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Parks Canada believes rare orchid stolen from Flowerpot Island was targeted

By Denis Langois,
Owen Sound Sun Times,
August 29 2017

Parks Canada says they believe those responsible for taking a culturally significant orchid from Flowerpot Island had specifically targeted the plant because of its rarity.

The large round-leaved orchid, also known as Platanthera orbiculata, was nabbed from the popular tourist attraction at Fathom Five National Marine Park in early June, but Parks Canada officials are still hoping to find out who did it.

Ethan Meleg, an external relations manager at Parks Canada, said a social media post about the theft was widely shared.

Ontario Nature recently added the post to their page, which is followed by more than 13,000 people.

“We would be pleased if it led to finding out who did it, but it’s also an excellent educational message about the protection of orchids. So it serves both of those purposes,” he said Tuesday in an interview.

Meleg said Parks Canada does not yet know the motivation behind the theft. Was it, for example, taken by a collector or a person who planned to sell it on the commercial market?

“I can’t comment specifically on those but I can tell you that there are enthusiasts that are interested in orchids both in the wild just for looking at them and also people that have collections of orchids. We know that that occurs; there’s lots of orchid shows all over the place,” he said.

Hunting orchids in the wild is something that dates back to the Victorian era and there are multiple websites about the people who collect as well as sell rare species of the flowering plant.

There have also been books written and movies and television shows made about orchid hunters who have faced dangerous situations and been arrested for allegedly poaching rare orchids.

The Bruce Peninsula is home to 42 native species of orchids.

Each June, the Friends of the Bruce District Parks Association holds the Bruce Peninsula Orchid Festival to celebrate the wildflowers on the peninsula.

This year’s event was held from June 2 to 4.

Parks Canada says the “locally rare” large round-leaved orchid was taken from Flowerpot Island sometime between June 2 and 10. The flower had been in the park for more than a decade and was used by Parks Canada staff for educational purposes.

Meleg said the theft was noticed by some orchid enthusiasts who notified Fathom Five staff. Park wardens then began an investigation.

“These are rare incidents and we don’t think it happens very often,” he said.

The park is always promoting the same message to people about the peninsula’s orchids: “don’t pick them, don’t dig them and don’t trample them,” Meleg said.

“Orchids are very sensitive to disturbance so those are the messages we always share with the public,” he said.

Anyone with information on the theft of the large round-leaved orchid is being asked to call Parks Canada dispatch at 1-877-852-3100.

The removal of any flora from a national park in Canada is punishable by up to a $25,000 fine for a first offence.