Bart Cox and Jasmine Gibbins spent their summer researching native orchids at Te Papa. Bart and Jasmine are part of a group of seven students from Victoria University of Wellington that were awarded a Summer Research Scholarship co-funded by Te Papa and Victoria University of Wellington.
Bart’s research focused on a threatened perching orchid, Drymoanthus flavus, and its habitat preferences. This orchid is only found in New Zealand and it is very uncommon. Populations have declined considerably in the last couple of years because of people collecting it from the wild.
Bart spent several weeks out in the forest of a QEII National Trust open space covenant searching for this orchid. He identified the tree species where it generally perches on, measured the trunk size of these trees, and counted the number of orchid plants each tree supported. He also looked at whether this orchid is generally found growing alone or in the company other plants. Bart’s project has provided an insight into the ecological preferences of this uncommon orchid and some of the factors that may explain its rarity in the wild.
Jasmine investigated the diversity of potato orchids (Gastrodia) in New Zealand. These strange-looking terrestrial orchids do not have chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plants look green. Potato orchids are common in New Zealand forests, and sometimes they are also found under pine tree plantations, but they are difficult to spot because of their brown colour. Jasmine used DNA analyses and measured over 200 dried specimens stored at Te Papa’s herbarium, and from other national collections, to re-assess the number of species occurring in New Zealand.
Currently there are three species of potato orchid in New Zealand. Jasmine’s study suggests there is a fourth new species of potato orchid out there that needs to be formally described. Field work and genetic analyses for this project were supported by the Department of Conservation (Grant CMU-4518), the Capital City Orchid Society and the New Zealand Native Orchid Group.