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Rare orchid rises from burned Maryland preserve

Controlled fires triggered the appearance of the hybrid orchid and other rare plants, including sedges and grasses.

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The managers of Maryland's largest private nature preserve burned 240 acres this spring in the hopes of triggering the growth of long-dormant native plants. The plan worked, producing a rare hybrid orchid that has only been found in Maryland once before — 18 years ago. Botanist Ron Wilson made the dazzling find in late July at the Nassawango Creek Preserve on the Eastern Shore, where the charred woodlands and prairies have responded with the appearance of rare native plants.

He found three specimens of a naturally occurring hybrid of the white fringed orchid and the crested yellow orchid. These species are uncommon enough, but the hybrid has only been found in Maryland once before — by Wilson and another botanist almost two decades ago at another Maryland site. It is known by its botanic name, Platanthera x canbyi.

"It's hard to explain to a non-botanist, but you go to site after site that has literally nothing as far as rare plants go, and find something like this," Wilson said. "It makes it all worth it."

From ground-hugging, straplike leaves, the hybrid sends up a 12 inch flowering stalk in summer, but the blooms are a lemon yellow in contrast to the white and orange blooms of the parent species.


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