In collaboration with the Changing Landscapes Initiative and the North American Orchid Conservation Center SCBI, VWL is leading a citizen science-driven orchid survey in the Northern Blue Ridge and Northern Piedmont regions of Virginia. The project combines baseline ecological surveys and conservation-focused public outreach in hopes of elevating the important role orchids play, particularly in Virginia’s forest ecosystems. Our citizen scientists and staff coordinate and carry out orchid surveys in the field and support the orchid project’s outreach efforts with the public. Our work generates data which inform CLI’s landscape-scale scenario models, and our hands-on survey work allows surveyors to collect tissue and seed material for NAOCC’s nationwide orchid seed catalog.

Orchids are remarkably sensitive to environmental disturbance and, thus, ecologists often use their presence or absence as an indicator of the health of forest habitats. This function is just one of the reasons to be concerned by the decline of orchid species. Of the approximately 210 known orchids in North America, more than 60 percent are listed as threatened or endangered in all or part of their range. Many have disappeared from certain states. Some progress has been made in understanding basic orchid ecology and biology, but conservation efforts are slow. Orchids rely on complex symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi at all life stages, and frequently have specialized habitat requirements and pollinator partnerships. These relationships play a role in determining where orchid populations occur in a landscape. Locating and being able to predict orchid hotspots are key steps towards understanding and conserving orchids in Virginia’s fast-developing northern counties. Meanwhile, as with all VWL projects, we are focused on engaging the public with the science we carry out, and as with other VWL projects, temperate orchids are an underappreciated resource. While tropical orchids are well-researched and generally recognized in the public, little has been done to research and understand orchids across the United States and Canada. Through our collaboration with NAOCC we seek to contribute what we can learn about Virginia’s orchid populations.

VWL’s Role:
VWL provides a network of landowners who are interested in land use issues and land management best practices, who allow surveyors access to private property, opening up new areas for monitoring and research.

Collaborators and Primary Investigators:
Dr. Iara Lacher (PI) – Changing Landscapes Initiative
Joe Guthrie – Virginia Working Landscapes
Dr. Dennis Whigham – North American Orchid Conservation Center

Project Timeline & Status:
Started Spring 2019 – Ongoing

Smithsonian Women’s Committee Research Grant


VWL is supported 100% by grants and donations and our work is made possible by the generous contributions from our community.

The Smithsonian Institution is a 501(c)(3). All contributions are tax-deductible.


Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Road, MRC 5537
Front Royal, Virginia 22630