Species Profile

Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid

Scientific Name: Platanthera leucophaea
Other/Previous Names: Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
COSEWIC Range: Ontario
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2003
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: B1ab(iii,v)+2ab(iii,v)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This is a perennial species of scattered remnant wetland habitats and of mesic prairies that has undergone significant declines in population size and is at continued risk from further habitat change due to successional processes, land development, water table impacts and spread of invasive species.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1986. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in May 2003.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-01-12

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Other Protection or Status | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid

Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid Photo 1
Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid Photo 2



The Eastern and Western Prairie Fringed-orchids became recognized as separate species in 1986. The most obvious physical difference is that the flowers of the Western Prairie Fringed-orchid are slightly larger.



The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is a 0.5 to 1 m tall plant with long thin leaves, and a spike of 10 to 40 whitish flowers. The flowers, borne at the end of the flower stalk, are 1.8 to 2.5 cm wide and have a prominent fringed petal that is divided into three parts. Flowering occurs from late June to late July. Seed capsules ripen on the plants in late August or early September and release thousands of tiny seeds.


Distribution and Population

The distribution of the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is centred around the Great Lakes, and the orchid reaches the northern extent of its range in southern Ontario. Estimates reported in 2003 are based on maximum counts made over the 1990s, and indicate that there are about 1050 Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchids across 20 populations in southern Ontario. There are also 14 known historical sites from which the orchid is extirpated.



The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid grows in wet prairies, fens, bogs, and occasionally old fields.



The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is a perennial plant that requires three to seven years to grow from seed to flowering size. It overwinters as a tuber with roots and a shoot bud. In spring, the bud begins developing and the young shoot emerges in late May. The tuber elongates and increases in size throughout the growing season. A new shoot bud and tuber form before winter. The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is notorious for large fluctuations in population size, and is adapted to changes in water level. It may remain dormant underground, or not flower, in areas that are either too wet or too dry. After several years of apparent absence, mass flowerings sometimes are produced when conditions are suitable. The flowers release fragrances at night that attract hawk moths; the moths feed on nectar and transfer pollen from flower to flower and from plant to plant. Seed germination and proper plant growth depend on a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship between the plants' root system and a fungus that is present in the soil.



The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is most threatened by the limited amount of appropriate habitat that is available to it, and the continued loss of that habitat through its conversion to cropland. Other limiting factors include competition with alien invasive species, successional change, human impacts on water tables, and the collection of plants. Deer will graze on the flowering stems, and are sometimes abundant in habitats where the orchid grows, but the magnitude of this potential threat is currently unknown. Any threat to hawk moths (the pollinators of Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchids), such as the use of insecticides or habitat loss, is also a threat to the orchid.



Federal Protection

The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid does not receive any specific protection under Ontario provincial law.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Other Protection or Status

The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is listed under the Endangered Species Act in the United States, and is on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Prairie Fringed–orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry


Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid recovery team aims to prevent any further loss of populations and habitat, to reverse the declining population trends at extant locations, and to restore occurrences at historic sites where appropriate. The recovery team has identified knowledge gaps that must be addressed in order to effectively plan recovery initiatives. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities In 2001 and 2002, approximately 20 Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid populations were surveyed in order to obtain demographic information. Information was collected about population sizes, the proportion of plants that were flowering, the number of flowers per plant, habitat type, threats to the populations and other factors that would aid in recovery planning. An intensive long-term monitoring program has recently been established. Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchids tend to cycle through stages of dormancy and activity, as well as exhibit large year to year fluctuations in population size, so the monitoring program must distinguish population trends from fluctuations. A research program will be developed to address the knowledge gaps regarding the orchid, including its habitat requirements, pollinators, competitors and other threats. Summary of Recovery Activities Most Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid populations are on public land. All-terrain vehicle (ATV) use threatens the orchid at one site and the recovery team is working with the municipal government to address this threat. An exotic variety of phragmites (also known as Common Reed) has been spreading rapidly in parts of southern Ontario since the early 1990s. Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchids and many other native species are outcompeted by this invasive species. Control methods are being tested in the St. Clair National Wildlife Area. A combination of prescribed burns and herbicide application is proving to be effective in controlling the invasive phragmites and increasing the abundance of Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid.


PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

11 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid (2004-04-21)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Prairie Fringed–orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) in Canada (2012-02-17)

    The Eastern Prairie Fringed–orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) is a tall perennial orchid that has been documented in Canada at only 32 sites in Ontario, of which only 21 are believed to be extant. Many of these extant populations, however, are very small, and only a few are believed to be large enough to be viable. The Eastern Prairie Fringed–orchid is considered to be globally imperiled; it is rare and declining throughout its range in eastern North America. It is also listed as endangered on the Species at Risk in Ontario (SARO) List, as federally endangered in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and as federally threatened in the United States. Some of the largest global populations of this plant are found in Ontario.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) and Fathom Five National Marine Park (FFNMP) lie at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. The peninsula is 90 km in length and its most prominent feature is the Niagara Escarpment which runs along the entire eastern edge. Within BPNP, the escarpment forms the Georgian Bay shoreline and is recognized as part of the core area of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  BPNP was established by the federal government in 1987 to protect a representative example of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands natural region. Because of the fragmented nature of the park properties, many of the stresses on the park’s ecosystem originate from outside its boundaries. For this reason, First Nations, local residents, non-governmental organizations, and other groups and land users play an important role in managing, restoring, and protecting the northern Bruce ecosystem. 


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004-04-21)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 146, number 14, 2012) (2012-07-04)

    The purpose of the Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act is to add 18 species to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (the List), and to reclassify 7 listed species, pursuant to subsection 27(1) of SARA. This amendment is made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 139, number 2, 2005) (2005-01-12)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#19), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2006-06-01)

    Activities may include any of the following for any species: Collection of small amounts of seed (<1%) for propagation ex situ for the pupose of studying seed viability, germination condisions and rates. Collection of a mall proportion (<1%) of inflorescences or flowers for the purpose of determining fertility, seed predation rates, etc. Removal of a small number (<0.1%) of individuals of annual species (e.g. Agalinus spp.) for research on habitat and microsite requirements. Collection of seed for the purpose of propagation ex situ plants to provide material for research and/or for restoration projects. Mapping location, counting and setting up permanent study quadrats may sometime involve accidental trampling of some plants and portions of some habitat. This will be kept to a minimum. Some perturbation of habitat may occur during removal of invasive species. Some experimental purturbation of habitat for restoration purposes may be done in locations where species at risk are thought to be extirpated.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#BPF-2015-19937), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2015-09-01)

    A small portion of seed heads will be collected from no more than 30 Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid (EPFO) within the Bruce Peninsula National Park. The seeds will then be used for EPFO in vitro germination in order to multiply the plants from existing populations. The main objectives of this project are to develop a protocol for in vitro propagation and long term conservation (cryopreservation) of EPFO. This will allow for potential reintroduction of EPFO in their natural environment.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: March 2004 (2004-03-03)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

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