Beautiful flowers that are often given for gifts on Mother’s Day or other special events of spring, can actually be found right in your backyard. With the right habitat and care, orchids are native to Wisconsin with about 18 different genera with 40 species. Some species include the pink and yellow lady’s slippers, moccasin flower, and autumn coral root. The type of orchid that grows depends on the soil moisture, pH content, sunlight, and many other soil properties. Unfortunately, many of the native orchids in Wisconsin are rare because of loss of their habitat.
Orchids have a symbiotic relationship with fungi. A symbiotic relationship is one in which two species rely on one another, sometimes one more so than the other. More specifically, orchids and fungi have a mutualistic type of symbiotic relationship in which both species benefit from the relationship. Each species of orchid can have its own symbiotic species of fungi, so with all 40 species of orchid native to Wisconsin, there could be up to 40 different species of fungi! The orchids rely on the fungi for food when they do not receive enough sunlight to produce photosynthesis and for their small seeds, as they need nutrients from the fungi in order to grow.
Habitat disturbance leads to the loss of orchids, especially major disturbances caused by humans due to construction, destructive erosion, burning, draining, etc. But sometimes when one species of orchid is negatively affected in a certain habitat, another species of orchid will come in and take its place. Animal actions can also cause disturbances for native orchids. Some of these disturbances can be positive. When deer and other wild animals come across a field they can just about clear it of vegetation. This will allow orchids to thrive in an area where they could not normally compete. But it is also known that deer like to eat orchids, as they eat just about every native plant in the state.
Recently, Melissa Curran, a botanist from Stantec, gave a presentation at Woodland Dunes about an orchid restoration project going on at the Ridges Sanctuary in Door County. Volunteers and workers have been reintroducing 25 rare orchid species into the sanctuary in the past and are continuing the work this year. Although this is a complicated project, as orchids are very particular and their seeds are extremely small, it will hopefully bring up the orchid numbers in Wisconsin. Some of the species the Ridges Sanctuary hopes to restore includes the grass pink orchid, the ram’s-head lady’s slipper, and showy lady’s slipper.
Woodland Dunes is also known to have native orchids on the preserve, about 10 species. This can be very exciting as they are not often seen in the wild. Managing invasive species on the preserve adds to the survival and preservation of Wisconsin’s native orchids. Next time you are at Woodland Dunes, make sure to keep a close eye out for these unusual wildflowers.
By Erica Groelle, summer naturalist intern at Woodland Dunes