White fringeless orchid proposed for endangered species list
White fringeless orchid (Platanthera integrilabia) is a perennial herb that grows up to 60 cm tall. It has a single, light-green stem rising from a tuber. The leaves have smooth edges and tend to be long and narrow, with leaves lower on the plant being larger. The plant bears white flowers in a loose cluster at the end of the stem, and it flowers from late July through September with small fruit maturing in October.
White fringeless orchid grows in wet, boggy areas at the heads of streams and on sloping areas kept moist by groundwater seeping to the surface. It is often associated with Sphagnum in partially, but not fully, shaded areas. Other plants commonly found with it include: cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior), grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia asarifolia), primrose-leaf stemless white violet (Viola primulifolia) and other orchids, particularly green wood orchid (Platanthera clavellata) and yellow-fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris).
Historically, there were at least 90 populations of white fringeless orchid. Today it’s known or presumed present at 80 sites across its range. The majority of sites consist of fewer than 100 plants, although some have been reported to contain 500-1000 plants at some point in their history. Reports of sites containing over 1000 plants are rare, but not unprecedented.
White fringeless orchid was originally known from Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The species has disappeared from North Carolina (Henderson and Cherokee Counties), and a population has disappeared from Georgia’s Cobb County.
Alabama currently supports 11 occurrences in eight counties:
Calhoun (two sites, both on Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge), Clay, Cleburne (on Talladega National Forest), Dekalb, Jackson, Marion, Tuscaloosa, Winston
- Bartow, Carroll (two occurrences), Chattooga, Coweta, Forsyth, Pickens, Rabun, Stephens (on Chattahoochee National Forest)
- Laurel (four sites), McCreary (three sites), Pulaski (two sites), Whitley
Bledsoe (three sites), Cumberland, Fentress (two sites, both within Big South Fork National Scenic River and Recreation Area), Franklin (10 sites), Grundy (eight sites), Marion (eight sites), McMinn, Polk, Scott (within Big South Fork National Scenic River and Recreation Area, Sequatchie (two sites), and Van Buren (six sites).
Georgia currently supports nine occurrences in eight counties:
Kentucky supports 10 known occurrences and is the only state where a majority of the sites are on National Forests.
Mississippi has six sites, one in Alcorn County, three in Itawamba County, and two in Tishomingo County
South Carolina has a single occurrence, of questionable status, on state-owned land in Greenville County.
Tennessee contains the majority of known sites across the species range, with 43 known or presumed occurrences distributed among the following counties:
Populations of white fringeless orchid have been lost to habitat-altering activities such as road construction, residential and commercial construction, and soil and water-flow altering projects that reduced habitat quality for the plant. Inundation of plants due to construction of impoundments and impacts from ATV traffic have caused the loss of some populations. Loss of additional sites to these factors and to residential and other construction activities remains a potential threat to populations not managed for conservation.
The best available information indicates that many existing populations and their habitat are adversely affected by factors that directly harm individual white fringeless orchids or alter the plant communities, soils, and water flow in the sites where they occur. These factors include collection/poaching, utility and road right-of-way maintenance, timber harvesting, invasive species encroachment, vegetation succession in the absence of disturbance, and prolonged drought. One or more of these threats has historically impacted or is currently operating at the majority (likely more than 90%) of known occurrences across the species range. These factors, combined with the small sizes and low reproductive rates of many populations, leave the species vulnerable to localized extinctions throughout its geographic range.
The white fringeless orchid was first recognized as a candidate for federal listing in 1999; however publication of a proposed listing rule has been precluded by actions directed towards higher-priority species. In May, 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was asked by the Center for Biological Diversity to place white fringeless orchid, along with all other candidates for federal listing, on the federal endangered species list.
The Service has included the orchid as part of its 2015 workload, and by the end of the year will either determine that the plant does not need to be on the endangered species list, or begin the process for placing it on the list.
McCoy, Roger. 2008. Present status of the known Platanthera integrilabia occurrences in Tennessee. Unpublished report from Tennessee Division of Natural Areas to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
McCoy, Roger. 2012. Monitoring of select Platanthera integrilabia (white fringeless orchid) populations in Tennessee. Report to US Fish and Wildlife Service, Section 6, Segment 25. November 2012.
Medley, Max E. 1980. Status Report on Platanthera integrilabia. Unpublished report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region. 34 pp.
NatureServe Explorer. 2009. Summary report (PDF) for Platanthera integrilabia. Obtained from
http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/ on March 13, 2009.
Norquist, Cary. 2007. Email to Robert Currie, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Asheville, North Carolina. March 9, 2007.
Patrick, Tom. 2012. Email to Geoff Call, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cookeville, Tennessee. February 15, 2012.
Shea, Andrea. 1999. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Nashville, Tennessee.Personal communication with Robert Currie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Asheville, North Carolina.
Shea, Margaret M. 1992. Status Survey Report on Platanthera integrilabia. Unpublished report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region. 152 pp.
White, Deborah. 1998. Site Conservation Plans for Platanthera integrilabia (White Fringeless Orchid). Unpublished report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region. 106 pp.
White, Deborah. 1999. Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, Frankfort, Kentucky. Personal communication with Robert Currie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Asheville, North Carolina. 1999.