Wildflowers of the Adirondacks:
White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis)
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 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
White Fringed Orchids grow between a foot and two feet tall. The stem is smooth and green. The leaves are arranged alternatelyAlternate: 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-shapedLanceolate: A leaf shaped like a lance head, tapering to a point at each end., with smoothSmooth 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
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
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.
- Look for White Fringed Orchids blooming near three other bog-loving orchids: Rose Pogonia, Little Club-spur Orchid, and Grass Pink. Other bog-dwelling wildflowers include the Pitcher Plant, Buckbean, Cottongrass, and Marsh Cinquefoil.
- The only trees that can survive in this nutrient-poor environment are Tamaracks and Black Spruce.
- Characteristic shrubs in this habitat include evergreen members of the heath family, such as Sheep Laurel, Bog Laurel, Leatherleaf, Bog Rosemary, and Labrador Tea.
- Characteristic birds include the Palm Warbler, which nests in sphagnum moss, and the Lincoln's Sparrow, which nests in shrubs on the bog. The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher also breeds in peat lands.
Michael Kudish. Adirondack Upland Flora: An Ecological Perspective (The Chauncy Press, 1992), p. 235.
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