Reaching three to four feet tall with clusters of white flowers filled with nectar, the western prairie fringed orchid waits until dusk to release its fragrance. The scent attracts pollinators such as hawkmoths, whose tongues are specially designed to harvest the orchid’s nectar. The orchid was historically found in the tallgrass prairies of the upper Midwest, but the conversion of prairies to farmland as well as overgrazing, fire suppression and other factors have pushed this rare wildflower to the brink of extinction.
The western prairie fringed orchid grows in the prairie pothole region, an area of the Upper Midwest and Canada that supports a healthy mix of prairies, meadows and seasonal wetlands. However, warmer temperatures and changes in hydrological patterns are drying up the wet soil that is critical for the survival of the orchid and other native plants species of the region.
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