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Endangered Species Program
Conserving and restoring threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems
Small Whorled Pogonia (Isotria medeoloides)
The small whorled pogonia is a threatened species. Threatened species are animals and plants that are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Endangered species are animals and plants that are in danger of becoming extinct. Identifying, protecting, and restoring endangered and threatened species is the primary objective of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species program.
What is the small whorled pogonia?
Appearance - The small whorled pogonia is a member of the orchid family. It usually has a single grayish-green stem that grows about 10 inches tall when in flower and about 14 inches when bearing fruit. The plant is named for the whorl of five or six leaves near the top of the stem and beneath the flower. The leaves are grayish-green, somewhat oblong and 1 to 3.5 inches long. The single or paired greenish-yellow flowers are about 0.5 to 1 inch long and appear in May or June. The fruit, an upright ellipsoid capsule, appears later in the year.
Range - Although widely distributed, the small whorled pogonia is rare. It is found in 18 eastern states and Ontario, Canada. Populations are typically small with less than 20 plants. It has been extirpated from Missouri, Vermont and Maryland.
Habitat - This orchid grows in older hardwood stands of beech, birch, maple, oak, and hickory that have an open understory. Sometimes it grows in stands of softwoods such as hemlock. It prefers acidic soils with a thick layer of dead leaves, often on slopes near small streams.
Reproduction - The small whorled pogonia flowers from mid-May to mid-June, with the flowers lasting only a few days to a week. It may not flower every year but when it does flower, one or two flowers are produced per plant. If pollinated, a capsule forms that contains several thousand minute seeds. The pogonia appears to self-pollinate by mechanical processes. The flower lacks both nectar guides and fragrance and insect pollination has not been observed.
Why is the small whorled pogonia threatened?
Habitat Loss and Degradation - The primary threat to the small whorled pogonia is the past and continuing loss of populations when their habitat is developed for urban expansion. Some forestry practices eliminate habitat. Also, habitat may be degraded or individual plants lost because of recreational activities and trampling.
Collection - As with all rare orchids, the small whorled pogonia is vulnerable to collecting for commercial or personal use.
What is being done to prevent extinction of the small whorled pogonia?
Listing - The small whorled pogonia was added to the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants in 1982 as an endangered species. In 1994 it was reclassified to threatened.
Recovery Plan - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepared a recovery plan and revised that plan in 1992. The Recovery Plan describes and prioritizes actions needed to help recover the species.
Research - Many small whorled pogonia populations are being monitored to determine long-term population trends. Habitat management techniques, such as reducing shade through selected tree removal are being investigated.
Habitat Protection - A variety of government and private conservation agencies are working to preserve the small whorled pogonia and its habitat. Voluntary protection agreements have also been made with some private landowners.
What can I do to help prevent extinction of species?
Learn - Learn more about the small whorled pogonia and other endangered and threatened species. Understand how the destruction of habitat leads to loss of endangered and threatened species and our nation's plant and animal diversity.
Volunteer - Volunteer at your local zoo, wildlife refuge or nature center. Work with their staff or other community members to maintain and restore local habitat.
Protect – Protect native plants by cleaning your shoes after hiking to avoid spreading invasive plants seeds and staying on trails if you are hiking in an area with rare plants in the the understory.
Grow Natives - Grow native plants in your lawn and garden but obtain the plants from local nurseries, do not dig up native plants from natural areas. Avoid using invasive, non-native plants in landscaping, such as purple loosestrife, bush honeysuckles and burning bush.
Last updated: October 10, 2018