A rare orchid discovered in Vermont — Waterbury Roundabout

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MONTPELIER — Botanists with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department recently announced they have confirmed the discovery of a rare orchid thought to be extinct in Vermont for a century.

Lesser Whorled Pogonia — unknown in Vermont since 1902 and listed as threatened under federal endangered species law — was found on conservation lands in the Winooski Valley Park District in Chittenden County.

“Finding a viable population of a federally threatened species that has not been known to our state for more than a century is astounding,” said state botanist Bob Popp. “It’s Vermont’s equivalent of the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker.”

Lesser Whorled Pogonia is a globally rare orchid historically found in the eastern United States and Ontario. Previous searches in Vermont were unsuccessful. As with many orchids, little is understood about the habitat requirements of the species. According to the state announcement, populations in Maine and New Hampshire are found in areas of partial sun, including forest edges and openings.

“One of the challenges of locating rare orchid populations for conservation is that much of where they grow is determined by things we can’t easily see or measure, like the networks of mushrooms in the soil,” Assistant State Botanist Aaron Marcus said. “These kinds of discoveries are only possible because of the vibrant communities of enthusiasts and professional botanists who work together to understand and document Vermont’s plant diversity.”

Marcus says the department learned of the orchid’s presence in Vermont through sightings by two community scientists, John Gange of Shelburne and Tom Doubleday of Colchester.

“John is a passionate and knowledgeable botanist who specializes in orchids and closely follows the sightings people report on the iNaturalist community science app,” Marcus said. “John noticed that retired ornithologist and greenhouse manager Tom Doubleday had used iNaturalist to ask for help identifying an unfamiliar wildflower last July and contacted us to say that Lesser Whorled Pogonia most likely came from to be discovered in Vermont.”

Popp, Marcus, Doubleday and Gange returned to the site together this spring and confirmed that it was indeed the small whorled pogonia and was in bloom at the time.

Because rare orchids are at high risk of illegal collection and accidental trampling by visitors, Doubleday has removed public contact information from its post on the iNaturalist website.

The department will work with the Winooski Valley Park District to continue to search for more orchids on nearby conservation lands in an effort to monitor the population so it can thrive in the Vermont portion of its range. natural distribution.

“We are incredibly fortunate that this small population of Whorled Pogonia is on land protected by the Winooski Valley Park District,” Popp said. “It speaks to the importance of habitat conservation. When we conserve land, we rarely know all of the species found there, but we do know that conserving intact natural communities offers the best chance of supporting Vermont’s biodiversity, from common to rare species.”

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