With the “Parade of Orchids” set to take place in July, Rich Ackerman walked through Oakland Park’s Stunson Park. He was impressed with the park’s bevy of native plants, and all it needed next was native orchids climbing from the trees.
Ackerman, the president of the Fort Lauderdale Orchid Society, visited the park alongside Dr. Jason Downing of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Together with their groups, along with the Equality Garden Club in Wilton Manors, have been working to make the Million Orchid Project a reality, and Oakland Park was next.
With speakers from the city and members of both botanical groups present, 100 orchids were planted at the park in an event dubbed the “Parade of Orchids.” The park was named for the late Oakland Park City Manager John Stunson, a fitting move as he loved nature.
“Our family is pleased that the trail named in his honor will be enhanced with so many beautiful orchids,” his wife, Shelley, said in a press release. “We hope people of all ages will visit and appreciate how something so breathtaking was made possible by the kindness of so many.”
With the 100 plants tied to trees — their roots will eventually bond to the tree, as it is a parasitic plant — in about a year the park will be blooming with orchids.
“This project will create a beautiful and harmonious space of reflection,” Oakland Park Mayor Matthew Sparks said in a press release. “We envision the orchids as a stunning tribute to the first responders, medical professionals, and Oakland Park employees whose commitment to serving our community has never wavered.”
These plants are a part of a larger goal, the One Million Orchids Project, spearheaded by Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables. With native orchids wiped out of their habitats, the scientists at the facility are trying to bring the unique flowers back to South Florida.
The staff at Fairchild were inspired by Singapore Botanic Gardens’ initiative to plant orchids to urban spaces. After propagating local orchid breeds in the lab, they were planted around the island and have added a welcome addition to the Asian island.
With Fairchild’s new micropropagation laboratory, scientists are able to specifically identify if a plant hails from Miami or Palm Beach by examining its DNA sequencing. With this information, it helps staff know where the plant will best thrive.
When he heard about the initiative, Ackerman was eager for his club to expand the project into Broward County. After signing a contract with the garden two years ago, the club’s volunteers have been on the move ever since, collecting native seeds, propagating roots, and planting them.
“The original population of these plants kind of got wiped out. But if they’re reintroduced, they will thrive,” Ackerman said. “We’re putting them back into the environment where they were originally found.”
And the Million Orchid Project has not only been a work of science, but a community. Fairchild has worked with schoolchildren, municipalities, and public parks to spread the beauty of orchids.
Oakland Park’s “Parade of Orchids” is one of the county’s major plantings. Flowers have also been planted at Broward College-South Campus, Riverland Manors and Colee Hammock in Fort Lauderdale. Boy Scouts in Davie have also participated in the project.
Boasting 300 members, the Fort Lauderdale Orchid Club is an award-winning group, being the only group to win the American Orchid Society’s Distinguished Affiliated Societies Service Award twice.
“Our orchid society would love to make relationships with garden clubs all over Broward County to act as an agent to get these plants out to the clubs for their members and for retirement homes and their community, for the city or the town park,” Ackerman said. “We’re going to have tens of thousands of orchids next year.”
For more information about the Million Orchid Project, visit flos.org/society-activities/million-orchid-project.