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Kevin Doyle

Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea)

Life history

Species overview

Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea), a Wisconsin Endangered and Federal Threatened plant, is found in moist, undisturbed, deep-soiled and/or calcareous prairies and rarely in tamarack fens. Blooming occurs early July through early August; fruiting occurs throughout August. The optimal identification period for this species is early July through late July.

Synonyms: Blephariglottis leucophaea, Habenaria leucophaea, Habenaria leucophaea var. leucophaea, Orchis leucophaea


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Petals cuneate to broadly obovate, toothed; lateral sepals divergent.
  • Flower characteristics: Racemes showy; spike cylindric, 8 to 20 cm long by 5 to 7 cm wide; lip and lateral petals white or creamy; sepals green or greenish-white, broadly oval to obovate, 7 to 13 mm; lateral petals toothed, wedge-shaped, and slightly longer than the sepals; lip deeply 3-lobed, the terminal lobe short-clawed and usually deep-notched in the center, the lateral lobes fringed to the middle or below; spur slender and elongate.
  • Fruit characteristics:
  • Leaf characteristics: Lower leaves lanceolate to oval, to 15 cm long and 4 cm wide, acute or blunt; upper leaves much reduced, long, narrow and sharp-pointed.


  • Blooming phenology: early July through early August
  • Fruiting phenology: throughout August
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is early July through late July


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Silphium spp., Phlox pilosa, Andropogon gerardii, Sorghastrum nutans, Larix laricina, Cornus stolonifera, Galium labradoricum.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Platanthera leucophaea in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusEND
Federal Status in WisconsinLT
State RankS2
Global RankG2G3
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in moist, undisturbed, deep-soiled and/or calcareous prairies and rarely in tamarack fens.
  • Soils: Moist to wet, sometimes calcareous soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Wet-mesic Prairie 3
Bog Relict 1

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.
  • Maintain and restore open habitat through selective clearing and brushing.


Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid Photo.

Prairie white-fringed orchid is a globally rare plant restricted to high quality prairie and fen remnants in only a few of Wisconsin's ecological landscapes.

Photo © William S. Alverson.

Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid Photo.

Photo by Kevin Doyle, Wisconsin DNR.

Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid Photo.

The globally rare prairie white-fringd orchid is a tallgrass prairie obligate that is better represented in the Southeast Glacial Plains than anywhere else in WI.

Photo by Thomas Meyer, Wisconsin DNR.

Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid Photo.

Photo by Thomas Meyer, Wisconsin DNR.

Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid Photo.

Platanthera leucophaea seed capsule.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition