Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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Partnership Between the Ohio Ecological Services Office and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Private Lands Program Restores Habitat for the Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid
Midwest Region, July 16, 2013
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Eastern prairie fringed orchid growing in a soybean field.
Eastern prairie fringed orchid growing in a soybean field. - Photo Credit: Melissa Moser, Ohio Department of Natural Resources

The eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea), a federally listed threatened species, is a tall, showy orchid found in wet prairies, sedge meadows, and moist road-side ditches. It can grow to be between 8-40 inches tall and can often be spotted from the road when it is in bloom. The historical range of the eastern prairie fringed orchid includes Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Maine.

Here in Ohio, we have 11 active sites. Most of our orchid sites occur on state Wildlife Areas or the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. One site is owned by the Clark County Park District. This site contained prairie areas, wet forest areas, and a large area that was still in agricultural production. Orchids were found within openings in the wet forest and scattered wet prairie segments. Some orchids grew on the edge of the cultivated field and some were even located growing within the rows of soybeans! While the Park District did want to take the area out of agricultural production, there was concern that invasive plants would soon colonize and out-compete the native vegetation and maybe even spread into other areas that contained orchids if native plants were not established right away.

In 2012, Biologists from the Ecological Services Office discussed the site with Donnie Knight the Private Lands Biologist for that area of the state. Knight felt that if enough native seed could be obtained the area could be taken out of agricultural production and planted with native seed, preventing establishment of invasive plants. The project area was approximately 80 acres and we needed to find sufficient local native seed appropriate for the site as well as coordinate with the Clark County Park District, who owned the site, for it to be a success. Knight brought together several local park districts that were willing to donate, or provide local native seed at significantly reduced cost. Some seed had even been collected from the site previously. A map was developed of the different habitat areas and the local hydrology of the site was investigated to determine if tile needed to be altered or removed. After it was determined that no additional manipulation of the tile was needed, the site was seeded in February 2013 with native plants appropriate to the area and habitat. 

In June of this year Knight, project partners, and volunteers visited the area to monitor the eastern prairie fringed orchid. The native plants were established and growing. No orchids were found in the newly seeded areas yet but we do not expect this to happen for a few years. We are hoping the seeds in the seed bank as well as additional seed dispersal from the current orchid population will help to colonize the newly planted area. While no orchids were found in the newly planted area we did have a higher number of orchids found in the existing wet prairie and swamp forest habitats at this site compared with another site in the immediate vicinity. 

The next step in the project will be to continue to monitor the site for invasive species. Monitoring of the orchid populations will continue to be completed as it has in the past. In future years, we anticipate that management to reduce encroachment of woody vegetation may need to occur as full sun is required for optimum growth and flowering of the orchids. Shading by woody vegetation such as willows and dogwoods is a significant threat to this species at many of our other sites. On the Medway site, which is in the immediate vicinity of this project site, we have worked with Knight to have him dispose of the woody vegetation cut from that site. This year he hopes to provide some special equipment so we do not have to cut and treat the woody plants by hand. Continued cooperation between both programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will help to improve habitat quality for the orchid at several of its existing sites.


Contact Info: Jennifer Finfera, 614-416-8993 ext.13, Jennifer_finfera@fws.gov
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