Rare Orchids Get a Boost in Illinois
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chicago Field Office works with Chicago area volunteers and land managers to nurture and increase populations of a rare orchid that grows in wet prairies and sedge meadows: the eastern prairie fringed orchid. Habitat restoration work in northeastern Illinois has increased potential habitat for the orchid, and seed dispersal is intended to help grow populations and enhance their viability.
Eastern prairie fringed orchid seed capsules are moved from one site to another following a predetermined seed dispersal plan. Criteria used to determine from which site seed capsules are harvested (donor site) and to which site the seed capsules will be dispersed (receptor site) include matching similar plant communities (prairie with prairie or sedge meadow with sedge meadow), sites being no more than 50 miles from each other, and that the seed dispersal should contribute to recovery. For example, the highest priority seed receptor sites are those that have the best likelihood to increase that population’s viability from moderate to high if the site had a larger number of blooming orchids and with an upward trend.
Because the seed is wind dispersed naturally, this year, rather than simply sowing the seed by hand into the receptor site, we tied seed capsules with thread to something within the habitat that is higher than the prairie or sedge meadow canopy. For example, we used the dried stalk of prairie dock, a dogwood bush, and even a wooden stake.
Seed capsule dispersal is only one of many parts of the recovery efforts for this species. Volunteer monitoring, data recording and hand pollination also drive efforts to recover the eastern prairie fringed orchid. You can find out more at www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/plants/epfo/index.html
-- Cathy Pollack
Chicago Field Office