Native Orchid Conservation in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Wisconsin's natural communities provide habitat for approximately 50 native orchid species and over 600 state natural areas where many orchid species are found. I am involved with a small group of native orchid enthusiasts, Friends of Carney Fen, which uses several methods of orchid conservation including preservation, propagation and restoration of habitat locally and in the nearby Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Arethusa Bulbosa photo by Graham Giles
One of our successful projects involved assembling many other groups to salvage 1200 native orchids and thousands of other interesting plants from a highway construction project encompassing a 15 mile area. The state sponsored Environmental Impact Study was used to locate wetlands and other areas of possible orchid habitat along the project route. Ten species of orchids were salvaged and relocated including species of Goodyera, Spiranthes, Calopogon, Malaxis, Liparis, 2 Platantheras, and 3 species of Cypripediums. Many of these plants were successfully relocated to various local nature centers and others in private gardens.
At my home we experimented with asymbiotic orchid propagation. We legally collected orchid seed from private property owners with their permission. We also received seed from the OSP (Orchid Seedbank Project www.orchidseed.com). We used sterile technique and a homemade laminar flow hood to sow orchid seed in Petri dishes. We created our own orchid germination mixes from published literature. The most helpful information was found in Asymbiotic Technique of Orchid Seed Germination by Aaron J. Hicks. Many of the articles found in North American Native Terrestrial Orchids, Propagation and Production Conference Proceedings, 1996 were equally helpful to learn the techniques necessary for growing orchids from seed. We were able to eventually plant out seedlings of several species including Platanthera psycodes, Cypripedium pubescens, Cypripedium candidum, Cypripedium reginea, and Spiranthes cernua. Eventually we were able to watch Bletilla striata grow to flower. This work continues to excite and yet frustrate us at the same time.
During field trips over the course of two years to various sites that we selected based on timber sale reports from our county, four new sites were found for the state threatened Cypripedium arietinum (Ram's Head Lady Slipper orchid ) and rare plant reports were sent to the Natural Heritage Inventory. Population and/or germination studies have been done at more than one of these new sites over the last 5 years. A long term population study is currently being conducted at one of these sites that contains over 600 Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper orchids. We have coordinated with public and private land owners to make them aware of the existence of these rare and threatened plants and with their cooperation and concern we have gained another level of protection for the orchids.
Getting involved with the local Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust has proven to be another case that has resulted in the protection of native orchids. Property owners may request conservation easements from the land trust, which are assessed at a lower tax rate for the benefit of the landowner. Our group has been asked by the land trust to help survey lands contained in proposed conservation easements for interesting and important attributes, including healthy habitat indicators such as orchid species. Identifying invasive species has also become an important part of our involvement. Once a parcel of land is set aside with a conservation easement by agreement between the property owner and the land trust, monitoring of the land is done on an annual basis by members of our group. Under the agreement the land and its habitats cannot be altered. Involvement with the trust has also become a productive way of locating new orchid sites to visit.
In the Fall of 2002 a small group of us formed and decided to create the Friends of Carney Fen committee for the purpose of protecting a small population of Ram's Head Lady Slipper orchid (Cypripedium arietinum) and many other orchids. In all, twenty-six species were discovered and documented over the course of this project. The first order of business was to determine how to best protect the orchids. A traditional method for protecting rare plants has been to keep their location a secret. However, the committee decided this was not the best long-term method to accomplish their goal. Secrecy would not protect the orchids from eventual logging, mining, human development, invasive species, or water pollution. After discussion with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources representatives, the committee decided to pursue the highest level of protection available, legal dedication as a state natural area. Over the course of the next four years multiple field trips documented flora and fauna. In 2006 a one hundred plus page document was submitted as the formal nomination to have 3,500 acres of state forest land legally dedicated as a state natural area. We were fascinated by the things we learned. During the process of creating the Carney Fen State Natural Area the committee gained several valuable insights.
• Forming a work group/committee of diverse interests and knowledge is essential;
• The group must meet regularly, set goals and establish deadlines;
• Acquire sponsorship from a reputable environmentally oriented organization;
• Collaborate with outside professionals, educators and university graduate students;
• Focus on protecting the entire eco-system, not just the species, the most important lesson.
The Carney Fen story is a representative example of what can be accomplished as a result of applying the message of the famous quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The ceremonial dedication of the Carney Fen State Natural Area on June 14th, 2009 was a celebration of the seven year effort to protect the native orchids of Carney Fen. This effort resulted in the legal protection of 2,678 acres of pristine orchid habitat and an additional 320 acres set aside as a special conservation area.
Members of Friends of the Carney Fen at the dedication for the Carney Fen State Natural Area
At approximately the same time period as the Carney Fen project some of the same members of our group became members of the Native Orchid Conference, Inc. (NOC)
The purpose of the group is to foster the study, conservation, and enjoyment of native orchids of the United States and Canada. An annual orchid conference has been held in different areas of North America over the past 10 years. Our group was given the opportunity to hold the annual conference in Wisconsin in 2009. The conference committee gathered presenters to speak at the conference with a focus on presenting multiple methods of native orchid conservation. A special bonus for the attendees of the 2009 NOC conference was that the committee was able to coordinate a field trip to see the native orchids of the Carney Fen and also attend the dedication ceremony of the newly created Carney Fen State Natural Area. All of the presentations were gathered and published in a how-to manual. North American Native Orchid Conservation has served to satisfy one of the stated goals of the Native Orchid Conference Conservation Committee. The 131 page booklet contains all speaker presentations, poster submissions, over 100 native orchid photos, the Orchid Seed Sowing video and Wild Orchids of the Great Lakes video. Anyone interested in North American native orchids will find this book, and its accompanying DVD, to be an interesting and enjoyable experience, as well as a useful and valuable tool for orchid preservation, propagation and restoration. Click here to access a book purchase order form.
Our small group of committed citizens continues to focus on conservation of native orchid habitats here in Wisconsin and is always eager for new projects. If you should have any suggestions for future projects for our group I welcome you to contact me at the above e-mail address