Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

This is one of the most beautiful wildflowers in a prairie. Rejoice should you discover one or two plants in bloom. There is a slightly larger orchid, Platanthera praeclara, with a similar appearance, that occurs in prairies west of the Mississippi River. Return
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Description

This native perennial plant is about 1-2' tall, forming a single central stem with occasional short side stems. The alternate light green leaves are up to 6" long and 1½" across, and become smaller in size as they ascend the stem. They are lanceolate or narrowly lanceolate, and sparsely distributed overall. The lowest leaves clasp the stem, while the middle and upper leaves are sessile or have short petioles. They have smooth edges and texture, with faint parallel veins. The central stem terminates in a raceme of flowers, often with a half-dozen or more blooming at the same time. One or two smaller sides stem may each produce racemes of flowers as well. Each flower is about 1½" long and 1" across, consisting of 3 greenish white sepals and 3 white petals. The upper sepal and two upper petals form a hood over the pollen- and nectar-bearing organs of the flower. The lateral sepals are similar in shape, but spread outward. The large white lower petal, or lip, is divided into 3 parts and heavily fringed. There is a long nectar spur that arches downward from the back of the flower. During the day, the flowers have a slight fragrance, which probably becomes stronger at night. The blooming period occurs during early to mid-summer, and lasts about a month. There is a dense cluster of roots that are fleshy and tuberous. They form a symbiotic relationship with endomycorrhizal bacteria, and rarely form offshoots. The tiny seeds are easily carried aloft by the wind, and can travel a considerable distance. Cultivation
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Distribution

Global Range: Primarily east of the Mississippi River in the Great Lakes Region: Ontario south to Missouri and Illinois and east to Pennsylvania and New York, also occurs in Maine. Historic in Oklahoma and New York and extirpated in Pennsylvania.

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Range and Habitat in Illinois

The Prairie White-Fringed Orchid occurs in scattered counties of central and northern Illinois (see Distribution Map). Only small, local populations of this rare plant exist in high quality habitats. It is listed as 'endangered' by the state of Illinois, and is considered 'threatened' by the U.S. government. Habitats include moist to mesic black soil prairies, sand prairies, thickets, pot hole marshes, and fens. At one time, this orchid was far more common, and hundreds of plants could be observed blooming in prairie habitat, particularly near the Chicago region. Habitat destruction and over-collection brought this joyful abundance to an end. Faunal Associations
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Ont.; Ill., Ind., Iowa, La., Maine, Mich., Mo., Nebr., N.J., N.Y., Ohio, Okla., Va., Wis.
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Historic Range:
U.S.A. (AR, IA, IL, IN, ME, MI, MO, NE, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, VA, WI), Canada (Ont., N.B.)

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Plants 32–112 cm. Leaves several to many, ascending, scattered along stem, imperceptibly reduced to bracts distally; blade lanceolate to ovate-lanceolate, usually to 20 × 4 cm. Spikes lax to moderately dense. Flowers resupinate, showy, corolla white, calyx green to whitish green; lateral sepals porrect; petals obovate to rarely flabellate, apically lacerate; lip descending to horizontally projecting, deeply 3-lobed, without basal thickening, 14–22 × 15–29 mm, distal margins of lobes deeply incised, fringed, lateral lobes flabellate, usually broad, overlapping middle lobe, middle lobe flabellate, sometimes very broadly, emarginate; spur slenderly clavate, 28–47 mm; rostellum lobes nearly parallel, directed downward, short, rounded; pollinaria geniculate; pollinia directed forward (column appearing hooded), remaining enclosed in anther sacs; viscidia orbiculate; ovary slender, mostly 15–30 mm. 2n = 42.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Orchis leucophaea Nuttall, Trans. Amer. Philos. Soc., n. s. 5: 161. 1834; Habenaria leucophaea (Nuttall) A. Gray
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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

The Prairie White-Fringed Orchid occurs in scattered counties of central and northern Illinois (see Distribution Map). Only small, local populations of this rare plant exist in high quality habitats. It is listed as 'endangered' by the state of Illinois, and is considered 'threatened' by the U.S. government. Habitats include moist to mesic black soil prairies, sand prairies, thickets, pot hole marshes, and fens. At one time, this orchid was far more common, and hundreds of plants could be observed blooming in prairie habitat, particularly near the Chicago region. Habitat destruction and over-collection brought this joyful abundance to an end. Faunal Associations
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Comments: Mesic to wet prairies and wet sedge meadows. Peripheral habitat includes sedge-sphagnum bog mats around neutral pH kettle lakes, and fallow agricultural fields. Wet ditches and railroad rights-of-way also serve as refugia. This species' winter-dormant tubers are adapted to dormant-season prairie fires; such fires and high precipitation levels appear to promote flowering.

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Mesic to wet prairies, marshes, fens, lake shores, old fields; of conservation concern; 80--300m.
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Associations

Flower-Visiting Insects of Prairie White-Fringed Orchid in Illinois

Platanthera leucophaea (Prairie White-Fringed Orchid)
(this prairie orchid has a more eastern distribution than Platanthera praeclara; Sphinx moths suck nectar; observations are from Robertson and Sheviak & Bowles)

Moths
Sphingidae: Eumorpha achemon sn (Rb), Manduca sexta sn (SB), Sphinx eremitus sn (SB), Xylophanes tersa sn (Rb)

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 - 300

Comments: Approximately 105 extant EOs in 7 states and 1 Canadian provinces. Extirpated in PA. Historical records from OK and NY. Occurences may be delimted differently in some states and when compared to the USFWS reports. In 2010, the five-year recovery plan says that 76 sites exist (USFWS 2010).

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General Ecology

Dependent upon mycorrhizal fungus for germination and longterm success plants. Seventy-five fungal associates have been inoculated from protocorms, seedlings and mature plants. Most (88%) belong in the genus Ceratorhiza (Zettler & Piskin 2011).

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Flowering/Fruiting

Flowering Jun--Aug.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Platanthera leucophaea

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G2 - Imperiled

Reasons: Relatively wide ranging species but many sites are extirpated. Most of this species' wet prairie habitat has been destroyed due to drainage and conversion to agriculture, fire suppression, and intensive mowing. Because of the destruction of most of the natural grasslands east of the Mississippi River, large populations no longer occur anywhere in the United States (the only population with more than 2000 individuals is in Ontario, Canada). The mostly small, isolated populations that remain are not representative of populations supported by the once-vast prairie habitat.

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled

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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Threatened
Date Listed: 09/28/1989
Lead Region:   Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region (Region 3) 
Where Listed:


Population detail:

Listing status: T

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Platanthera leucophaea, see its USFWS Species Profile

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Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 10-30%

Comments: A large portion of the potential habitat rangewide has been converted for agriculture (cropland and pasture) or the hydrology is altered significantly enough to alter the habitat.

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Threats

Comments: Threats include drainage and ditching for crop production, commercial and residential development, grazing by cattle and deer, drought, and encroachment of woody vegetation in prairies due to fire suppression. Populations along the shores of the Great Lakes are threatened by high water levels and invasion of purple loosestrife. Cutting hay in midsummer prevents populations from dispersing seed. Collection by orchid fanciers and wildflower gardeners is also a threat.

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Management

Biological Research Needs: A more rigorous understanding of the species' life cycle and population dynamics is necessary if management practices are to be effectively implemented. Understand population structure and dynamics to analyze the orchid's demography; characterize habitats to understand the significance of environmental factors upon species distribution, abundance, and dispersal; analyze the effects of environmental variables and management practices on mortality, growth, and survival of the orchid (Gustafson, 1984).

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Wikipedia

Platanthera leucophaea

Platanthera leucophaea, commonly known as the Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid, is a rare species of orchid native to North America. It is listed as a threatened species in the United States on September 28, 1989. The IUCN does not currently recognize it as being at risk.

Distribution[edit]

Platanthera leucophaea is found in moist to wet tallgrass prairie, sedge meadows, fens, and old fields. For optimum growth, little or no woody encroachment should be near the habitat. Scattered populations are found in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, and in Ontario, Canada.

Historically, the eastern prairie fringed orchid occurred east of the Mississippi River and in Iowa and Missouri. A historic record exists for Choctaw County, Oklahoma. The plant has not been observed in Oklahoma in the past 150 years. The major factor in the decline of the eastern prairie fringed orchid has been a loss of habitat due to grazing, fire suppression, and agricultural conversion.

Description[edit]

Platanthera leucophaea arises from a fleshy tuber. The plant can grow up to three feet (91 cm) tall. The leaves are long and thin.

The inflorescence is large and showy and may have up to 40 white flowers. It is distinguished from Platanthera praeclara, the western prairie fringed orchid, by its smaller flowers (less than one inch (2.5 cm) long), more oval petals, and a shorter nectar spur.

The eastern prairie fringed orchid is a long-lived perennial plant. Its tuber rootstalk helps it survive grass fires. Fires and rain stimulate the plant to grow and flower. The plant emerges each year in May and flowering begins by late June. The flowers are pollinated at night by large sphinx moths. Certain night flying insects that are attracted to the orchid's fragrant are able to obtain its nectar with their long proboscis. Others cannot because of the flower's long, narrow, odd positioned nectar spur.

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Notes

Comments

A very rare hybrid with Platanthera psycodes, known only from Ontario, is P. × reznicekii Catling, Brownell & G. Allen.  

 See the discussion under 22. Plantanthera praeclara.

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: The western prairie white-fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara) is now distinguished from P. leucophaea. Platanthera leucophaea is primarily east of the Mississippi River and P. praeclara is essentially west of that river.

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