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Prairie Fringed Orchids

Fact Sheet

 

PDF Version

 

photo of eastern prairie fringed orchid
photo by Marlin Bowles

Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid

photo of western prairie fringed orchid
photo by Marlin Bowles
Western Prairie Fringed Orchid

 

The eastern and western prairie fringed orchids are threatened species. Threatened species are animals and plants that are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Endangered species are animals and plants that are in danger of becoming extinct. Identifying, protecting, and restoring endangered and threatened species is the primary objective of the Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species program.

What are prairie fringed orchids?

  • Scientific Name - Platanthera leucophaea (eastern prairie fringed orchid); Platanthera praeclara (western prairie fringed orchid)
  • Appearance - Both orchids produce flower stalks up to 47 inches tall. Each stalk has up to 40 white flowers about an inch long. The western prairie fringed orchid's flowers are somewhat larger than those of the closely related eastern prairie fringed orchid.
  • Range - The eastern prairie fringed orchid occurs mostly east of the Mississippi River in fewer than 60 sites in Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, and in Ontario, Canada. The western prairie fringed orchid is restricted to west of the Mississippi River and currently occurs in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and in Manitoba, Canada.
  • Habitat - Both orchids occur most often in mesic to wet unplowed tallgrass prairies and meadows but have been found in old fields and roadside ditches. The eastern prairie fringed orchid also occurs in bogs, fens, and sedge meadows. Reproduction - The nocturnally fragrant flowers of these perennial orchids attract hawkmoths that feed on nectar and transfer pollen from flower to flower and plant to plant. Seed germination and proper plant growth depend on a symbiotic relationship between the plants' reduced root systems and a soil-inhabiting fungus for proper water uptake and nutrition.

Why are the Prairie Fringed Orchids Threatened

  • Habitat Loss or Degradation - The greatest threat to the prairie fringed orchids is habitat loss, mostly through conversion to cropland. Competition with introduced alien plants, filling of wetlands, intensive hay mowing, fire suppression, and overgrazing also threatens these species
  • Collection - These orchids have been collected because of their rarity and beauty.
  • Pesticides and Other Pollutants - The prairie fringed orchids depend on hawkmoths for pollination. Any threat to these insects, such as the use of insecticides, is a threat to the prairie fringed orchids.

What is Being Done to Prevent Extinction of the Prairie Fringed Orchids?

  • Listing - The prairie fringed orchids were added to the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants on September 28, 1989.
  • Recovery Plan - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing recovery plans that describes actions needed to help this plant survive. The Service approved the recovery plan for western prairie fringed orchid in 1996.
  • Research - Researchers are studying the prairie fringed orchids to find the best ways to manage for the orchids and their habitat.
  • Habitat Protection - Where possible, the orchids' habitat is being protected and habitat is improved with a variety of management techniques. In Illinois, seed was dispersed on some public lands that had good habitat but no orchids. Subsequently, orchids bloomed on at least one of those sites. Private landowners, government agencies, and conservation organizations are helping conserve these species.
  • Public Education - Public education programs have been developed to raise awareness of the orchids' plight.

What Can I Do to Help Prevent the Extinction of Species?

  • Learn - Learn more about prairie fringed orchids and other endangered and threatened species. Understand how the destruction of habitat leads to loss of endangered and threatened species and our nation's plant and animal diversity. Tell others about what you have learned.
  • Write - Write to elected officials in your local, state, and national government to voice your support for conservation of threatened and endangered species.
  • Join - Join a conservation group; many have local chapters.

Fact Sheet created 12/2004

 

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Last updated: April 1, 2014