This is the NEW MAOC Conservation Page. Please take time to browse the article and the pictures!! MAOC contributes funds to several Conservation projects around the country, to preserve orchids for generations to come! We are grateful to Frances Stevenson for this delightful story of children learning to help preser
PLYMOUTH — Five Wayzata Central Middle School students with a keen eye for science have spent part of their semester focusing on orchids.
The students — part of a program partnership between the school and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum called Project Orchid — have been learning about orchids native to Minnesota.
Project Orchid is a model of a program used in other parts of the United States, including in Washington, D.C., between local schools and the Smithsonian, and in the Miami, Florida, area, the Arboretum’s Learning Center Program Coordinator Randy Gage told Lakeshore Weekly News.
Using this model, the Arboretum wanted to create a similar program to study native Minnesota orchids while educating local students.
Many may know that the Minnesota state flower is the Lady’s Slipper (Genus Cyripedium), which is a type of orchid. A lesser-known fact is that Minnesota is home to more than 40 native orchids, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which is the most of any other state. These orchids are endangered in some areas due habitat destruction.
The Project Orchid experiment paired up David Remucal, curator of endangered plants at the Arboretum, with students to help teach them about native orchids and conduct an experiment that would provide information for the Arboretum, as well as teach the students about the scientific method.
“I have been around teachers and talking with teachers,” Gage told the paper. “One thing that teachers want but don’t necessarily have the opportunity to get is authentic experiences, and this is exactly that.”
The experiment looks at a specific orchid called the Moccasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule) asking the question: will specific additives to the soil help the flower grow?
The experiment has a control and two treatments. There are 16 plants in each, according to Gage.
For the control, students took a Moccasin Flower seedling and put it on top of a wet cotton ball. The cotton ball did not include any treatment. The cotton ball and seedling were planted.
The first treatment included fertilizer. Students again took a seedling and put it on top of a cotton ball. This time, fertilizer was added to the cotton ball before being planted.
The second treatment looked at the relationship between fungus and orchids. According to Gage, many scientists including Remucal believe there might be an important relationship between fungus found in the ground and orchids.
In his research, Remucal isolated a specific fungus he often finds with the Moccasin Flower, grew it in gel and inoculated cotton balls with the fungus. Seedlings were put on top of the inoculated cotton balls and planted in the soil.
Each seedling was measured before being planted — how many roots it had originally, how long the shoot was and the rye zone or the growing point of the plant, Gage said.
As the plants begin to peek out of the soil, they will measure the shoot and leaf length and width to compare the control against the two treatments.
Gage has been monitoring his own experiment, he told the paper, “I set up a replicate in my office so I can understand what’s happening in the classroom.”
In his replica, two of the fungal treatment plants have peeked out of the soil and one of the fertilizer treatment plants has emerged. Zero of the control plants have emerged. But the experiment will run for several more weeks and results are not at all clear yet, Gage made sure to mention.
Kristine Swartchick, a seventh grade life science teacher at Wayzata Central Middle School in Plymouth, has been working with the Project Orchid students.
Swartchick met Gage and Remucal last fall at the Minnesota Science Teachers Association Conference, where they all discussed Project Orchid. Sweartchick jumped at the chance to get her students involved.
“Far too many students see science as just a subject in school,” Swartchick told the paper. “I want my students to see it as something all around them, which affects their lives every day. Working with the Arboretum allows them to connect it with the world.”
Now that the orchid seedlings are planted, the students water and mist the plants regularly and take measurements on Thursdays of the plants that have emerged.
“I hope that my students are really understanding how science studies work,” Swartchick said. “We talk in class about the importance of being able to replicate an experiment, so we have 16 plants in each of the three treatments. My students are collecting data, drawing conclusions and communicating their findings back to the Arboretum and to others as well.”
Swartchick’s students are excited to be learning about orchids and to be trendsetters.
“My favorite part of working with the Arboretum is that we are the first to do so. Therefore we are testing something that could evolve into things much greater,” Cooper, a Project Orchid student, said.
The students are also learning an appreciation for science and being independent scientists.
“We plant the orchids and measure them without too much help, and the subject of our experiment is very interesting and engaging,” Lucy, a Project Orchid student, said. “After this project, the prospect of working with and conducting experiments with plants seems more interesting. I would also be very willing to participate in future investigations with the Arboretum, whether during school or beyond.”
After the experiment
After the orchids are fully grown and the student scientists collect all their data, around 10 weeks in total, the Arboretum has big plans for the orchids, Gage said.
Gage and Remucal hope the students can go visit the Arboretum in the spring with the newly grown orchids and plant them in the brand new orchid conservation beds. The plan is to do this during National Public Garden week, which is May 8-17.
They hope to find some way to have the students share their results with the public, although all the final details are still being worked out, Gage said.
As for next year and expansions of Project Orchid, Gage would love to see a second year of the project, pending funding. The project was operated as a pilot program because of its grant funding from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.
Gage said he’d love to see the program expanded to 10 schools in three years but it’s all dependent on funding.
“It’s dependent on funding and whether the project is seen as useful and successful,” he said.