"They want out," said IC biology professor Lawrence Zettler, referring to the young orchids he and his students have nurtured from seeds to seedlings for nearly two years.
"We're almost there.
The long journey of getting and growing these plants and getting them home is almost over."
Next month, Zettler
and Amanda Wood of Belleville, a junior biology and French major at IC
, will travel about 9,500 miles to the island of Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean to reintroduce the orchids to their native soil.
said isolated pockets of many Madagascan orchids make them particularly vulnerable to loss of habitat.
said farm practices and illegal mining for precious stones have caused habitat loss in some areas and affected the island's native orchids, 90 percent of which are found nowhere else in the world.
said it is important to protect the orchids and other wild plants around the world.
"Wild plants, including orchids, are a potential source of new medicines, and it is the responsibility of plant conservationists to ensure their survival," he
"Illinois College students are playing a direct role in this conservation process.
They are going to inherit the Earth and hopefully carry on this important conservation work long after I'm gone."
Zettler is a world-renowned expert on orchids.
He was invited by a Kew researcher in 2011 to be part of an orchid conservation team.
specifically asked me to be the specialist for growing the orchids with fungi," Zettler
Consequently, Zettler and IC biology laboratory manager Andrew Stice went to Madagascar in April 2012 to collect orchid seeds and the fungi orchids eat.
is relieved that his
orchid-growing project is moving on to the next stage.
"It has been very nerve-racking, with the uncertainty that these orchid species could become extinct under our watch," he