Mark Wapstra, an orchid hunter, has spent his entire life hunting down and documenting orchids native to Tasmania.
The ecologist grew up searching for orchids with his parents and a twin brother, and spent 30 years collecting a guide to flowering times.
the main points:
- The number of people practicing “orchid fishing” is increasing.
- An expert says that last season a very rare plant was trampled, and another site was damaged
- Orchid theft has also become a problem
“I just remember spending weekends in the back of a two-wheeler on a four-wheel drive track, hunting orchids,” he said.
The mystery and intrigue of delicate flowers attract amateurs and connoisseurs of “orchid hunters” alike, who are drawn to beauty and the hunt to find species they have never seen before.
“Spring is a real season of orchids and when some really special species come out,” he said.
But Webstra worries that the lizard has become lovable to death.
A Facebook group of 3,500 members has boosted the lizard’s popularity and information sharing, but the increased popularity comes with a price.
“We learned so much through social media that we even have new species registered from the state from that Facebook group,” Webstra said.
“It allows many, many more people to get interested, which is great, but we are increasing the visit of some sites.”
He pointed to a site in the Tasmanian Midlands last season where a single flower lived, making it one of the world’s rarest plants.
“By the end of the season, it’s been trampled on, so it won’t be the seed now,” he said.
He said another popular Midlands Orchid site was also damaged.
“We all leveled the lawn by looking at and photographing the orchid,” he said.
Webstra said orchid thefts from public reserves and ledges have also become a problem — some people dig up the plants and take them indoors.
“Most, if not all, of them will not survive,” he said.
“They don’t survive by digging them up and putting them in a pot on the windowsill.
He said orchids need fungi and pollinators to survive and thrive.
“The only reason to collect is if you have a scientific permit,” he said.
Mr. Webstra said the best way to collect orchids is with a camera.
“My only motivation for people is to be very careful where you’re going,” he said.
“Go alone instead of 20 people, you will do much less damage.”
As for sensitive sites, he said people should reconsider abandoning sites on social media and never enter private property without the permission of the landowner.
eye of the orchid
Like his parents, Mr. Webstra became obsessed with documenting orchids and put a lot of effort into finding flowers.
He said, “You have an orchid eye, you have to go in there and focus on what you’re doing. Eyes on the ground.”
He doesn’t think his work will ever be finished.
“We just finished describing a new species,” he said.
“We have others that we know we need to deal with, whether they’re a new species or whether they’re part of a species complex that we don’t understand.”
Where do you find them
There are about 220 species of wild orchids in Tasmania, many of which are endemic to only a small part of the state or even a particular forest.
Nearly 80 are officially listed as threatened.
“The Northwest is very special for us orchid lovers,” he said.
“There are a lot of species that we call endemic and they are not only found in Tasmania. They are endemic to that region and are found nowhere else in the world but there.
“They’re in these windswept coastal areas, which is the roughest country in that part of Tasmania and you can find an orchid at any time.”
Tasmanian orchids range in size from 1 cm, such as the small helmet orchid, to 1 meter, such as orchids and orchids.
“You can go almost any time of the year and you’ll find something.”
The Freycinet Peninsula on the east coast was a hot spot for orchids, he said, with 85 species.
“You’ll see them right through the tracks,” he said.
“You don’t have to walk more than a few meters from where you are sitting – if there is a bush you will find it.”
The Three Capes Track area in the southeast is also an orchid stronghold.
Mr Wapstra said he has taken part in surveys of the trail’s flora and fauna, and has recorded about 20 species.
“Since then, a host ranger has found dozens of additional species just by living on the track,” he said.
“A lot of them showed up right next to the track and we recorded 15 species growing in the gravel of the track.”
Some orchids only bloom for a day or two, which makes visibility even more special.