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A leafy green plant emerging from the leaf-littered forest floor.
Information icon Small-whorled pogonia on the forest floor. Photo by Gary Peeples, USFWS.

Small-whorled pogonia

Isotria medeoloides

Appearance

Small-whorled pogonia has a greenish-white stem that grows to between three and 13 inches tall. It gets its common name from the five or six grayish-green leaves that are displayed in a single whorl around the stem. When the leaves are well developed, a single flower or sometimes a pair rises from the center of the circle of leaves. The flowers are yellowish-green with a greenish-white lip. Each flower has three sepals of equal length that spread outward. The flowers are scentless, lack nectar, and are primarily self-pollinating.

A small green orchid with small white and green flower.
A small-whorled pogonia in Guilford County, NC. Photo by David McAdoo, CC BY-NC 2.0.

The pogonia produces fruit that ripens in the fall. The seeds contain very little food reserves and therefore need to fall on soil containing with mycorrhizal fungi in order for the seed to germinate and seedlings to become established. An over-wintering vegetative bud may form in late August or September. Occasionally small whorled-pogonia will reproduce vegetatively, without the use of seeds.

Habitat

Small whorled pogonia can be limited by shade. The species seems to require small light gaps, or canopy breaks, and generally grows in areas with sparse to moderate ground cover. Too many other plants in an area can be harmful to this plant. This orchid typically grows under canopies that are relatively open or near features that create long-persisting breaks in the forest canopy such as a road or a stream. It grows in mixed-deciduous or mixed-deciduous/coniferous forests that are generally in second- or third-growth successional stages. The soils in which it lives are usually acidic, moist, and have very few nutrients.

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 is no longer found in from Missouri, Vermont and Maryland.

Conservation challenges

Habitat destruction is the primary threat to small-whorled pogonia. Commercial and residential development have encroached upon populations and eliminated what once was productive habitat. Development has also decreased the amount of available habitat for deer, concentrating their numbers, and which in turn increases deer herbivory on these plants. Small-whorled pogonia also appears to suffer from low rates of seedling establishment, meaning new plants do not replace older ones as they die.

Recovery plan

The small-whorled pogonia will be considered for removal from the endangered species list when:

  1. At least 61 sites distributed proportionately throughout the species’ current range are permanently protected;
  2. These sites represent at least 75% of the known self-sustaining populations, using an average of 20 emergent stems, with 25% flowering stems, over a 10-year period;
  3. Appropriate management programs are established, or sufficient habitat adjacent to existing colonies is protected, to allow for natural colonization.

Download the 1992 revision of the recovery plan.


How you can help

  • Tread lightly and stay on designated trails. On some popular mountains, the vegetation has virtually been destroyed by human trampling.
  • Do not disturb or touch small whorled-pogonia. The salts on your hands may attract slugs, which are serious pests for the orchid.
  • Visit arboretums, botanical gardens, and parks and learn all you can about endangered plants and the causes of their decline.
  • Don’t collect or buy plants collected from wild populations.
  • Participate in the protection of our remaining wild lands and the restoration of damaged ecosystems.
  • Be careful with the use and disposal of pesticides and other chemicals, especially near sensitive habitats.
  • Recycle as much as you can. As landfills become full, new ones are often placed in uninhabited areas, causing the destruction of hundreds of acres of wild habitat.

Subject matter experts

Rebekah Reid, rebekah_reid@fws.gov, (828) 258-3939, ext. 238

Designated critical habitat

None designated.

Federal register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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