12 July 2009

Worth the Drive

After the heavy rains passed through on the morning of July 11, 2009, Tony Troche and I set out for a fine day of botanizing. I used almost an entire tank of gas throughout the day, as one of our destinations was a prairie on the south side of Chicago from where the Federally Threatened Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) is known. I don't do much botanizing in Chicago because of the distance from home, and usually the traffic is horrible. But on this day, the trip was definitely worth the drive.

Unfortunately, while the plants were still in flower, they were just a bit past their prime. While Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid can be over 3 feet tall, it can still be somewhat difficult to spot, especially when it is growing with so many other white-flowering species, including Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Annual Fleabane (Erigeron annuus), and White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba v. macrophylla). The plants that we saw were in less dense, lower growing prairie vegetation than was present in other parts of the prairie.



While its geographical range is centered in the Great Lakes states and provinces, Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid is also known from North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Maine. It is very rare throughout most of its range. A single plant can live up to 30 years, which is a long time for members of this genus.

Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid can be found in bogs and dry to wet prairies. It can also withstand some degradation, to the point that it has been found on roadsides and in ditches.


Only four species, all hawk moths, are known to pollinate Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid. This important fact emphasizes the point that our natural world is a delicate chain of intertwined organisms, and that if any link of this chain is removed, the entire system is threatened.

7 comments:

Justin said...

Good stuff! Easter Prairie Fringed Orchid was just rediscovered in Missouri this year. It hadn't been seen in 58 years! It is a great year for orchids.

Tom said...

Yes, good stuff. I guess we're pretty lucky in Ohio, we have some great populations, and at some sites, in good years, hundreds of blooming plants can be seen.

Brad said...

A DNR colleague and I counted over 550 plants at two "megasites" this year in the Saginaw Bay area. At one site, there were 91 plants last year and 265 this year. Also, a new inland station was discovered in SW Michigan. Indeed, a great year for orchids!

Scott said...

Thanks for the comments. It certainly is a great year for orchids. We saw 6 orchid species on our recent trip to Colorado, too, where they've had a wet summer.

petegrube said...

I would love to see these in Indiana someday. It is rumored that there is a reintroduction program at Kankakee Sands. Let's hope that's true.

Scott said...

You never know... it would be a good year to look for this in appropriate habitat throughout Indiana.

petegrube said...

Since posting my last comment I have learned from a very reliable source that there is now a newly discovered Indiana population of this species.