Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

App aids conserving native orchids

Wednesday 16 Dec 2015

Researcher Murray Dawson led the development of the app.

Researcher Murray Dawson led the development of the app.

An app to identify native orchids could help save some of the more rare and endangered species from being picked like a common daisy.

New Zealand has more than 120 species of native orchids, with over half found nowhere else in the world. Many of these eye-catching orchids are threatened and have high conservation values. One of the rarest in New Zealand is the unique Flying Duck Orchid, found only in Rotorua.

Landcare Research scientist Murray Dawson, who led the development of the free app called the NZ Orchid Key, hopes it will help protect the threatened species by helping people identify them.

“Being able to identify orchids, by restoration groups and field workers, is critical for their effective conservation. If you don’t know what’s there, and how rare it is, you can’t really manage them.”

Dawson said native orchids were a “tricky” group for a lot of people to identify.

“Because there are more than 120 species, with some closely related, even established field workers have trouble identifying them,” he said.

The app allows users to identify their plant specimen by selecting from a series of features including the type of leaves, flowers, habitat and distribution to narrow down the range of possibilities.

Because of their remarkable beauty people may be tempted to pick the flowers, Dawson said. However, he advocates people refrain and simply admire or photograph them to help conserve the species.

“Native orchids have high conservation values and precise growing requirements so should not be removed from the wild,” he said.

“It is illegal to remove plants from Department of Conservation land (without special permission) and they usually die in garden conditions. Also if you pick the flowers, they can’t develop into seed capsules, so you are eliminating the next generation of orchids.”

Dawson hoped the app would raise people’s awareness about the “really special group of plants”.

He said now was the perfect time of year to appreciate native orchids.

“They’re easily overlooked until seen in flower when they are at their showiest. Many species like to grow along tracksides, so they are right there for hikers to see when in season.”

The NZ Orchid Key is the second plant identification app developed by Landcare Research. The first was the NZ Coprosma Key, launched earlier this year, and work is underway on other identification apps.

The development of these apps has been funded by theTerrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (TFBIS) Programme. TFBIS supports the conservation of New Zealand's indigenous biodiversity by increasing awareness of and access to fundamental data and information about terrestrial and freshwater biota and biodiversity.

The NZ Orchid Key, which was jointly produced by Landcare Research and the New Zealand Native Orchid Group (NZNOG), can be downloaded via the Landcare Research website, Apple App Store or Android Google Play Store.

Numerous images were provided by members of the NZNOG and contributions to the NatureWatch NZ website.

“Thanks to the generosity of these contributors, the new app contains an amazing collection of more than 1500 pictures that would have taken several lifetimes for one person to accumulate. This is a great example of what can be achieved through outreach, citizen science, and crowd-sourcing,” Dawson said.