Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 14, 2015

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

White Fringeless Orchid Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection in
Five Southeastern States

‘Monkey-face’ Flower to Come Off Waiting List After 40 Years

WASHINGTON— Under an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, a 2-foot-tall orchid found in only five southeastern states is being proposed for Endangered Species Act protection. The white fringeless orchid, sometimes also called a monkey-face orchid, has already been wiped out in North Carolina and now likely grows at no more than 58 sites in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi 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.

White fringeless orchid
White fringeless orchid photo courtesy USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

“I’m elated that the white fringeless orchid has finally been proposed for Endangered Species Act protection after a 40-year wait,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Protecting this tall, monkey-faced flower will also protect the swampy habitats that are such a special but threatened part of the natural heritage of the Southeast.”

The orchid’s status is uncertain at more than one-third of the 58 small populations where it remains. Publicly owned lands account for more than half the places where the flower grows. It is found in the Cumberland and Blue Ridge plateaus in the Appalachia 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. The orchid does not photosynthesize and depends on a symbiotic relationship with one specific fungus to provide nutrients. 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 2011 the Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into a settlement agreement that requires the Service to make decisions by next year for all of the plants and animals on the “candidate” waiting list for Endangered Species Act protection. Under the agreement 142 species have already gained protection, and 11 more have been proposed for protection, including the orchid.

The white fringeless orchid is also known as a monkey-face orchid; its scientific name is Platanthera integrilabia.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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