Stantec employee organizes largest orchid planting in Midwest

Volunteers help plant more than 1,500 orchids to help address the plants’ declining population.
Volunteers help plant more than 1,500 orchids to help address the plants’ declining population.

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:36 pm

In May, around 25 volunteers gathered at Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville and participated in the largest orchid planting in the Midwest.

During the event, the volunteers planted more than 1,500 orchids – pink lady’s slippers and white lady’s slippers, to be exact. The planting project was coordinated by Melissa Curran, a botanist and project manager at Stantec’s Green Bay office. Curran has studied orchid habitat for seven years.

The goal of the massive planting was to preserve the plant and address its dwindling numbers. According to Stantec (an Edmonton, Alberta-based architecture design and engineering firm), the Midwest is home to more than 50 species of native orchids, but populations have declined due to changes in their delicate habitat.

Curran said the Saukville planting was a continuation of a project she first started in Door County. Different species of orchids were planted there in 2015 and 2016.

“This was the first time around that we planted orchids in pots to grow in a shade house,” she said of the Saukville planting.

The two species of orchids chosen for the project have specific requirements for care, and need an extended time in a nursery setting so they can grow bigger. They will grow in the shade house for at least a couple of years before they will be planted permanently elsewhere. Curran said their forever home will be somewhere the orchids can be reintroduced or help restore the population.

Pink lady’s slippers and white lady’s slippers were chosen specifically for a few reasons. Curran noted only a handful of orchid species, including these two, can be reliably germinated. The pink lady’s slipper has wide habitat requirements, so it can be placed in a variety of places. The white lady’s slipper, meanwhile, has legal protection by the state due to its dwindling numbers, so there’s great value in planting that species, she said.

Curran expects the partnership with Riveredge will continue in the foreseeable future.

“Riveredge has been a great partner in this process, and I see them being the public, nonprofit face of this project,” she said.

Every year they will receive new seedlings from different species to be planted at the shade house, which was constructed specifically for this initiative.

Curran said she’s looking forward to planting more orchids at this initiative’s new permanent home.

“It’s an incredibly long-term investment on my part, and hopefully Stantec’s part as well,” she said.

How the partnership between Riveredge and Stantec began is a bit of an unknown. Curran said her counterpart at the nature center is land manager Matt Smith. Laughing, she said that neither she nor Smith can exactly remember how they met and began planning things out. Curran said Smith seems to remember her cold-calling Riveredge, but she said that Smith had at one point seen her giving a presentation on the subject.

Regardless, the two are a good pairing for the initiative, she said.

“What I really like about Riveredge is their focus on education,” said Curran, adding that the nature preserve focuses on projects that have a regional impact.

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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