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'Million Orchid' project to revive native Florida flowers

12 / 04 / 2014, Yahoo Science

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - Inside a small bright lab, nestled behind sprawling Banyan trees in Miami's Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, scientists and volunteers tend to tens of thousands of just-germinated orchids tucked in glass bottles.

Fifty thousand more with long verdant leaves wait in a nearby nursery. In the coming weeks, crews in bucket trucks, usually used to fix power lines, will lift the fragile plants onto trees that line south Florida's roads, hoping they will take root and re-establish the blanket of millions of brightly colored flowers that once covered the state.

"We want to bring back not just the orchids, but the insects that pollinate them," said Carl Lewis, who leads the Million Orchid Project as director of the botanic garden.

Decades of breakneck urban development and population growth all but destroyed the region's native orchid species. The vividly colored flowers were pulled from their perches by enthusiasts and dealers, who shipped them north to be sold in home stores and at spring farmer's markets.

Florida's obsession with orchids, particularly rare species, was detailed in journalist Susan Orlean's 1998 book, "The Orchid Thief," which was about the arrest of a man and a group of Seminole Indians who poached the rare Ghost Orchid in hopes of cloning it for profit.

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