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havana-live-wild orchides 002HAVANA, Jan. 16th American biologists are also taking advantage of the restored diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba to study plants and animals. One of the ongoing programs is the preservation of different orchid species found in Cuba that used to be present in Florida.

Members of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Fish and Wildlife Service are working with several Cuban botanists to help gather seeds of these orchids and be sent back to the U.S. From there, the orchid seeds will be grown inside a laboratory before the adult plants are transferred in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve Park, where they will repopulate naturally.

Many botanical experts are calling the 85,000-acre park in Collier County, Florida the orchid capital of America because it is home to about 120 species of orchids. It used to have a great number of orchid populations, but poaching and urbanization caused some of the species to be extinct.

“They are committed to working with us, so it’s just a matter of finding plants that have seed capsules. We’ve gotten seed capsules from three of the four, but only two of them have grown in the lab,” Dennis Giardina of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Illinois College also signed a collaboration agreement with two Cuban institutions last week after a successful research trip in Guanahacabibes National Park earlier this month about rare ghost orchids and vampire and pallid bats, per the school’s official website. The University of Pinar del Rio and the Soroa Botanical Garden are known for their research on orchids and bats.

“This is an exciting time for Illinois College. This collaboration with these two highly regarded academic institutions in Cuba will provide a unique cultural and learning experience for our students,” school President Barbara Farley said.

“Our goal is to give IC students the opportunity to conduct research in Cuba as well as work with Cuban researchers here in the United States. Specifically, this endeavor will start by giving faculty and students from the biology department an opportunity to work with Cuban counterpart,” Illinois College’s Professor of Modern Languages Steven Gardner added.

The talks of a research collaboration started when Biology professor and orchid expert Lawrence Zettler met Cuban orchid specialist Ernesto Mújica at a conference in Ecuador back in 2012. Zettler is proud that Illinois College is the first academic institution to form an agreement with Cuba and added that many more American colleges and universities will soon follow their footsteps.
http://www.latinpost.com/articles/108888/20160115/american-biologists-visiting-cuba-to-study-orchids.htm

havana-live-ghost-orchidHAVANA, July 30   (AP) – The diplomatic thaw with Cuba has led to a new collaboration with scientists in that country to study the ghost orchid, one of the world’s rarest flowers, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Ernesto Mujica of Cuba’s Ministry of Science ECOVIDA Research Center has joined researchers from Illinois College and the University of Florida in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to study ghost orchids, the delicate blooms that star in the book “The Orchid Thief” and the movie “Adaptation.”

Mujica’s participation “would not have been possible without years of persistence and the recent, history-making improvements in U.S. relations with Cuba,” said Tom MacKenzie, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s southeast region.

The five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island inhibited orchid researchers in both countries from sharing data, though a group of Illinois College researchers and students were able to visit Cuba’s Guanahacabibes National Park in 2013.

Mujica waited two years for a U.S. visa to visit Florida before his application was approved this year, MacKenzie said.

This month, Mujica helped document ghost orchids throughout the refuge and is helping implement long-term monitoring methods he uses to study the flowers in Cuba.

“In the future we hope to compare ghost orchid populations in southwest Florida to those in Cuba as a means of better understanding the species’ specific habitat requirements and needs for continued survival,” said Lawrence W. Zettler of Illinois College.

Just a few hundred ghost orchids bloom across the swampy landscape that feeds into Florida’s Everglades. Unique orchid varieties have made the region popular with both enthusiasts and thieves.

Only 11 ghost orchids previously had been catalogued in the panther refuge, but Mujica’s methods helped researchers identify and catalog over 80 new ones, MacKenzie said.

The collaboration shows “how cooperation between our two countries may help at least one rare species in peril,” Zettler said.