Species At Risk

Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid

(Platanthera leucophaea)


Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid
Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid occurrences map


The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is an impressive rare orchid that is native to Ontario. The plant has fringed white flowers (up to 3 cm wide), with a characteristic “lip” that serves as a landing platform for pollinating insects.

Each flower has a very deep “nectar spur” that contains lots of nectar, and which only large insects such as Hawkmoths with long probosci (mouthparts) can reach into. Flowers open gradually, starting from the bottom of the stalk, and last for about ten days. A large plant may have flowers for a total of three weeks. If you are watching the same plants from year to year, keep in mind that this orchid may not flower every year. In fact, the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid can lie dormant for several years in between flowering.

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The species ranges from Ontario to Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Kansas and further west to Nebraska. In Ontario, there are about 20 small populations in prairie habitat or fens in Simcoe, Essex and Lambton counties, and the municipality of Chatham-Kent. It’s also found in tamarack swamps in the Bruce Peninsula and Ottawa area.


The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid grows in wetlands, fens, swamps and tallgrass prairie. It has been found in ditches and railroad rights of way.


As with other species at risk, habitat loss and destruction is a major concern. At one time, the species was probably much more common in the prairies of Walpole Island and the St. Clair River region but much of this habitat has been converted to farmland. Also, the suppression of fire has reduced the number of suitable areas open for prairie plants. Declines in the populations of pollinating insects could also be contributing to a drop in orchid numbers.


The Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid is an endangered species, and is protected in Ontario under the Endangered Species Act. Throughout Canada, the federal Species at Risk Act protects this plant.

What You Can Do to the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid

  • Habitat destruction is one of the leading threats to this orchid. Tallgrass prairie is among the most threatened of Ontario’s habitats. Learn all you can about the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid and other species that depend on tallgrass prairie. For more information visit the Tallgrass Ontario website at http://www.tallgrassontario.org .
  • Get involved with a habitat creation or restoration project in your area, or even on your own property. There are several management techniques that may be beneficial to the Eastern Prairie Fringed- orchid and other prairie species. These techniques include brush cutting, light grazing and controlled burns. Contact your local MNR office for information on management techniques and Stewardship projects in your area. ontario.ca/speciesatrisk. Or call toll free: 1-800-667-1940
  • Non-native, invasive plants can pose a threat to the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid and other native plants. When planting on your property, be sure to check with your local garden centre or native plant nurseries for a list of native species.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).

Did you know?

International trade in orchids or their parts is controlled under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Did you know?

This plant used to be widespread across the prairies, but has seriously declined throughout its historic range. Now, most of the world’s eastern prairie fringed-orchids are found in Ontario, along with Wisconsin and Ohio.

Did you know?

Biologists recently discovered that the plant now known as the western prairie fringed-orchid is a different species than the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.