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Maintaining eastern prairie fringed orchid populations in mnortheastern Illinois
Midwest Region, October 31, 2017
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Multiple blooming eastern prairie fringed orchids from a population in northeastern Illinois.
Multiple blooming eastern prairie fringed orchids from a population in northeastern Illinois. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Close up of the infloresence (the flowering part of the plant) of a blooming eastern prairie fringed orchid.
Close up of the infloresence (the flowering part of the plant) of a blooming eastern prairie fringed orchid. - Photo Credit: Bill Handle (Illinois Natural History Survey)
Close up of one eastern prairie fringed orchid flower.  Notice the two yellow pollinia (pollen sacks) above the opening for the nectar spur (dark circular opening in the center of the flower).  The pollinia can be removed with a toothpick and used for cross pollination of another flower on another plant.
Close up of one eastern prairie fringed orchid flower. Notice the two yellow pollinia (pollen sacks) above the opening for the nectar spur (dark circular opening in the center of the flower). The pollinia can be removed with a toothpick and used for cross pollination of another flower on another plant. - Photo Credit: Lisa Culp
Toothpicks are used to collect eastern prairie fringed orchid pollinia from one plant in order to cross pollinate another flower on another plant. This process ensures successful seed capsule formation which means the plant will produce a plump seed capsule as opposed to a skinny seed capsule.
Toothpicks are used to collect eastern prairie fringed orchid pollinia from one plant in order to cross pollinate another flower on another plant. This process ensures successful seed capsule formation which means the plant will produce a plump seed capsule as opposed to a skinny seed capsule. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Toothpicks each holding one or two orchid pollinia from one orchid population being taken to another orchid population for immediate cross pollination.
Toothpicks each holding one or two orchid pollinia from one orchid population being taken to another orchid population for immediate cross pollination. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Eastern prairie fringed orchid seed capsules.  Notice that not all of the capsules are plump.  The plump capsules were hand cross pollinated.
Eastern prairie fringed orchid seed capsules. Notice that not all of the capsules are plump. The plump capsules were hand cross pollinated. - Photo Credit: USFWS

The eastern prairie fringed orchid is dependent upon annual seed set for population maintenance. Year after year, the easterm prairie fringed orchid population at the Lone Grove Forest Preserve in Kane County, Illinois, consistently showed a lack of viable seed production even though flowering plants were abundant. Viable seed set occurs when flowers are cross- pollinated. Successful seed production is measured by how many plump seed capsules are formed as opposed to skinny seed capsules. The plump capsules contain a higher number of seeds and a higher percentage of those seeds are viable. The skinny seed capsules often contain no seeds at all, or if they do contain any seed, a very small number of seed is present with a low percentage of those being viable. The orchid’s natural pollinators may not be present at this site in enough numbers to successfully cross pollinate the orchids.

In an effort to ensure successful seed set at this population, an enthusiastic group converged on the site during the orchid’s bloom period to cross-pollinate flowers by hand. This group included the two long-time (and hard-working) orchid volunteer monitors from the site, staff from the Kane County Forest Preserve District, staff from Fermilab, and staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chicago Field Office. Using pollen collected from eastern prairie fringed orchid plants from a different nearby population, the group hand-pollinated 1/3 of the flowers on ½ of the plants. The group also collected pollen from these plants to cross-pollinate at the nearby population where pollen was initially removed. Subsequent monitoring after seed production showed a large increase in the number of plump pods versus skinny pods. Thank you to all those who helped with this effort!


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