June 29, 2010
Schunnemunk Mountain State Park in Orange County shelters the threatened flower
Discovery reminds visitors to enjoy nature without disturbing it
After decades of absence, a threatened white-flowered orchid known as the small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides) has resurfaced on New York soil in Schunnemunk Mountain State Park. It was spotted in the Orange County park by a botanist for the NYS Natural Heritage Program while conducting botanical surveys for other rare plants.
"We're extremely excited about this discovery in our state park system and view this as an opportunity to provide a safe haven for the rarest of plant species in North America," New York State Office of Parks and Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner, Carol Ash, said. "The discovery of a flower thought to have vanished from New York illustrates that State Parks are not only wonderful places for people to explore, they also shelter an incredible diversity of plants and animals in their boundaries."
This small orchid is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and endangered by NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. It has not been seen in New York since 1976, when two flowers were photographed in a swamp in Onondaga County. That area has since been flooded by beaver and overgrown by invasive plants, resulting in the elimination of the orchid population.
With this new discovery, the state park system in New York currently protects five federally-listed endangered or threatened plants, as well as five endangered animals or threatened animals. Small whorled pogonia is present in 17 other states in the Eastern United States and is listed by all 17 of these states as either endangered or threatened. The orchid is also known to appear in one Province of Canada, Ontario, and is listed as endangered by the Canadian government as well. Botanists have spent decades looking for small whorled pogonia throughout New York. It has been collected only five times before 1976, from 1887 to 1923, in Washington, Ulster, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
"The discovery of the small whorled pogonia is especially important because it involves a globally rare and federally-threatened orchid," said Tom Alworth, Deputy Commissioner of Natural Resources for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "Continued surveys of state lands will hopefully result in additional discoveries of this rare orchid, as well as other state and globally rare plants. Their presence on land owned by New York State should help to ensure their protection into the future."
Alworth noted the discovery was a reminder of why visitors to Schunnemunk Mountain State Park and all other parks should enjoy the beauty nature offers without disturbing it. To keep the value of parks intact for everyone, visitors should not pick or remove plants from State Park property.
Established in 2004, Schunnemunk Mountain State Park offers thousands of visitors the chance to enjoy 16 miles of hiking trails and views from the highest point in Orange County. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees 178 state parks and 35 historic sites. For more information on any of these recreation areas, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.nysparks.com.