Students Working to Save Endangered Plants

What’s the best way to save a critically endangered, native Florida orchid? Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden figures getting citizen scientists involved is a good start. That’s how the botany kids at Jose Marti MAST 6-12 Academy got involved.

Through Fairchild’s Million Orchid Project, they’re propagating and cultivating seedlings of Cryptopodium punctatum, the Cowhorn Orchid. There are fewer than 30 of these plants known to live in the wilds of South Florida. This puts the MAST students at the cutting edge of plant science.

“I think it’s exceptionally remarkable because our students are involved in a real life, authentic science experiment that has environmental impact on our local communities,” said Andrew Kearns, the teacher who has spearheaded the botany project.

Fairchild’s goal is to repopulate the Cowhorn’s into the wild. At Jose Marti MAST, they’re investigating every stage of growth, from what medium is the most optimal to which kind of light is the best for seedlings.

“So we’re actually doing a statistical study with my ap statistics students where they’re doing comparisons of the proportions of survivors from led lights and fluorescent lights,” said Kearns.

The kids are learning real science, aided by technology. They use iPads with Google sheets to keep track of and share data with each other. It’s invaluable experience for the students.

“We have to make sure we water them regularly, we have to collect data, we have to draw conclusions from this data and all of this helps us learn the scientific method, what it is to be a scientist,” explained Hadrian Gonzalez, a senior at the school.

Cowhorns don’t develop flowers until they’re about ten years old. The oldest cuttings they have in their shadehouse at the school are about three, so patience is required. Senior Livia Martinez says the project is raising conservation awareness.

“The really cool thing is that Fairchild is working with schools and citizen science is really cool because it gets people involved, people who wouldn’t normally be able to participate in actual science,” said Livia, who told us she wants to become an environmental scientist.

Her teacher can barely contain his excitement.

“What we’re doing here is going to make a difference not just in the next six months but in the next six years, in the next 60 years,” Kearns says.

Maybe by then, the Cowhorn will be as numerous in the wild as it is in the shadehouse at Jose Marti MAST Academy in Hialeah.

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