The Writhlington School Orchid Project has involved hundreds of students in the twenty or more
years that it has been running. Led from the start by teacher Simon Pugh-Jones, the project grew
out of the after-school Gardening Club for students, making use of a set of old greenhouses on the
school property. After a collection of orchids was donated to the club, Simon was able to instill his
students with his own schoolboy passion for this diverse and fascinating group of plants. Exhibiting
and selling plants at horticultural and local shows, the club started to specialise in growing orchids
and around ten years ago, they took the next step in orchid propagation, growing from seed.
In the wild, orchid seeds rely on a fungal partner to be present in order for them to germinate. In
cultivation, identifying and inoculating seed with the correct fungus is extremely difficult, especially
in normal greenhouse conditions, and so in vitro techniques are used. By sowing orchid seeds in
sterile air provided within a laminar flow hood, on a sterilised nutrient agar medium which supplies
the seeds with the sugars, minerals, and other nutrients they need, it is possible to generate vast
quantities of healthy orchid seedlings from a single seed pod (a single pod can contain hundreds of
thousands, to several million, minute dust-like seeds).
The ‘mother flasks’ of seeds are placed in the school’s growth room, under rows of fluorescent
lighting tubes. Once the seeds have germinated and developed into small round bodies protocorms), they can be plated out onto fresh medium. As the seedlings grow and require more space and fresh nutrients, they are ‘reflasked’ into new jars of media, and replaced under the lights in the growth room in between transfers. Once large enough, the seedlings can be taken out of their sterile jars and media, the sugar rich agar washed off the roots, and potted up to be grown on.
Several distributors and manufacturers of laminar flow cabinets were approached by Writhlington
School as possible suppliers. Bigneat was selected, their cabinet being purchased through leading
laboratory distributor, Scientific & Chemical Supplies. The main reason for this choice of cabinet
supplier was based on the willingness of manufacturer Bigneat to work with and support Writhlington School and other associates such as Botanic Gardens Conservation International in their work.
Simon Pugh-Jones commented “We really think all schools should be working in clean air and teaching aseptic techniques so that students are prepared with skills which will be of use in a range of future careers in biological fields such as medical, chemical and life sciences, across to physics subjects such as microelectronics and nanotechnology.” He added “We believe that all schools should have a laminar flow cabinet and through teaming up with organisations around the world and working with Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew we hope to pass on the benefit of our experience and knowledge”.