Record-Setting Year for Threatened Species in Mendon, Utah
Ute ladies’-tresses or spiranthes diluvialis, a rare species of orchid appears in never-before-recorded numbers at a local preserve
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 17, 2017
Volunteers and citizen scientists are overwhelmed to find extraordinary numbers of the rare and threatened Ute ladies’-tresses orchid at a preserve owned by Bear River Land Conservancy in Mendon, Utah. These orchids, known by their scientific name, Spiranthes diluvialis, occur naturally on a 30-acre parcel of pasture land in Mendon, Utah.
The land was acquired in 2013 at the request of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and is held by the land trust for the explicit purpose of protecting the flowering orchid. Each year since then, the land conservation nonprofit has employed volunteers to mark each orchid with a bamboo wand, which is then tagged with a GPS location and entered into a database. Historically, the number of flowers which have bloomed has been significantly lower than the now 1700+ plants: 169 in 2013, 857 in 2014, 230 in 2015, and 129 in 2016. Volunteers expect to find hundreds more before the blooming season ends in early September.
Dr. Mark Brunson, lead citizen scientist on the project and member of the Bear River Land Conservancy’s board of directors, works with a local farmer to hay the property in mid-June each year in order to give the small orchids a better chance at competing for the sunlight. This year, however, abnormally high rainfall coupled with a heavy spring runoff meant a very wet pasture, wet enough to bog down the farm equipment even in early July.
In spite of having to now compete with taller grasses, the flowers have appeared in record numbers. Volunteers have not been able to keep up with the plants, and extra help has been recruited. Juniper Systems, a local manufacturer of high-quality field equipment, has donated a new GPS-unit called a ‘Geode’ and a rugged field computer, called a Mesa, to augment the GPS unit BRLC has been using. Stokes Nature Center volunteers also joined in the task as part of a naturalist walk, marking more than 300 plants in less than an hour.
Concerning the event, Dr. Brunson remarked, “Since acquiring the Mendon Meadow Preserve in 2013 we have been honored to have the opportunity to protect a healthy population of this rare plant, and also to be able to share the Ute ladies’-tresses with so many of our Cache Valley neighbors who love to learn about and care for nature.”
Bear River Land Conservancy is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to document the Ute ladies’-tresses success in order to assess their status and determine whether a decision is warranted to remove them from threatened status. This season, Rita Reser, (Botanist), Tracy Switek, (Biologist), and Lucy Jordan, (Retired Biologist, USFWS and Recovery Team Leader for the Ute ladies’-tresses) have come to visit the property and record the unusually high numbers of blossoms.
As a whole, the orchid is found in small, isolated populations across the West (from southeastern British Columbia to western Nebraska). Spiranthes diluvialis occurs in scattered populations – typically a few acres in size – that that individually are vulnerable to eradication. In the Uinta Basin they are located in areas where energy production occurs; in other places they could be affected by road or housing construction, changes in hydrology, climate change, or conversion from pasture to cropland. BRLC has acquired the bulk of the Mendon population and is able to ensure that this population will be protected from many of the threats that could affect Ute ladies’-tresses elsewhere. BRLC is fully committed to assisting in the orchid’s recovery from threatened status, and is collecting as much data on population and habitat conditions as possible in pursuit of that goal.
Volunteers are still needed to mark the rare plants. Interested parties can contact Mark Brunson using our contact form.