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White Orchid

Wisconsin Status: Endangered

Federal Status: Threatened

Prairie White-Fringed Orchid, Image Credit: Rori Paloski

Before wet meadows and moist prairies were drained and tilled for agriculture, the prairie white-fringed orchid was more common. Like many wild orchids, this one is mysterious, appearing in large numbers some years, and in other years hard to find. July is the best time to look for the blossoms when this plant reaches a height of more than 3 feet with long spires of white flowers. You'll find them surrounded by grasses, swaying back and forth in mid-summer breezes. Each blossom has a dramatically fringed three-part lower petal and trails a graceful 2-inch long nectar tube.

Today, this orchid is found only in special sites in the southeastern quarter of Wisconsin, where there may be no more than 400 plants on 11 sites. Historically, it was found in many southeastern sites, as well as a few places in the southwestern corner of Wisconsin.

Restoring the high water table in areas that were traditionally wet may help this orchid. Carefully monitored prairie fires that encourage native plants and discourage weedy species (like buckthorn and reed canary grass) also help this plant survive. Habitat protection and restricted use of herbicides and insecticides on nearby land are the key to preserving this fragile plant. The prairie white-fringed orchid can also be protected by you. Avoiding stepping on, picking, or collecting these plants.