MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Down the winding path through the stunning Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is where you find Myles Covington, a Florida International University biology major, carefully handling baby orchids.

“This stage is one of the early stages of all orchids, they’re called protocorms – the equivalent of stem cells. This lab is a home away from home, I spend more time with these plants than with most people,” admits Covington.

South Florida was once a natural orchid paradise, but the population of the plants with the captivating blooms began disappearing.

“The extreme poaching happened in the early 1900’s all the way to today where orchids are ripped out of the trees,” explains Dr. Jason Downing, an orchid biologist at Fairchild.

They are all beautiful, but one of the most elusive and coveted orchids is the ghost orchid. These bloom once a year. They are rare and dwindling.

“I got this amazing opportunity to go and work with these endangered orchids and that’s what I do. I work with the Dendrophylax orchid – the Florida ghost orchid- trying to help and recover these endangered species for Florida,” said Covington.

Covington’s work is part of the larger mission – the Million Orchid Project launched in 2014. The goal is to put orchids back in the public, making them accessible.

Downing explains that this is unique in that they are focused on public places, with the goal of reestablishing orchids in public spaces.

Focusing on the urban areas where folks can see these plants without having to impact the sensitive natural areas where they occur.

The hope is with all these stunning plants to enjoy freely, people will leave them alone to flourish. Because like all living things, they have a purpose.

“They are not all ornamental plants, things that you see in Publix to take to your mom, they are either a food source for some, a home for others,” Covington says.

His research is already producing results and one thing is evident – his passion for orchids is contagious.

“If you’re not a plant lover already, just spend a day with me and you will be,” he beams.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden hosting the International Orchid Festival from March 13th to 15th and expecting seven to ten thousand visitors. You can get more info on their website: fairchildgarden.org/

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