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Bowles, Marlin L.
Zettler, Lawrence W.
Bell, Timothy J.
Kelsey, Pat

Relationships Between Soil Characteristics, Distribution and Restoration Potential of the Federal Threatened Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid, Platanthera leucophaea (Nutt.) Lindl.

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Date created
The Federal threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) occupies prairies, sedge meadows, bogs and fens, primarily north of the Wisconsinan glacial boundary. In the Midwest, where restoration is a recovery objective, its southern distribution is thought to be limited by the transition from nutrient-rich Wisconsinan-aged soils to more acidic nutrient poor soils of Illinoian-aged glacial drift. To better understand edaphic factors affecting its distribution and potential for establishment of new populations, we analyzed soil characteristics across the range of habitats occupied by this species, as well as from unoccupied habitats on the Illinoian Till Plain. We found that P. leucophaea occupies a complex edaphic gradient in variation of % organic matter, base content and soil texture. On Wisconsinan-aged substrates, it occurs in circum-neutral base-rich organic prairie soils in Illinois and Wisconsin and in less calcareous soils with slightly higher pH and lower organic matter content in Michigan lake plain prairies. Eastern sand prairie and sedge meadow habitats on Wisconsinan-aged drift and on unglaciated soils are moderately acid and nutrient poor, while bog and fen habitats are more strongly acidic and highly organic, with no evidence for an underlying calcareous substrate. In comparison, unoccupied prairie soils on the Illinoian till plain have lower pH, % organic matter and base concentrations. These soils also have relatively high % silt content which results in comparatively low available soil moisture holding capacity. This combination of soil conditions may exceed the tolerance limits of P. leucophaea and prevent this species from occurring south of the Wisconsin glacial boundary in the Midwest. On the other extreme, calcareous fens have high pH levels as well as extremely high calcium concentrations, which may exceed the tolerance limits of this species. These findings have implications for guiding efforts to establish P. leucophaea into habitats that should be suitable for this species.
Volume, Issue, Page Number
154, 2, 273-285