Pathology in Cypripediums - Research Project

Native Orchid Conservation Inc. is presently conducting research into the pathological condition affecting Cypripedium species in the Manitoba Model Forest.

Manitoba has a rich heritage of plant life including 39 species of orchids. These plants occur in many different habitats, including bogs and fens, coniferous forest, tall grass prairie and aspen parkland. They have existed here relatively undisturbed except for natural succession, since the end of the last period of glaciation approximately 10,000 years ago, Since the mid 1800's, however, human beings have begun to have a profound affect on the natural environment. Habitats have changed. Bogs have been drained, prairies plowed and forests cut. Pesticides and herbicides have been used liberally, often without thought to what effect it might have on the native plants and their pollinators. As a result, orchid species and some other plants are in a steep decline and showing many signs of environmental stress and disease.

Since the early 1980's, we have noticed that the Cypripediums, specifically C. reginae (Showy Lady's-Slipper) and C.acaule (Moccasin Flower), in the Gull Lake Wetlands, Belair Forest Reserve and elsewhere, have begun to develop large brownish patches on their leaves, become deformed, and eventually die. We have also noticed that many plants do not produce seed pods and the ones that do, often have diseased and infertile pods.

We propose to find out what condition is affecting these plants, and just what is causing their failure to thrive in these environments, in the hope that better understanding could lead to a plan for its reversal. We are aware that there could be many reasons for their decline; pathogens such as fungi, viruses, bacteria etc. as well as problems with their pollinators and environmental stress, or any combination of these factors.

Some preliminary work has been done on this problem. Plant samples from the Manitoba Model Forest and other areas of the province have been sent to the Provincial Crop Diagnostic Centre and to a lab in Ottawa. A fungus was recognized but they were unable to identify it. Since then further samples have been sent to the University of Guelph. A botanist there, who has studied the fungi associated with native orchid species, is conducting further tests. Testing of this nature is expensive and further tests need to be done.

We propose to collect both affected and unaffected plant samples at different stages of development, for lab analysis, over a wide range of habitats within the Manitoba Model Forest and elsewhere.

Plants will be examined and attempts will be made to grow the different varieties of pathogens appearing on these plants and attempts will be made to identify them. Efforts will be made to isolate the particular pathogen causing the disease on the affected plants and to identify it.

If the pathogen can be isolated and identified, Dr. G. Platford will attempt to devise a treatment plan for these plants. He will examine them for signs of physiological and environmental stress as well.

Test plots will be set up in the Gull Lake Wetlands, the Belair Forest Reserve and other areas within the Manitoba Model Forest and the province. Some plants will be treated and some plants will not be, to serve as a control. Different treatments will be tried. and the results will be tabulated .

It is anticipated that, with a better understanding of the pathological condition or conditions affecting Cypripediums in the Manitoba Model Forest and their cause or causes, it may be possible to reverse or slow down the process, in order to preserve these plants. Research conducted here may prove useful for solving these problems in other parts of Manitoba.

Preliminary budget estimates for the project are in the range of $10,000. Native Orchid Conservation is prepared to spend more money on this project but we need funding partners to complete it. Donations for this work would be appreciated. Interested funding partners please contact our president Doris Ames, 117 Morier Ave, Winnipeg MB R2M0C8, Telephone 204-947-9707, for further information.