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A rare orchid, thought to be extinct, has been rediscovered in Vermont

A green orchid blooms
John Gange
Courtesy, Vermont Fish and Wildlife
The small whorled pogonia

A rare plant thought to be extinct in Vermont has been discovered in Chittenden County.

Scientists with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife have confirmed the existence of a population of small whorled pogonia on Winooski Valley Park District conservation land, the department announced Wednesday.

The plant is a globally rare orchid, and is listed as "threatened" under the Federal Endangered Species Act. It was historically found across the eastern U.S. and Ontario, but it was thought to be extinct in Vermont since 1902. Botanists in Vermont have been looking for it for decades, but to no avail.

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

More and more plant species are being affected by climate change, which is impacting everything from growing seasons to rainfall. Popp says these kinds of changes, combined with habitat degradation, make rediscoveries like this even more unusual. He says the fact that the plant was found on conserved land points to the importance of preserving habitat.

“By protecting habitat, you protect biodiversity — you don't even know what's on the property when you protect it,” he said.

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

“Citizen scientists are just awesome,” Popp said. “Having these other eyes on the ground is phenomenal.”

Fish and Wildlife will monitor the population of small whorled pogonia, and continue to look for it on nearby land.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine @annasvandine.

Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.