Wildflowers of the Adirondacks:
White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis)

Wetland Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: White Fringed Orchid on Barnum Bog at the Paul Smith's College VIC (18 July 2015).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: White Fringed Orchids grow in bogs in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York and produce snowy white blooms in July. White Fringed Orchid on Barnum Bog at the Paul Smith's College VIC (18 July 2015).

White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis var. blephariglottis) is a native wildflower and member of the orchid family that blooms in July and grows in wetlands in the Adirondack Mountains and other parts of New York State.

White Fringed Orchid is a member of the Orchidaceae (Orchid) Family.  This family includes a number of other orchids that are found in the Adirondack Park, including the Pink Lady's Slipper and the Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain (both found in moist woodlands) and Grass Pink and Rose Pogonia (both found in wetland habitats similar to those where White Fringed Orchids grow). 

The White Fringed Orchid is a member of the Platanthera genus, which also includes another bog-dwelling orchid: Little Club-spur Orchid.

  • The genus name (Platanthera) is derived from the Greek word platys (meaning wide or broad) and anthera (meaning anther) – a reference to the broad anther (the male portion of the flower containing the pollen) affixed to the top of the columnColumn: In orchids, a unique reproductive organ made up of the combined male and female sexual organs of the flower.. Plants in this genus were once assigned to the Habenaria genus; and most older sources still refer to this genus name.
  • The species name (blephariglottis) derives from a combination of two words: blephari (eyebrow or eyelash) and glottis (tongue). This is a reference to the tongue-shaped, heavily fringed lip of the orchid.

The common name (White Fringed Orchid) is another reference to the fringed lip on each small flower. Other common names for this orchid include White Fringed Orchis, White-fringe Orchis, White-fringed Bog-orchid, and Northern White Fringed Orchis.


Identification of White Fringed Orchid

Wetland Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: White Fringed Orchid on the Boreal Life Trail (26 July 2014).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: The flowers of White Fringed Orchids grow in a cluster and have a fringed lip and a long curving spur. White Fringed Orchid on the Boreal Life Trail (26 July 2014).

White Fringed Orchids grow between a foot and two feet tall. The stem is smooth and green. The leaves are arranged alternatelyAlternate leaf arrangementAlternate: An arrangement of leaves (or buds) on a stem (or twig) in which the leaves emerge from the stem one at a time. This often makes the leaves appear to alternate on the stem., meaning there is one leaf per node along the stem. The leaves on the lower part of the stem are lance-shapedLanceolateLanceolate: A leaf shaped like a lance head, tapering to a point at each end., with smoothSmooth leaf marginSmooth leaf edges do not have any teeth. (untoothed) edges. The upper leaves are much smaller than those on the lower part of the stem.

White Fringed Orchid flowers appear in a showy, compact cluster of ten to twenty flowers at the top of the stem. Each individual flower is white, about ½ inch wide. The labellumLabellum: The central, modified petal of an orchid, also called a lip, usually but not always found in the lowest position on the flower. The labellum serves to attract insects, which pollinate the flower, and acts as a landing platform for them. (lip) is, as the plant's name implies, fringed. The flowers have a slender spur curving below and behind the lip of the orchid.

In the Adirondack Mountains, White Fringed Orchids are generally in flower in July. You can sometimes find them in bud in very late June. If you go orchid-hunting in early July, you will often see White Fringed Orchids in bud, with a few coming into bloom. Depending on the weather, mid- to late-July is probably the best time to find these orchids in full bloom in our area.

Uses of White Fringed Orchid

No medicinal or edible uses for this plant were found, which is fortunate since these orchids are protected in New York State and should not be harvested in any case.

Wildlife Value of White Fringed Orchid

Wetland Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: White Fringed Orchid on Barnum Bog at the Paul Smith's College VIC (19 July 2017).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: White Fringed Orchids attract a number of insect visitors who feed on its nectar. White Fringed Orchid on Barnum Bog at the Paul Smith's College VIC (19 July 2017).

The nectar of White Fringed Orchids is consumed by a variety of insects.

  • Insect pollinators include moths such as Hummingbird Clearwings (Hemaris thysbe).
  • A number of butterflies, including the Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice), Monarch (Danaus plexippus), Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis), and Cabbage White (Pieris rapae), also visit this orchid in search of nectar.
  • Insect visitors to White Fringed Orchids also include bees such as Yellow Bumblebees (Bombus fervidus) and Half-black Bumblebees (Bombus vagans).

Distribution of White Fringed Orchid

White Fringed Orchids are found in the northeastern United States, plus the eastern provinces of Canada. This plant is listed as Endangered in Connecticut and Ohio and Threatened in Florida, Maryland, and Rhode Island.

White Fringed Orchids are found in most counties in the eastern half of New York State, including most counties within the Adirondack Park Blue Line, except Clinton, Washington, Saratoga, Fulton. These orchids are categorized as Exploitably Vulnerable in New York State. This means that this orchid is on a list of native plants likely to become threatened in the near future throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges within the State, if causal factors continue unchecked.

Habitat of White Fringed Orchid

Wetland Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: White Fringed Orchid on the Boreal Life Trail boardwalk (19 July 2014).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: White Fringed Orchids flourish in bogs and open peatlands, usually growing in sphagnum near other bog-dwelling orchids, such as Rose Pogonia, Little Club-spur Orchid, and Grass Pink. White Fringed Orchid on the Boreal Life Trail boardwalk (19 July 2014).

White Fringed Orchids are wetland plants which are found mainly in bogs and peaty open wetlands in sphagnum. Throughout their North American range, they can be seen growing in bogs, fens, marshes, and moist meadows. One source suggests that they flower best a few years after a disturbance such as a fire or hurricane. This orchid occurs in several wetland ecological communities, including Patterned Peatland.

The most convenient place to study White Fringed Orchids in the northeastern part of the Adirondack Park is Barnum Bog at the Paul Smith's College VIC. These orchids may be viewed up close from the Boreal Life Trail boardwalk.


References

Michael Kudish. Adirondack Upland Flora: An Ecological Perspective (The Chauncy Press, 1992), p. 235.

New York Flora Association.  New York Flora Atlas. Platanthera blephariglottis var. blephariglottis. Retrieved 3 January 2018.

Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Platanthera blephariglottis var. blephariglottis (Willd.) Lindl. Retrieved 3 January 2018.

United States Department of Agriculture. The Plants Database. White Fringed Orchid. Platanthera blephariglottis (Willd.) Lindl. var. blephariglottis. Retrieved 3 January 2018.

Flora of North America. Platanthera blephariglottis var. blephariglottis. Retrieved 3 January 2018.

NatureServe Explorer. Online Encyclopedia of Life.  Platanthera blephariglottis var. blephariglottis. White-fringe Orchis. Retrieved 3 January 2018.

New England Wildflower Society. Go Botany.  White-fringed Bog-orchid. Platanthera blephariglottis (Willd.) Lindl. Retrieved 3 January 2018.

North American Orchid Conservation Center. White Fringed Bog Orchid. Platanthera blephariglottis (Willd.) Lindl. Retrieved 4 February 2018.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2015.  Online Conservation Guide for Patterned Peatland. Retrieved 22 February 2017.

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Connecticut Botanical Society.  White Fringed Orchid. Platanthera blephariglottis (Willd.) Lindl. Retrieved 4 February 2018.

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Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park

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