Imagine it is 200 years ago and you are standing in the middle of the tallgrass prairie in what will one day become Pipestone National Monument. You hear the wind as it blows through the tall prairie grasses and forbs. Bison roam nearby. Within your view there are no trees visible. The sound of a bird perched on a stem of grass calls to you. You turn to look and your eyes fall on a beautiful white flower. That flower is the western prairie fringed orchid. As night falls the orchid emits a sweet fragrance to attract pollinators.
The central portion of North America was once covered in tallgrass prairie, now less than 4 % remains. As the prairie was converted to cropland and other land uses, orchid populations decline along with the prairie. Today the western prairie fringed orchid is listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
The Heartland Network monitors the western prairie fringed orchid to assess the changes to the population over time.