Dennis Whigham to address Garden Club regarding orchids

Dennis Whigham to address Garden Club regarding orchids

■ SUBMITTED BY THE BOCA GRANDE GARDEN CLUB

On Wednesday, Nov. 1 at the season-opening meeting of the Boca Grande Garden Club’s 20th year, Dennis Whigham, an extraordinary orchid ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, will speak to us about his efforts to preserve and propagate the rarest terrestrial orchid in eastern North America, among other rare and endangered native orchids.

The program will be held at the Community Center auditorium starting at 2 p.m., with refreshments following in the Woman’s Club Room.

Whigham’s research into the many fascinating ways that fungi interact with soils and soil microbes has led him to discover many types of fungi that orchids interact with, and to determine the various factors that affect this relationship. At one or more stages in the life cycle of all orchids, they get all their water and nutrients through soil fungi.

Dennis says that his explorations through forests, fields and wetlands around the world to study all kinds of woodland herbs, including not only orchids, but also vines, wetland species and invasive species, have been amazing and challenging. He has examined the indirect interaction between orchids and fungi, and how non-native earthworms that invade the soil where orchids grow reduce the diversity of the fungi that orchids must have to survive, which in turn decreases the number of young orchids that can be grown in that soil. His research has made him passionate about assuring the survival of native orchids through the establishment of seed and fungal banks and the development of protocols for establishing sustainable populations of native orchids for conservation, education, and restoration purposes.

He is currently involved in establishing the North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC), an initiative of the Smithsonian, with the United States Botanic Garden as a founding partner. NAOCC’s mission is to secure the genetic diversity of native orchids for future generations. The NAOCC model for orchid conservation is based on public-private collaborations.

There are currently more than forty collaborating organizations distributed across the continent from Florida to Alaska. Whigham obtained an undergraduate degree from Wabash College and a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina. He joined the Smithsonian in 1977. Whigham and his collaborators have published more than 250 articles in journals and books, and he has co-edited 10 books.

The Boca Grande Garden Club is celebrating its 20th year of operation and is open to anyone on a first-come, first-served basis, but limited by size of meeting space. Their programs are free to members and open to guests for a fee of $35.

If you are interested in attending the meeting, call Elaine Anderson at (413) 320-5178 or Barbara Runde at (941) 855-9393 to get a reservation and a name tag for admission. You may pay at the door by check or cash. If you are interested in membership, please contact Alison Henderson at (941) 662-9834 or Polley Cunningham at (304) 633-5355 to determine if there is space available.

You may be placed on a waiting list.