Researchers have pinpointed the biggest threats to the only population of rare, endangered mule ear orchids in the U.S.
FIU’s orchid research team found powerful hurricanes can wipe out these fragile plants, but an invasive species of scale insect that feeds on the leaves is the primary culprit of concern.
“Mule ear orchids we observed that had scale insects were more likely to die,” said Haydee Borrero, the study’s lead author and FIU postdoctoral scientist. “This is an invasive species that has impacted other types of orchids on Florida’s west coast. So, it’s something we need to be worried about.”
Borrero, along with FIU conservation ecologist Hong Liu, have long been sentinels for mule ear orchids. These orchids exclusively grow throughout the Caribbean, with the largest populations scattered across remote regions of Cuba. Their northern-most range is south Florida’s buttonwood hammocks in Everglades National Park.