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A rare orchid rediscovered in Vermont

Words by Smiley Team

There have been five mass extinction events in the history of our planet – the most recent happening over 65 million years ago, which wiped out dinosaurs. Experts now believe we’re in the middle of a sixth mass extinction event. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, somewhere between 10 and 100,000 species are dying out each year. 

So it’s exciting when a species that was thought to be extinct pops up out of the blue, as is what happened with a rare orchid, that was recently rediscovered in Vermont. 

The plant, called the small whorled pogonia, was found on federal conservation land and was announced by Scientists with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. It hasn’t been seen in Vermont since 1902.

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“Discovering a viable population of a federally threatened species unknown in our state for over a century is astounding,” Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Botanist Bob Popp said in a statement.  “It’s Vermont’s equivalent of rediscovering the ivory-billed woodpecker.”

The plant is a globally rare orchid and is listed as "threatened" under the Federal Endangered Species Act. It was normally found across the northeastern United States and up to Ontario, Canada but was all but eradicated in Vermont. 

“We had pretty much given it up for lost,” Popp said. “When things disappear, they’re usually gone for good.”

The whorled pogonia population was discovered thanks to two citizen scientists, John Gange of Shelburne and Tom Doubleday of Colchester, using the app iNaturalist, an app dedicated to mapping and identifying the natural world.

“A challenge of locating rare orchid populations for conservation is that so much of where they grow is determined by things we can’t easily see or measure, like networks of fungi in the soil,” said Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Assistant Botanist Aaron Marcus. 

“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.”

Inspired to act?

DONATE: Check out the World Wildlife Foundation. They do work in protecting the natural world.

SUPPORT: Use apps like iNaturalist to explore nature. Maybe you’ll find the next presumed extinct plant.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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