”
Susan Wedegaertner, president of the American Orchid Society, said North American orchids are facing the same threats other orchids around the world face as their habitats shrink or are threatened by wildfires.
"That's why the research and conservation work Dr. Zettler is doing — and we've got other people around the world trying to jump in — it's heartwarming to see that and we just need a lot more people on board," Wedegaertner said.
For more information about the Orchid Recovery Program at Illinois College and a link to Zettler's lab website, visit ic.edu/biology/orchidrecovery.