Get to know an endangered plant – western / Eastern prairie fringed orchids

Western (Platanthera praeclara) / Eastern (Platanthera leucophaea) prairie fringed orchids 

Listing Status:  Threatened


Both orchids occur most often in mesic to wet unplowed tallgrass prairies and meadows but have been found in old fields and roadside ditches. The eastern prairie fringed orchid also occurs in bogs, fens, and sedge meadows. The eastern prairie fringed orchid occurs mostly east of the Mississippi River in fewer than 60 sites in Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, and in Ontario, Canada. The western prairie fringed orchid is restricted to west of the Mississippi River and currently occurs in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and in Manitoba, Canada.


An herbaceous perennial, it appears above ground from late spring until late summer, when the orchid dies back, the root system surviving underground. Both orchids produce flower stalks up to 47 inches tall. Each stalk has up to 40 white flowers about an inch long. The western prairie fringed orchid’s flowers are somewhat larger than those of the closely related eastern prairie fringed orchid.


The beautiful plants fate is tied to that of its habitat, which has been reduced to less than two percent of its former vast range. The greatest threat to the prairie fringed orchids is habitat loss, mostly through conversion to cropland. Competition with introduced alien plants, filling of wetlands, intensive hay mowing, fire suppression, and overgrazing also threatens these species. Pesticides have also had an effete on the prairie fringed orchids depend on hawkmoths for pollination. Any threat to these insects, such as the use of insecticides, is a threat to the prairie fringed orchids.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing recovery plans that describes actions needed to help this plant survive. The Service approved the recovery plan for western prairie fringed orchid in 1996. Some of the recovery includes where possible, the orchids’ habitat is being protected and habitat is improved with a variety of management techniques. In Illinois, seed was dispersed on some public lands that had good habitat but no orchids. Subsequently, orchids bloomed on at least one of those sites. Private landowners, government agencies, and conservation organizations are helping conserve these species.

If you do spot one please note were it is (your phones GPS can really come in handy for this) and tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as soon as you can.

western prairie fringed orchids habitat map 

east 78827_orig

eastern prairie fringed orchids habitat map 

west 94731_orig

Find out more where I did. . .

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