Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lost & Found: Bog Rose

Bog Rose (Arethusa bulbosa)
Bog Rose a.k.a Dragon's Mouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) is endangered in North Carolina, and apparently in trouble across its entire southern range. Originally known from only a small handful of sites in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia it is unclear if it still persists nearly anywhere within these states. 
Conservation Status of Arethusa from NatureServe.

Like the adjoining states, Arethusa was being considered "SH" in North Carolina. Generally this means reliable records for the species have been documented but none have been confirmed in approximately 30 years.  In North Carolina, hardcore orchid enthusiasts, including Mark Rose & David McAdoo, had been searching for it without success.

It is unclear why this orchid has largely disappeared from its southern range. NatureServe says, "this element is an early successional species, disappearing as its habitat becomes invaded by shrubs".  In more northern parts of its range (where it is much more common), "many populations have been depleted or destroyed by over-collection. ( I  heard of a site in Transylvania County, North Carolina which once had 20 or more stems, that was destroyed by silt washing in from a nearby pasture.

One of the "historic" sites in North Carolina was protected as a result of work I participated in, under the auspices of the Plant Conservation Program, and with the help of the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (now Conserving Carolina), and the former but now defunct North Carolina Natural Heritage Trust Fund (ah, the good old days!).  Although it wasn't initially clear, this site had become heavily invaded with shrubs,  especially Great Laurel (Rhododendron maximum).

Shrub invaded "mountain bog", before restoration, Transylvania County, North Carolina
After protecting the site from development and other forms of incompatible land-use, we began to restore the habitat to more open conditions.  The following 3 images give a sense of this effort, which began with removal of quantities of woody stems (especially Great Laurel) with chainsaws and machetes. We even conducted a prescribed burn on-site, the first in many decades.
One of the many piles of Rhododendron stems removed from the mountain bog habitat of Arethusa.
                        Top image; site as it appeared before restoration work (see the lone straight pine and the forked pine)  
                                    Bottom Image; same site as previous after Rhododendron removal (note low intensity, patch fire) 

Approximately 2 years after restoration work the Bog Rose re-appeared!

First sprout of Bog Rose (Late May, 2015), these mini leaves are easy to overlook and apparently highly susceptible to shrub competition

On first re-appearance we found only 2 stems. Given the rarity, and concern about physical damage we erected a little cage around the plants. 

Although some poaching idiot clipped the fruiting stem off before it could set seed (that's another, sordid story), the population has been slowly rebounding.

Yes! It is a Bog Rose!! 

If nothing else, this abbreviated story should tell us we simply can't take our flora for granted.  If we want species like Bog Rose to persist in the wild, it will take money and constant vigilance!


  1. Exciting news! I have been looking for A. bulbosa in the Pink Beds for 4 years now, with similar concerns that it's habitat was either destroyed by campers or totally grown in with woody stems. Good to know that it's rebounded!

  2. I really want to find this one so yeah Thanks For The Info!