Platanthera praeclara (Western Prairie Fringed Orchid)
|Also known as:||Great Plains White Fringed Orchid|
|Habitat:||sun; moist prairies, calcareous meadows|
|Plant height:||16 to 36 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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A large showy raceme of 4 to 35 creamy white, heavily fringed flowers, ¾ inch across by 1¼ inch long. A broad upper sepal and two lateral petals form a wide arching hood above, 2 large lateral sepals are at the sides. The lower lip is three lobed, all 3 lobes fanning out and delicately fringed. A very long slender spur to 1½ inches long is behind the flower.
Leaves and stem:
5 to 10 leaves, 3½ to 6 inches long, to 1¼ inches wide, largest and sheathing the stem near the base of the plant, reduced in size to bracts near the flowers. Leaves are generally lanceolate with pointed tips, many parallel veins, and point up. The stem is smooth.
Competing with our state flower, C. reginae for size and spectacular show but unfortuantely nearly gone from the world. 95% of its habitat is now farm field. Western Prairie Fringed Orchid is now a Federally Threatened and Minnesota State Endangered species, with the largest population in the country found in Minnesota. It is similar in appearance to Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid, P. leucophaea (also Endangered), but the latter is only found east of the Mississippi River and does not grow in Minnesota. It is also similar in appearance to Ragged Fringed Orchid, P. lacera, but that species has smaller, more greenish flowers, a shorter spur, and is far more common. Western Prairie Fringed Orchid sometimes goes by Habenaria leucophaea var. praeclara, but Habenaria is now widely considered restricted to tropical species and Platanthera temperate zone species.
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Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk, taken open wet meadows on state, private (TNC) and county lands in Polk County
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?