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Saving Wild Orchids

Out in eastern Long Island, New York, one summer’s day a colleague and I visited a bog surrounded by dunes to determine the health of the habitat. As we approached the area we noticed pinkish/purple flowers growing throughout the bog amongst bulrushes, sedges and wild grasses. At the fen, we discovered the flowers were part of a healthy population of an orchid called calopogon.

Also called grass pink due to its grass-like leaves and pink blossoms, this plant thrives in wet, sun-lit bogs in interdunal swales. I have seen this plant on the edges of wetlands in inland parks a few miles from the shore.

Although it was a healthy population of this pretty orchid, it is threatened by phragmites, an invasive common reed that is overtaking the bog. This reed grows over ten feet tall where to crowds out native plant species. This is a problem for bogs, marshes and wetlands in many areas of the U.S.

This invasive reed is not an easy species to control. One method is to wick each reed with a herbicide which travels throughout the plant killing it, but many people are opposed to using any kind of herbicides in pristine areas. Another method is to dig up the plant, but that would destroy the blog.

Such is the dilemma biologists face when dealing with invasive species. Only with education of the general public can these obstacles be overcome and we can maintain the rich diversity of our habitats.


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