The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is a tall, showy, perennial orchid ranging in height from 50 to 100 cm. Each plant has one flowering stalk with 10 to 40 creamy white flowers. Flowers are approximately 3 cm wide, with the prominent bottom petal (lip), consisting of 3 fringed segments. Leaves are long, oval in shape, and arranged in an alternate pattern along the stem.
Habitat and Biology:
The distribution of the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is found exclusively in North America and is centered around the Great Lakes. It spans 13 states and is only found in southern Ontario in Canada. There are only 21 populations across Ontario believed to still be in existence. The four largest Ontario populations are located in Kent County (near Windsor), Bruce Peninsula National Park, Marlborough Forest (near Ottawa), and Minesing Swamp in Simcoe County, which is located in The Land Between. Almost all the Ontario populations occur in fen or prairie habitats.
This species requires full sun and low competition from trees and shrubs, occurring almost exclusively in fen or prairie habitats. The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid thrives in wetlands, fens, swamps, and tallgrass prairies in a range of soil types and a relatively neutral soil pH. Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchids mature and start producing flowers after three to seven years from June to July. Flowers start at the bottom of the stem opening first, with the rest following sequentially up the stalk. They are capable of remaining dormant, not producing flowers or seeds, for several years if growing conditions are not ideal. Once the flowers are in bloom, they release a fragrance at night that attracts Hawk Moths which are essential for pollination. Seed capsules are produced in late August to early September. Like many orchids, the Eastern Prairie Fringed-Orchid forms a mutually-beneficial association with fungus in soil. The fungus provides the plant with an enhanced ability to absorb water and nutrients from the soil, and in return, the plant provides sugars to the fungus that it produces through photosynthesis.
Conservation and recovery strategies:
A monitoring protocol specific to the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid has been developed to allow for an accurate evaluation of how the various populations are changing through time. Sustained efforts are being made to monitor the known populations of the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid, and evaluate how they change from year to year. There have also been efforts to control phragmites populations through the direct use of pesticides and prescribed burns have resulted in positive responses from Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid populations. The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid has been included as a target species in the Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada. This action plan outlines measures to research the potential for long term conservation of the Eastern Prairie Fringed-Orchid through artificial propagation and preservation of plant tissue using freezing (cryopreservation).
Why You Should Care:
This species is listed as Endangered in Ontario, and since Ontario is the only province with this species it is the last stronghold for all of Canada. One of the four largest remaining populations of this species in Canada is located in The Land Between in the Minesing Swamp in Simcoe County.
- The flowers of the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid contain a pocket of nectar called a “nectar spur” that is so deep it can only be reached by very specific insects such as Hawkmoths that have mouth parts that are long enough to reach it
- Like many orchids, the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid forms a mutually-beneficial association with fungus in soil. The fungus provides the plant with an enhanced ability to absorb water and nutrients from the soil, and in return, the plant provides sugars to the fungus that it produces through photosynthesis. This relationship is called a mycorrhizal association, and is thought to allow the Orchid seedlings to survive in the years before they emerge from underground and begin photosynthesizing
- Due to its beauty and rarity, the international trade of the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is heavily restricted in Canada
Government of Ontario. 2014. Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid. Retrieved from: https://www.ontario.ca/page/eastern-prairie-fringed-orchid
Government of Ontario. 2017. Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid Recovery Strategy. Retrieved from: https://www.ontario.ca/page/eastern-prairie-fringed-orchid-recovery-strategy#section-6
Parks Canada Agency. 2016. Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada. Species at Risk Act Action Plan Series. Parks Canada Agency, Ottawa. v + 22 pp. https://wildlife-species.canada.ca/species-risk-registry/virtual_sara/files/plans/Ap-BpnPark-v00-2016Nov21-Eng.pdf
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