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A man holds an orchid and describes its care to a group of people.

Dr. Jason Downing describes the care of a native Florida orchid to our landscaping team and volunteers.

About 3 years ago, our Zoo put out the call for orchids from the community through volunteer Chris Vellanti. Now, an incredible collection of orchids can be enjoyed throughout our Zoo thanks to the work of Chris and her fellow volunteer Erni Davis.

Soon, this collection will take on a new direction by becoming a part of a program dedicated to restoring native orchids to Florida thanks to the work of our landscaping team and volunteers!

The Million Orchid Project, led by the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s Dr. Jason Downing, has propagated hundreds of thousands of native orchids and planted them in urban landscapes. Thanks to the work of Chris in securing special funding from The American Orchid Society and State Farm, our Zoo will be able to participate in this undertaking.

“Conservation is so much more than just wildlife. Conservation is about people and ecosystems, habitats and plants,” said Jody Cassell, our director of conservation. “At Brevard Zoo we ensure that our conservation efforts are well rounded to assist the environment as much as we possibly can.

“We are excited to welcome this partnership with Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens and orchid biologist, Dr. Jason Downing to ensure the Zoo is doing our part in preserving native and tropical orchids. We know our guests will love seeing these beauties around the Zoo too!”

Of Florida’s 106 native orchid species, 58 are listed as endangered by the Atlas of Florida Plants. Another 18 species are threatened. The removal of native flowers stems all the way back to the development of Florida railroads from the 1880s through the roaring 1920s. The new infrastructure made it possible to transport many of Florida’s natural wonders out of the state.

“I see it as a great conservation project,” Chris said. “I hate that orchids were taken from our forests. I love that we’re putting them back.”

The Million Orchid Project’s goal is to reestablish one million native orchids in Florida. While south Florida has been designated as the primary region for the Million Orchid Project because of its climate, Brevard Zoo has its own microclimate ideal for orchids thanks to the heaters used in the winter for our animal residents and our proximity to Interstate 95.

After a site visit, Dr. Downing outlined several spots in the Zoo that would be ideal for native orchids in our Caribbean Trail, Rainforest Revealed loop and Wild Florida loop. He also recommended and provided about 250+ plants, both orchids and tropical plants.

Three women stand looking at orchids on a table

Our amazing volunteers and landscape team will be caring for new orchids native to Florida in the Zoo!

The Million Orchid Project focuses on about 10 native Florida species known for their hardiness. About 75% of the orchids at the Zoo will be native varieties, including the Florida butterfly orchid, night scented orchid, cow-horn orchid, Florida dancing lady orchid and the Spotted Mule Eared orchid.

It’s estimated that it will take about 2 years of care for the new orchids to take. The first month alone, all the new orchids will need to be watered by hand. This work will be led by Chris and Ernie along with our landscaping team.

Interested in seeing these new orchids? Look up during your next visit! The new orchids will be “planted” on trees throughout the Zoo. If you’ve never seen some of our in bloom orchid collection, check out the display at the start of our Rainforest Revealed loop.

Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.