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Saving the White Fringeless Orchid

By Eugenia Jones

McCreary County prides itself in being one of four counties in the Commonwealth of Kentucky able to call itself home to the endangered white fringeless orchid.  Recently, with the McCreary County population of rare orchids not doing well in recent years, experts from the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies are stepping up to save the unique and beautiful flowers.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the white fringeless orchid requires a wetland type habitat, thriving in partially shaded, boggy areas near the beginning of streams or seepage.  Unfortunately, areas with flourishing populations of the orchid seem to be “drying up,” resulting in the orchids failing to bloom.  Without blooms, the orchids cannot reproduce.   

By studying Pulaski County sites where populations of the orchid exist, it was determined the orchids were failing to bloom because a variety of other plants living in the area were “taking” water from the orchids.  The solution seemed obvious.  Teams went to work removing 30 to 40% of the existing vegetation and building debris dams to slow water flow and create slight rises in the existing wetland areas.  The simple fix worked.  Soon, populations of orchids in the Pulaski County sites were, once again, blooming abundantly-skyrocketing from zero blooms to 200 blooms in a short period of time.

Chris Barton, University of Kentucky professor and founder of non-profit Green Forests Work, and others recently worked at a McCreary County site, flagging vegetation for removal and determining placement for debris dams.

“Just changing the light and hydrology a little bit can bring back a lost community,” Barton noted.  “Eliminating the flagged trees will open up the canopy to light and reduce water intake.  To save the orchids, it is simply a matter of opening up the canopy and increasing their available water.  The orchids must flower to reproduce, and by doing this project, we anticipate lots of blooms in the future.  This is a low cost/low impact project with big benefits.”

If the local project is successful, the McCreary County site will once again flourish with the beauty of rare orchids, typically blooming from late July to early September.

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