Native Orchid News:
The Newsletter of Native Orchid Conservation Inc.
Vol. 3 Issue 4   December 2001
ISSN 1499-5476

Native Orchid Conservation Inc.
35 St.Michael Rd, Winnipeg,MB R2M2K7
For more information on NOCI, contact Bud Ewacha at 253-4741 or e-mail <>

Board Meeting:
First Wednesday every month (except July & August) 7:30pm at Powerland 170 Marion St

Orchid of the Month:
Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides)


It's hard to believe that 2001 is almost over and NOCI is going into its fourth year of operation.  We have worked hard and have begun to accomplish some of our conservation goals.  This year, especially, we have identified many new areas containing rare plants and have managed to secure a degree of protection for some of them.  This kind of work is more complex than simply doing surveys, and requires teamwork with other partners in industry and government.  Most of us have no previous experience with this and we are feeling the stresses and strains of learning something new.  Those of us on the NOCI board appreciate all the patient help and cooperation we have received from our partners.

There have been some recent changes to the board of directors.  Richard Reeves has resigned as treasurer.  He will now have more time to devote to nature photography.  Thank you for all your good work, Richard.  Kevin McNabb has taken over as interim treasurer until the Annual General Meeting.  Thanks Kevin, for helping us out on such short notice.  Eugene Reimer is our new webmaster and has made many additions and improvements to our website.  If you haven't looked at it for a while, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise.  Be sure to read Eugene's article on "protection through secrecy".  It's something we all need to think about.  If you have an opinion on this subject that you would like to share, please contact us and we will publish the responses in the next newsletter.  Linda Anderson continues to do the layout for our newsletter and it is because of her work that it looks so professional.

This is also the time when we like to remind you that membership renewals are due January 1, 2002.  Your early renewal is very important to us because funds are always low at this time of year.  After a summer's work, project funds are fading fast, and we need to count on membership fees, to keep going, until new grant money (hopefully) arrives.

Please consider supporting our work by giving us a donation at this time.  We are a registered charity and will issue tax receipts for all donations of $10.00 or more.  Thank you to all our regular donors.  We would never have been able to get this society off the ground without you.

[Web-editor's note:  please visit the  Membership/Donation  page.]

At our last meeting the board decided to encourage more involvement of members by holding a general meeting, with a speaker, early in the new year.  This would be separate from our annual meeting.  It would give us more time to get to know one another and to learn something new because it would not involve a business meeting or elections.  New members could see our displays, have questions answered, etc at that time.  A committee consisting of John Neufeld and Peggy Bainard Acheson will plan this meeting and contact you soon regarding the date and time.  If we get a good turnout and it is successful, maybe we could hold more of these get togethers.

Seasons Greetings and Best Wishes for the New Year.

Locations of Rare Plants are Carefully Guarded Secrets
by Eugene Reimer

Organizations, such as ours, frequently face a difficult issue: we wish to raise public awareness and appreciation of rare orchids in order to improve the chances of their continued existence; and yet we are reluctant to publish the precise locations of such rare orchids for fear that poachers will go dig them up.

Many botanists hold the view that locations of rare or endangered plants should be carefully guarded secrets, and should only be given out on a "need to know" basis  -  e.g. to fellow botanists doing research.

David Fleshler in an article for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel [1] describes several unusual examples of the "protection through secrecy" approach.  The following is an excerpt:

Few places have suffered more plant poaching than the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, a dark and swampy forest about 80 miles west of Fort Lauderdale.  Guarded by snakes, alligators and clouds of mosquitoes, the preserve is home to the elusive ghost orchid, whose graceful white flowers bloom only in deep shade.

It was here that John Laroche ran the poaching operation depicted in the bestseller The Orchid Thief.  Caught by the preserve's manager as he lugged garbage bags and pillow cases of orchids into a truck, Laroche paid the maximum fine of $500 and agreed to stay out of the preserve for six months.

Today, staff biologist Mike Owen imposes security measures worthy of an intelligence service.  When he takes visitors to see the preserve's remaining ghost orchids, he avoids the most direct route.  He leads them in circles.  He goes north.  He goes south.  By the time they arrive at the rare white flowers, visitors haven't the faintest idea where they are.  That means they can't come back and snatch the orchids.

Owen is careful.  He makes no maps, except during his time off, when he would argue that the document is not covered by the state's open-records law.  When examining a rare plant near a road, he keeps an eye out for cars and stops working until the vehicle passes out of sight.

The book mentioned by Fleshler is The Orchid Thief: a True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean, Random House, 1998 (the first chapter is online at [2]).  The book is soon to be a movie called Adaptation which is said to be the first movie ever to deal with orchidelirium or the obsession with collecting rare orchids.

Taxacom is an on-line discussion group [3] where taxonomists have been discussing similar issues for years.  The liveliest discussion, in May of 1994, deals with the online publication of collection-records housed in natural history museums.  The participants in this discussion present arguments on both sides of the issue.  What I find interesting is that many who argue strongly in favour of open disclosure, add something like: "except for rare orchids".  Apparently even the strongest believers in the basic goodness of mankind, have doubts about orchid-fanatics.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service article [4] deals with the species Virginia Sneezeweed (isn't that a delightful common name).  It argues in favour of designating this species as threatened, but it goes on to argue against designating the twenty-five sites as critical habitat.  The reason for this surprising argument: "the publication of precise maps, as required in a proposal for critical habitat, would make this plant vulnerable to incidents of collection".  The same website contains other proposals making the same argument for other species and the sites where found.

Many writers advocate some "fuzziness" when publishing the locations of rare species.  Bob Makinson of the Australian National Botanic Gardens [Taxacom 1994may24] mentions "fuzzed geocode data for 0.5° grid cells"; he also mentions "6 km grid cells".  Another Taxacom article mentions 7.5' or 0.125° precision.  Others want nothing more precise than mentioning the county (and this leads to a discussion about whether Texas counties are bigger than New Mexico counties).

The best argument against all this secrecy, is that secrecy leads to exactly the sort of habitat-destruction that it seeks to prevent.  An example happened right here in Manitoba in September 1999, near Kleefeld, where hundreds of the endangered Small White Lady-Slippers were destroyed when a farmer scraped their ditch habitat with a large machine during a fence-building project.  The provincial botanists had never notified the municipality, the utilities or the residents, even though they had known about the site and had been monitoring it for fourteen years!  This disaster could have been prevented by telling people about the very special attributes of that site.  [5]  [with additional facts from Doris Ames]

Websites and webpages mentioned in this article:

Orchid of the Month (cover photo)
Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides)

Its interesting Greek name refers to a bearded, snake's tongue, but anyone who has seen the satin sheen on the Rose Pogonia's pink petals and its delicate grace as it bends in the wind, wonders why they couldn't have chosen a prettier name.

This very rare, delicate, pink orchid blooms in June and July.  Ranked S1 by the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre, it occurs in very few locations throughout the province.  We have found it growing in sphagnum moss, in acidy fens like Lewis Ecological Reserve, as well as in wet roadside ditches and on the edge of old gravel pits.  It is always accompanied by Black Spruce, Cedar or Tamarac bluffs.

It likes full sun and wet conditions, and is sometimes found with one of the two other little, pink orchids, Grass Pink or Dragon's Mouth.  The plant is usually about four to twelve inches tall, with one leaf present halfway up the stem, at flowering time.  It usually has only one flower, with a leaf-like bract underneath it, but it can have two flowers, and it can have several leaves, as well, at times.  Apparently, in the warmth of the southern United States, multiple flowers are the rule.

The ¾" flower is pink with a prominent lip sporting a spiky beard and a yellow centre.  The skinny pod forms right at the top of the stem.  It spreads rapidly by means of underground roots or stolons, sending up an aerial shoot every couple of inches.  This accounts for the large number of plants sometimes found in one location.  Many orchid books mention the "raspberry-like" scent of the flowers, but I have never noticed this.  Maybe there are so many insects in Manitoba, plants here don't have to try very hard to attract pollinators and therefore are not as strongly scented as elsewhere.  (Or maybe I just don't like getting down on my hands and knees in these wet areas to smell them properly.)   Bumblebees are said to be the pollinators.

Thanks to the hot, wet weather this year and some sharp-eyed members of NOCI, I was lucky enough to see several hundred of these plants, in July.  Among them, were some with double flowers and one with fringes on the petals as well as the lip.  Apparently there is also a variety with white flowers but it is very uncommon.  Please protect this plant.