western prairie fringed orchid

(Platanthera praeclara)

Conservation Status


No image available

  IUCN Red List

EN - Endangered


N3 - Vulnerable

S1 - Critically Imperiled






Western prairie fringed orchid is a 1 to 2 tall, erect, long-lived, perennial forb that rises on a single stem from a tight bundle of fleshy roots.

The stems are stout, erect, and hairless. Flowering stems are usually 18 to 24 tall.

The lower leaves are alternate, lance-shaped, ascending, thick, hairless, and 4 to 10 long, up to 2 wide, with a blunt tip. Upper leaves are much smaller.

The inflorescence is loose, open spike at the end of the stem with up to 24 flowers.

The flowers are large, up to 1½ long, showy, and upside down due to the twisting of the flower stalk. The petals are creamy white. The lower petal (lip) is 3-lobed with a fringed margin. The column is distinctly angular.




1 to 2


Flower Color




Similar Species

  Ragged fringed orchid (Platanthera lacera) has smaller flowers, more linear fringes, and is shorter height.  

Wet prairies and sedge meadows in the northwest. Moderately moist upland prairies in the southwest.






Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 23, 25, 28, 29, 30, and personal correspondence with the Minnesota Biological Survey.

Some of the sources listed above (2, 3, 5, 6, 28, and , 29) include historical records where no populations currently exist. One source (23) includes a county (Pine) “in which this species is known to or is believed to occur.” Two sources (2 and 30) contain unverified records (Morrison, Ramsey, and Dakota Counties).

In the map at left, counties in dark green include only specimens that have been collected after 1970, deposited in a public herbarium in Minnesota, and verified by an expert. Counties in light green include historical and unverified records.

Public places western prairie fringed orchid can be seen in Minnesota include Blue Mounds State Park; Burnham WMA; Crane Meadows NWR; Felton Prairie SNA, Bicentennial Unit; Iron Horse Prairie SNA; Lake Bronson Parkland SNA; Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Touch the Sky Prairie Unit; Pembina Trail Preserve SNA, Pembina Trail Unit; Pipestone National Monument; and Ulen WMA.









Western prairie fringed orchid is endemic to tallgrass prairie. There are only 175 known populations in 40 counties in six states and one Canadian province. One quarter of those occurrences are protected by federal, state, or private preserves. Only three large populations have been found: one in Polk County in northern Minnesota, one in eastern North Dakota, and one in Manitoba. A large population may have over 2,000 individual plants. According to Minnesota State Botanist Welby Smith, “…this is Minnesota’s rarest orchid.”

  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Liliopsida (monocots)  


Asparagales (agaves, orchids, irises, and allies)  


Orchidaceae (orchids)  
  Subfamily Orchidoideae  
  Tribe Orchideae  
  Subtribe Orchidinae  


Platanthera (bog orchids)  
  Section Lacera  



Habenaria leucophaea var. praeclara


Common Names


Great Plains white fringed orchid

western prairie fringed orchid

western prairie white-fringed orchid











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  Save the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid

Published on Feb 11, 2013

A video about saving the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid




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Other Videos
  Introduced hawk moth pollinating prairie orchid

Uploaded on Dec 21, 2011

In the video a Spurge hawk moth (Hyles euphorbiae (L.)) visits the threatened Western prairie fringed orchid Platanthera praeclara. This moth species is native to Europe and was intentionally introduced to North America (Montana and North Dakota) in the 1960s as a biological control species for Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula L.), an invasive weed that was unintentionally introduced to the United States in the early 1800s. The larval stage of the moth feeds on leafy spurge. The spurge moth was first recorded in southeastern North Dakota (the location of one of the three remaining metapopulations of the orchid) in 2000 and since then has boosted pollination rates for the orchid, which appears to have relatively small numbers of native pollinators. During the video the moth is seen visiting flowers to feed on nectar. The moth uses its 30-40 mm long tongue (proboscis) to search for and feed on nectar. During these visits, pollen sacs of the orchid sometimes attach to the moth's compound eyes (listen for comments indicating when this happens) and are held on a stalk in front of the moth's head. Pollen contacts the stigma of the flowers subsequently visited for nectar. (Video by Kristina Fox, NDSU Master's student.)




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