Mission to Save Orchids From Extinction

The orchid capital of America is located in the northern edge of the Florida Everglades, the forested water course known as the Fakahatchee wetlands.

Federal biologist Larry Richardson is one of the few people allowed in this wildlife refuge.

Richardson plays guardian to the animals that live here and the plants that grow here — including 39 different orchids, every one of which is threatened.

Richardson's new mission is to save the cigar orchid — a flowering jewel on the edge of extinction. In his 12 years at the refuge, Richardson has only seen about a dozen.

Wildflowers everywhere need bees and other insects to help them reproduce. Some rare orchids have fragrances that attract only a single type of bee. Insects that used to pollinate the cigar orchid have disappeared, since the climate has changed and the Everglades have been drying up.

The birds and the bees can't be relied upon for the survival of this plant. "I'm the one that has to come out here and actually pollinate the orchids," Richardson says.

Richardson spends his days searching for plants to pollinate. "I just enjoy finding this sort of diamond out in the wilderness that needs our help. And without it, it will perish," he says.

When the cigar orchid produces its new seeds, Richardson will take them to a greenhouse. There, they'll grow with help from the Native Orchid Restoration Project. The group, made up of local experts, works toward conserving native orchids.

When the young cigar orchids are big enough, they'll leave the greenhouse and head for the refuge again, where they'll repopulate the wilderness.

ABCNEWS' Jeffrey Kofman and Charles Herman contributed to this report.

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