Orchid hunting is growing in popularity, but there are fears the flowers will be ‘loved to death’

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.

“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.

Ecologist Mark Wapstra hunts orchids with mother Annie and her twin brother Eric in the 1970s.(

Supplied: Mark Wapstra

)

“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.”

Spy flower picture
This spider lizard is found only in one forest.(

ABC Radio Hobart: Jorge Burgess

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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.

A man climbing a rock in the bush
Mark Wapstra goes to great lengths to find orchids.(

Supplied: Mark Wapstra

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go easy

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.

Close-up of a delicate flower of pale pink and red color
Recently discovered by Craig Broadfield in remote southwestern Tasmania, the marsh finger lizard belongs to the pink-toed group.(

supplied

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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.

    Close-up of a man looking at something through a magnifying glass
Orchid hunter and ecologist Mark Wapstra.(

Supplied: Mark Wapstra

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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.”

man high on high rock
Mark Wapstra has spent 30 years collecting orchid information.(

Supplied: Mark Wapstra

)

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.

Red flower in the rub and dirt
This spider-tailed lizard is widely distributed but is still an endangered species.(

supplied

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“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.”

Unidentified voyager overlooking the sea from the rugged coast.
The Three Capes Track is the stronghold of the orchid.(

Department of Parks and Wildlife / Government of Tasmania

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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.

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