The white-fringeless orchid is a flower most people will never see in the wild. This rare perennial herb with long stems and white flowers, grows in wet boggy areas across the southeastern United States. But human activities like construction projects, timber harvests and ATV use, among other factors, are taking a toll. At one time there were at least 90 known populations of the white-fringeless orchid. Today that number is down to 72, with 39 of them occurring in Tennessee. The orchid is already listed as state-endangered…now the federal government is considering a similar move. Wild Side Guide Ken Tucker takes us to South Cumberland State Park in search of a rare flower that could soon be added to the endangered species list.
There are at least 50 known native Tennessee orchid species. Of those, 21 are listed by the state as being rare or endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to determine by the end of this year whether or not the white-fringeless orchid will be listed as a federally threatened species.
Sometimes called the monkey-face orchid the white fringeless orchid is known scientifically as Platanthera Integrilabia. It grows up to 60 cm tall with a single, light-green stem rising from a tuber. The leaves have smooth edges and tend to be long and narrow, with leaves lower on the plant being larger. The plant bears white flowers in a loose cluster at the end of the stem, and it flowers from late July through September with small fruit maturing in October.
The white-fringeless orchid was originally known from Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The species has disappeared from North Carolina (Henderson and Cherokee Counties), and a population has disappeared from Georgia’s Cobb County. Tennessee contains the majority of known sites across the species range, with 39 known or presumed occurrences distributed among the following counties: Bledsoe (three sites), Cumberland, Fentress (two sites, both within Big South Fork National Scenic River and Recreation Area), Franklin (eight sites), Grundy (seven sites), Marion (eight sites), McMinn, Polk, Scott (within Big South Fork National Scenic River and Recreation Area), Sequatchie (two sites), and Van Buren (five sites).
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