Rare Orchid Found in Vermont for the First Time Since 1902

With the help of a community science app, two scientists teamed up to rediscover a federally threatened orchid that was thought to be extinct

John Gange/Handout

A globally rare and federally threatened orchid believed to have been extinct in Vermont since 1902 was recently discovered, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department announced Wednesday.

The orchid, classified as a small whorled pogonia, was found on Winooski Valley Park District Conservation land in Chittenden County after over a century of unsuccessful searches. The exact local was not made public due to concerns about illegal collectors. There is also risk that unknowing visitors could trample the plant.

The discovery "speaks to the importance of habitat conservation," Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Botanist Bob Popp said. "When we conserve a piece of land, we rarely know all the species that are there, but we do know that conserving intact natural communities yields the best odds for supporting Vermont's biodiversity, from common species to rare ones."

Two community scientists -- John Gange, of Shelburne, and Tom Doubleday, of Colchester -- were thanked by the department for their contributions to the discovery.

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Range and Doubleday stumbled across the orchid sighting through the community science app iNaturalist, a worldwide database that measures biodiversity.

While following small whorled pogonia sightings on the app, Range noticed something peculiar -- Doubleday attempting to identify a foreign wildflower he had come across last July. Range put two and two together, and just like that, the department of wildlife was alerted that "the small whorled pogonia had very likely just been discovered in Vermont," said Assistant Botanist Aaron Marcus.

Marcus said the discovery highlights the power of the science community.

"These kinds of discoveries are only possible because of the vibrant communities of enthusiasts and professional botanists who work together to understand and document Vermont's plant diversity," he said

Moving forward, the department is looking to partner with the Winooski Valley Park District to ensure the orchid species will be protected on nearby conservation land.

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