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Madagascar celebrated at London orchid festival

Hence Roling, Kew Ambassador and in House Florist, looks at displays of Orchids ahead of the opening to the public of the Orchid festival at London's Kew Gardens, Feb. 1, 2024   -  
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Alastair Grant/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

United Kingdom

The 28th edition of the orchid festival in London is celebrating Madagascar's flowers.

The island nation is home to between 10,000 and 12,000 plant types – and 1 in 10 of those are orchids.

Some 5,000 flowers have been used to create spectacular displays at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Orchids are considered a barometer of the health of the island, researcher Landy Rajaovelona explains.

"Orchids have an important role on Madagascar's ecosystems because they are sensitive to the environmental conditions, to changes in the climate, to drought, the lack of light, lack of humidity."

If you look closely, you might spot some Madagascan creatures lurking in the blooms – like ring-tailed lemurs, chameleons.

Florists have even created a Vorombe, a large, flightless bird which was once native to the island but is now extinct.

The horticulture team saves leaves, bark and moss to use when building the creatures.

And of course, orchids are included to add a pop of colour.

Planning this event takes the whole year.

Kew’s orchid collection holds 8,000 plants covering 1,300 species.

The horticulturalists try to use as many plants from the Kew collection as possible, with any additional orchids brought in from outside suppliers.

Among the most biodiverse locations on the planet

Kew has worked in Madagascar since 1986 and currently has 40 researchers based at a site there.

The festival includes a reconstruction of a field camp scientists use to go out and study the island’s rich flora and fauna.

But these delicate flowers survive on a fragile balance that needs to be maintained.

Habitat destruction, frequent fires, drought, logging and illicit collection mean plants like orchids have become very vulnerable. 

Currently, 228 of around 1,000 of Madagascar’s orchid species have been assessed and listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

"Unfortunately Madagascar orchids are threatened because, after our work, we can see that around 76% are, using IUCN conservation assessment, endangered. That means that it is found in less than five localities in Madagascar. They are critically endangered. We found some orchid species in only in one place in Madagascar," Rajaovelona says.

Kew researchers want to raise awareness of all the flowers facing extinction.

They hope partnering with local communities to protect and even reintroduce orchids will help save them for future generations.

The Kew Orchid Festival will run until March 3rd.

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