BOSTON (CBS) — A state botanist has rediscovered a flower so rare in Massachusetts that its exact location is being kept a secret. MassWildlife said the state-endangered crested fringed orchid (Platanthera cristata) has been found for the first time in 19 years in a “shrubby wetland thicket” in Bristol County.
“Due to its rarity, the location of this plant is not being disclosed,” MassWildlife said in a statement.
Botanist Bob Wernerehl said he thought to himself, “can this really be happening?” as he spotted the orchid’s signature orange blooms, locating a total of eight plants.
Wow! One of #MassWildlife's botanists recently rediscovered New England's only known population of crested fringed orchid. This endangered plant was last seen 19 years ago, but much sought after in that time. What a beautiful find! 📷: Bob Wernerehl pic.twitter.com/RaAZBlbZDw
— MA Fish & Game (@MassDFG) August 20, 2020
“Given the condition of the site, and the knowledge that many botanists have searched fruitlessly for this rarity for years, I was not at all expecting to find it. But while forcing my way through dense shrubby thickets laden with poison ivy, I kept reminding myself to move slowly and keep looking,” he said in a statement. “Although I locate many rare species every year, this find took my breath away.”
MassWildlife said there have only been documented sightings of the orchid in 1905, 1908, 1987 and 2001, with only one or two plants recorded each time.
The orchid blooms in August and its orange blooms grow “in a densely flowered spike 1-5 inches long.” The newly discovered plants are the northernmost known population in the United States; its range extends south to New York’s Long Island and all the way to the Gulf Coast of Texas.
The orchids are located on “public land that is partially protected,” but MassWildlife says they are vulnerable to habitat changes, invasive species, deer and climate change.