Rare flower species found near Carbondale | AspenTimes.com

Rare flower species found near Carbondale

The Ute ladies' tresses, a rare orchid that wasn't known to exist on Colorado's Western Slope, was discovered in the Roaring Fork Val­ley last summer.

CARBONDALE ” A rare orchid that wasn’t known to exist on Colorado’s Western Slope was discovered in the Roaring Fork Valley last summer.

The Ute ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes diluvialis Sheviak) was found in a wet meadow off Catherine Store Road near Carbondale by two consultants, botanist Mindy Wheeler and biologist Eric Patterson. They were surveying wetlands in the area when Wheeler made the discovery while the orchid was blooming.

Word of the find is thrilling botanists and others interested in rare plants.

“It’s supposedly a pretty big deal,” said Jonathan Lowsky, a wildlife biologist based in Basalt. “It’s pretty cool because it wasn’t known to be on the Western Slope.”

After the initial discovery on private property, the Ute ladies’ tresses also were found on adjacent U.S. Bureau of Land Management property and a wetlands mitigation site owned by the city of Carbondale.

“It’s a range extension of this species,” said Ellen Mayo, a botanist/plant ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ecological Services office in Grand Junction. The orchids found in the Carbondale area may be isolated so they provide a good addition to the genetic pool.

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“It’s a healthy, robust population,” Mayo said, adding that the habitat appeared ideal for the species.

The orchid got its name because its flowers appear braided around the stem. The peak blooming period is mid- to late-August in the Roaring Fork Valley, according to Mayo.

The orchid is a perennial with a stem that can grow eight to 20 inches tall, according to a Fish and Wildlife Service website. “The species is characterized by whitish, stout, ringent (gaping at the mouth) flowers,” the site said.

The orchid is currently considered threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. A standard review will determine if it remains on the threatened list.

Lowsky said prior research indicates this particular orchid was once considered extinct. It has been located in Jefferson, Boulder, Weld, El Paso and Larimer counties on the Front Range and Moffat County in northwest Colorado. Since 1992, its range has expanded from Colorado, Utah and Nevada into Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Washington, according to information he provided.

The wildlife service spread word of the discovery at a recent meeting of the Colorado Native Plant Society and among consultants. Mayo said the Fish and Wildlife Service also will alert local governments in hopes that the orchid’s habitat can be preserved. The agency didn’t disclose exact locations of the sightings because it doesn’t want a horde of people tromping around next August.

Lowsky said he is concerned that the habitat for the rare orchid may be disappearing. The plant is found in wetlands, river bottoms and irrigated meadows. As ranches get redeveloped, those meadows may no longer be irrigated.

“I would say it’s not very well protected,” Lowsky said.

He sent word of the rare orchid to the planning departments of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs as well as Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties.

scondon@aspentimes.com