Augsburg News

News Archives - 2007

Observing Orchids

July 20, 2007

With a national wholesale value of $100 million, the potted orchid is second in popularity only to the poinsettia, and the wholesale value is much greater. Therefore, finding how to best propagate low-cost orchids is big business.

The orchid breeder of Orchids Unlimited in Apple Valley thought so as well, so when junior chemistry major Caryn Quist approached him about sponsoring her summer research project, he jumped on board. In January, during the initial stages of the project, the breeder was the sole provider of orchid stems for research. Now, with Junior Steve Eichten joining the research, the scale of the project has grown, and orchids are shipped in from a greenhouse in California.

Quist's research focuses on determining the total content of phenols (a class of chemical compounds) produced in vitro under varying light and temperature conditions by phalaenopsis, a genus of approximately 60 species of orchids. Other student researchers include Steve Eichten, studying adjustments with light quality in orchid propagation, and Nick Nelson, researching ways to manipulate the germination process of Ladyslippers. Mark Strefeler, associate professor and department chair of biology, leads the research team.

“Learning the process of research has been an entirely new, but incredibly exciting and enriching experience,” she says. “It has certainly begun to change the way I observe and formulate questions about the natural world around me, and has given me a chance see a slightly different side of academia. It's exciting to know that I could be making a contribution to orchid horticulture, but regardless if that occurs, I feel really fortunate to have this research opportunity that URGO has given me.”

Through its Summer Research Program, URGO (Augsburg’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity) provides students with the opportunity to explore theoretical and practical questions in depth under the mentorship of Augsburg faculty.