Platanthera leucophaea (L.) Lindl.

Prairie White-fringed Orchid

Habitat: Wet prairie or open swamps, or bogs and shores. [Open wetland, not coastal nor rivershore (non-forested, wetland)]

Range: North Dakota to western New York, south to Ohio and west to Kansas; one disjunct Maine population.

Aids to Identification: Members of the genus Platanthera are known by their uniformly colored, spurred flowers. The lowermost petal, called the labellum, is highly modified in these orchids and does not resemble the other sepals and petals. Platanthera leucophaea and its close relative, P. lacera, are recognized by their white, three-parted, and conspicuously fringed labellum. These two species can be separated by examination of the spur and lateral petals. P. leucophaea has a 2-4 cm spur and toothed lateral petals. P. lacera has a 1.4-2.1 cm long spur and entire lateral petals.

Ecological characteristics: The only population in Maine occurs in a calcareous fen with herbaceous and shrubby vegetation. The herb layer is dominated by sedges and mosses, and the periphery of the fen is dominated by white cedar and larch.

Phenology: Flowers June - July.

Family: Orchidaceae

Synonyms: Blephariglottis leucophaea (Nutt.) Farw.; Habenaria leucophaea (Nutt.) Gray.

Known Distribution in Maine: This rare plant has been documented from a total of 1 town(s) in the following county(ies): Aroostook.

Reason(s) for rarity: Disjunct from principal range.

Conservation considerations: Orchids are popular among some speciality gardeners, and populations are vulnerable to unscrupulous or uneducated collectors. Plants dug from the wild usually do not survive; more importantly, removing these plants harms the natural population and may cause its eventual disappearance. This orchid is not known to have been successfully propagated; any plants offered for sale have almost certainly been dug from the wild. Water level appears to be important in preventing encroachment by shrubs which can result in this species's decline.