‘Monkey-face’ Flower Protected After 41 Years on Waiting List
WASHINGTON— (The Center for Biological Diversity Press Release 9/15/16) Under an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, a 2-foot-tall orchid hanging on in small populations in six southeastern states was protected today under the Endangered Species Act. The white fringeless orchid, sometimes also called a monkey-face orchid, has already been wiped out in North Carolina is known to survive at only 34 sites in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. The rare orchid’s flower, which resembles a monkey’s face, was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1975.
“I’m breathing a sigh of relief that this beautiful flower has finally gained Endangered Species Act protection after a 41-year wait,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Protecting the white fringeless orchid will also protect the threatened marshy habitats that are such a special part of the Southeast’s natural heritage.”
Publicly owned lands account for more than half the places where the rare flower survives. It is found in the Cumberland and Blue Ridge plateaus in the Appalachian Mountains, on the coastal plain and in the Piedmont region, which stretches between the Appalachians and the coastal plain.
The white fringeless orchid grows in the wet soils of bogs, marshes, fens and swamps. It’s pollinated by butterflies, including eastern tiger swallowtails, spicebush swallowtails and silver-spotted skippers. Because of these very specific relationships, it is threatened by global climate change, which, in addition to threatening its habitat with drought, poses threats to the fungus and pollinators the orchid depends on for survival.
The orchid is also threatened by logging — primarily conversion of native hardwood forests to monoculture pine plantations. Other threats include sprawl, mowing and herbicide spraying on right-of-ways, wetland draining, invasive plants and feral hogs.
In July the Center unveiled a mural of the orchid in Berea, Ky., the ninth installment in a national endangered species mural project. The white fringeless orchid mural is in historic Old Town and was developed in coordination with Kentucky Heartwood, a local group that works to protect the orchid’s habitat on the Daniel Boone National Forest.
In 2011 the Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into a settlement agreement that requires the Service to make decisions on protection for 757 petitioned and candidate species, including the orchid. Under the agreement 148 species have already gained protection, and 11 more have been proposed for protection.
The white fringeless orchid’s scientific name is Platanthera integrilabia.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.