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R.A. Smith National, Inc. Knowledge Blog

A Quest for State Endangered/Federally Threatened Orchid Species

by Tina Myers 12. July 2013 05:59

My co-worker and fellow ecologist, Heather Patti, and I participated in a unique opportunity this past week when we assisted the WI Department of Natural Resources in a survey of the State Endangered/Federally Threatened Prairie White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea).  This extremely rare plant is primarily found in moist, undisturbed, deep-soiled and/or calcareous prairies and is less commonly seen in tamarack fens.  Since these ecosystems are also quite rare, the survival of this beautiful wildflower is dependent upon the preservation and management of the few remaining areas that harbor them.  These unique ecosystems are under constant threat of invasive species such as glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) which can easily overtake a prairie in the absence of fire.  The WDNR’s Bureau of Endangered Resources, which was renamed the Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation on July 1, tracks rare species and manages State Natural Areas to preserve the best remnants of our original landscapes and they depend on many volunteers to help them.

With approximately a dozen other volunteers, Heather and I meandered throughout a prairie in southeast Wisconsin in search of this rare beauty.  It was much like looking for a needle in a haystack!  By the end of the day, only a small number of orchids were found and their locations GPS’d.  I was thrilled to be able to personally find one lonely orchid during the last 10 minutes of a long day searching.  In addition to the rare orchid find, we also caught a glimpse of the State-Threatened Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), and several other rare plants such as smooth phlox (Phlox glaberrima), marsh blazing star (Liatris spicata), and ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis), among others.


 White Fringed Orchid
Credit: Tina Myers, R.A. Smith National



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