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Extinction Watch: Rarely at home in the prairies


This is a rare and threatened orchid species protected by law in many American states. Once these beautiful flowers
were widely present among thetallgrass prairie, but now these exist in a few locations only starting south Canada
ontoOklahoma, with the largest population in southeastern North Dakota.

The plant has been listed as a threatened species in the United States since 1989, and in 2008 it was listed as an endangered species by the IUCN.

The orchids occur most in tallgrass prairies and meadows but have been found in old fields and roadside ditches.

Reaching three to four feet tall with clusters of white flowers filled with nectar, the western prairie fringed orchid waits until dusk to release its fragrance.

The nocturnally fragrant flowers of these perennial orchids attract hawkmoths that feed on nectar and transfer pollen from flower to flower and plant to plant. Seed germination and proper plant growth depend on a symbiotic relationship between the plants’ reduced root systems and a soil-inhabiting fungus for proper water uptake and nutrition.

The greatest threat to the prairie fringed orchids is habitat loss, mostly through conversion to cropland. Competition
with introduced alien plants, fi lling of wetlands, intensive hay mowing, fire suppression, and overgrazing also threatens these species.

digitalcommons.unl.edu, fws.gov, en.wikipedia.org

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