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Orchid Conservation

Of all plant families, it is perhaps that of the Orchidaceae which most captures the public imagination and at the same time is also of exceptional interest for conservationists. Indeed, as is stated in the IUCN Orchids - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan (1996): 'Orchids are a charismatic group and have been called the 'pandas of the plant world'. They are a prominent focus of plant conservation. All appear on CITES Appendix I or II. Many nature reserves exist because of the orchids that occur there.'

What is the reason for this? At first sight, it would seem that the Orchidaceae are a highly successful plant family, occupying almost every possible ecological niche, and having diversified into an estimated 25,000 species. However, the life cycle of orchids is typically highly specialized and complex, often involving specific fungal partners and pollinators. This specialization and complexity makes them more vulnerable to both natural and anthropogenic threats, and this in turn has meant that the abundance of many orchid species has dropped to critical levels in recent decades. Furthermore, many orchids are extremely sensitive to environmental fluctuations and are thus likely to be amongst the first plants to face extinction as a result of climate change.

In summary, therefore, the diversity and abundance of orchids in any locality can provide important clues as to the health of the habitat, as well as being an important indicator of the state of the overall biodiversity.  

Due to its geographical position, geological history and complex relief, the flora of the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains is exceptionally rich boasting more than 2500 species of plants. Of particular conservation interest is the great variety of orchids. Currently, some 59 species of orchids have been recorded in the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains, and for some of these orchids, the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains mark the limit of their European distribution. It is for this reason that the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains can be considered a region of exceptional importance for orchid conservation.