Thursday, July 08, 2010

Prairie Fringed Orchis or ???

Yesterday I ran on one of my favorite local sections of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). Shortly after starting out I came to an immediate halt to investigate a striking plant. After finishing the run I went back with my cell phone and took a few photos while also trying to memorize significant details. When I arrived home I got the field guides out and set about identifying the flower from the cell phone pictures and memory. My best guess (and it seemed pretty sure based on description) was that I had seen a Prairie Fringed Orchis (Habenaria leucophaea*). I then went online to learn more and discovered that:
a) this is an endangered species in the Midwest
b) it seems to be unheard of in my area

Hmmmm. Either I had found something significant or I had misidentified the plant. So, tonight it was back out to the trail with my camera and a measuring tape to do a bit more investigating. (Why yes, I am that kind of plant geek. Those who have run with me know this. Consider this fair warning to anyone else who spends time with me in the woods. I may have changed careers but I am still a naturalist at heart).

Mr. Wildknits is an old hand at standing around patiently while I photograph flowers, and was willing to assist when it came time to take measurements.

So, take a look at the photographs. What do you think this is?

According to Newcomb's : the Prairie Fringed Orchis has a "lip divided into
3 lobes, the central one broadly wedge-shaped and about as wide as long..."

Another look at the flower cluster:

A look at the stem, it is easy to see the alternative leaves:

"...2 - 3' high..."

"creamy-white flowers, about 1" long..."

While leaving the area we spotted these two smaller specimans alongside the trail.

So, after closely studying the photos and my field guides I am still leaning towards my original identification. Guess I will be calling my friend at the UMD Greenhouse next to see about confirming this sighting; or tracking down contact information for reporting a rare species to the DNR.

Bonus sighting: The monarch catepillars are out!! This area also has an abundant milkweed (Asclepas sp.) population.

Quotes are from: Newcomb's Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb. 1977. Pg. 42
Other references: Peterson Field Guides: Wildflowers-Northeastern/Northcentral North America; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

*Online sources give the Latin name as Plantanthera leucophaea.


Kel said...

I don't know much about local flora, but it would be pretty darn cool if you've stumbled across an endangered plant species! Especially if it's practically in your own back yard!

wildknits said...


It is looking more and more like this may be a find!! I have checked with some local folks at UMD and just sent off an email to some DNR staff.

Yes - this would be sooo cool. Makes my plant geeky self very happy to think about.

Mike said...

Pretty cool that you can identify so many things on the trail. Hope it turns out to be what you think it is.

SteveQ said...

The person to ask would be Jason Husveth. If you want, I could send him an email pointing him to your blog.

Jean said...

That is a beautiful plant! Please keep us posted. I would love to hear what the UMD and DNR folks say!

wildknits said...

So - update on the flower:

No word yet from the DNR folks, but they may both be out doing field work.

Steve - that would be great if you could direct Jason this way. Looking at the photos may or may not be helpful.

Possibility that the seeds (like dust I hear) were carried this far and found favorable soils and the right symbiotic fungi. Or could be a white variant of local orchid or a hybrid.

Can't wait to get this sorted out!!

As soon as I learn more I will let you all know.

Anonymous said...

Your orchid is Platanthera lacera. Common name is white ragged fringed orchid. Although these are much more common than either of the Prairie Fringed Orchids, they are still hard to find and are very beautiful. P. lacera has much smaller flowers than P. praeclara. Furthermore, P. praeclara is a federally and state listed plant that occurs mostly (if not exclusively) in the prairie regions of MN, SD, ND. I was fortunate enough to see large populations of P. praeclara in bloom in the late 1990's in eastern North Dakota when I was working up there for a few summers. Nonetheless, very nice find and I hope you enjoyed meeting these orchids first hand in the field. Best,

Jason Husveth

PS. Thanks to steve quick for pointing me towards your blog post.

Anonymous said...

PSS. Platanthera is the new synonymous name for the Genus Habenaria. Here's a link to the Minnesota DNR's page for Platanthera praeclara:

The DNR page discusses the specific differences between P. praeclara and P. lacera (because these species can sometimes be confused for one another).



wildknits said...

Jason - thanks for taking a look! I had initially ruled out H. lacera due to the width of the central lobe of the lip(according to Newcombs, in H. lacera the central lobe is narrow and longer than wide). But then again I am no botanist and am out of practice with identifying plants.

From one of the local botanists I received this:

"I think the orchid may be Platanthera habenaria f. albiflora. We found some similar ones also, but with more 'lacey' fringes which may be either be this form or P. lacera. Welby's book states they may hybridize. Either way, your friend should rule out P. praeclara (endangered, known from MN prairies)."

Still waiting to hear from the DNR folks. Field trip anyone??

So - possibly a hybrid?!?

Doug said...

Huh...interesting stuff.

We planted milkweed in our rain garden three years ago. The monarch caterpillars first appeared about 12 days ago on ours. How do they find our small patch of milkweed every year? It amazes me.

Anonymous said...

ah yes, your orchid could be an unusual white form of Platanthera psychodes (which is the purple fringed orchid). Welby Smith at DNR would be a good guy to email your pictures to... simply send your pictures and a description of the location and ask him what he thinks your species is. his email is he is the author of the Orchids of MN book, and a friend of mine.



wildknits said...

Doug - monarchs are simply amazing - best answer I can come up with! Unfortunately as we change the landscape milkweed is becoming harder for them to find; so cool that you have a patch in your yard! When I "mow" my section of the SHT I try to work around the few milkweeds remaining so they are available for the butterfly's (every kid should raise one).

Jason - thanks for the email address for Welby. I had sent off a couple emails to some folks and have yet to hear back, but going to the source seems like a good plan!

No matter what this turns out to be I am pretty thrilled to have run across it. Orchids are pretty fun and I seem to stumble across a cool one every few years while out on the trail.

wildknits said...

Orchid update:

no news on a positive identification. This has been hampered by someone taking off 90+% of the flower stalk - I believe prior to the botanists getting out there to look at it.

Very sad!!

And a reminder NOT to pick flowers in the wild (unless there are hundreds of plants in evidence).

orchidartist said...

Could it possibly be Platanthera praeclara?

orchidartist said...

After some study of it I might concur about it being a white-flowered form of Platanthera psycodes - it doesn't at all look like P. lacera to me, nor, at closer examination, P. praeclara. The way the two lateral petals flare back seem to be the giveaway. In leuco and lacera there is more of a hooded habit....

wildknits said...

Orchidartist - I did get an email from our state's orchid expert that this is: "with a pretty high degree of certainty that they are the white form of Platanthera psycodes"

Looks like I forgot to post that update (received it in July 2011).

Thanks for checking out my blog and for your input. I have a special attachment to these particular orchids as they were such a unique find for me. Made me drag out my long abandoned botany skills.

Anonymous said...

I found something similar & the DNR also believed it to be the ragged fringed but something tells me that it could be an eastern prairie fringed orchid and yours looks like it as well.
The ragged has a much simpler structure.
I know your post is old. I have been waiting 3 years for the one I saw to flower again. I believe they skip flowering for uncertain reasons.
Great pics