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Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchids in Illinois Reach 24-Year High!
Midwest Region, October 29, 2015
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Claire Ellwanger (Northwestern Illnois University / Chicago Botanic Garden / FWS intern) poses at Nachusa Grasslands with a few of their 425 blooming eastern prairie fringed orchids.
Claire Ellwanger (Northwestern Illnois University / Chicago Botanic Garden / FWS intern) poses at Nachusa Grasslands with a few of their 425 blooming eastern prairie fringed orchids. - Photo Credit: Cathy Pollack (FWS)
A close up of one eastern prairie fringed orchid. Infloresences can have from 3 to 40 creme white flowers.
A close up of one eastern prairie fringed orchid. Infloresences can have from 3 to 40 creme white flowers. - Photo Credit: Claire Ellwanger (FWS)
Hand pollination of the eastern prairie fringed orchid is routinely conducted at Illinois populations.  Here, we have eastern prairie fringed orchid pollinia (yellow pollen sacks) attached to the end of toothpicks on their way to a different population for cross pollination.
Hand pollination of the eastern prairie fringed orchid is routinely conducted at Illinois populations. Here, we have eastern prairie fringed orchid pollinia (yellow pollen sacks) attached to the end of toothpicks on their way to a different population for cross pollination. - Photo Credit: Claire Ellwanger (FWS)
Stuart Goldman (TNC) hand pollinates an eastern prairie fringed orchid.  He uses pollen from one plant and places it on the stigmatic surface of another plant (cross pollination).
Stuart Goldman (TNC) hand pollinates an eastern prairie fringed orchid. He uses pollen from one plant and places it on the stigmatic surface of another plant (cross pollination). - Photo Credit: Cathy Pollack (FWS)
Hand pollination results in plump seed capsules (as opposed to thin, skinny capsules) which are assumed to hold more seeds and a higher percentage of viable seed.  Current research hopes to shed light on this assumption.  Since the species is dependent on successful seed set for maintenance of the populations, plump pods are the goal.
Hand pollination results in plump seed capsules (as opposed to thin, skinny capsules) which are assumed to hold more seeds and a higher percentage of viable seed. Current research hopes to shed light on this assumption. Since the species is dependent on successful seed set for maintenance of the populations, plump pods are the goal. - Photo Credit: Cathy Pollack (FWS)

Monitoring Illinois populations of the federally threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid in 2015 confirmed a 24-year high in the number of blooming plants across the state. In 2015, Illinois recorded 1,810 blooming orchids across all eastern prairie fringed orchid populations. This number more than doubled the number of blooming orchids (902) counted last year. Twelve long years ago (2003) is the closest census where the number of blooming orchids came close to this season’s high numbers. That year Illinois volunteer monitors recorded 1,369 blooming plants from all Illinois populations (~35). This year’s census topped that number by 441 plants. It is likely that the wet spring and early summer may have spurred this event as high precipitation levels have been suggested to promote flowering in this species, but Illinois also boasts  about 60 volunteer monitors who annually tag, record demographic data, place deer cages around each blooming orchid, and hand pollinate the plants at their sites. All of this work, and perhaps most importantly the hand pollination, may have ensured the seed set for the continued maintenance of the populations. With that we send a sincere thank you to all of our great FWS volunteer monitors! This work cannot be done without you.


Contact Info: Cathy Pollack, 847/ 608-3101, cathy_pollack@fws.gov
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