Phantom orchid (Cephalanthera austiniae) is a non-photosynthetic, mycoheterotrophic species with almost totally white flowering stems. The flowering stems have inconspicuous bractlike leaves and yellow-lipped flowers. Most of the plant occurs below ground as branched, thick, creeping rhizomes. This orchid parasitizes a symbiotic relationship between ectomycorrhizal fungi and a tree. The orchid flowers for only a short period and is dormant through much of the year. Thus, understanding the below-ground components of the plant, its relationships, and their ecological requirements is essential to recovery of phantom orchid. This species may be pollinator-limited in British Columbia. Many components of the biology and ecology of phantom orchid are presently unknown.
Phantom orchid was designated as of Special Concern in April 1992; its status was re-examined and it was designated as Threatened in May 2000. In 2014, after a further re-examination, it was designated as Endangered in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). This designation reflected its occurrence in very low numbers in scattered locations and its susceptibility to extirpation because of the species? dependency on specific habitat conditions and its interdependency on a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a tree species. It is listed as Threatened in Canada on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. In British Columbia, phantom orchid is ranked S2 (imperiled) by the Conservation Data Centre and is on the provincial Red list. The B.C. Conservation Framework ranks phantom orchid as a priority 5 under goal 1 (contribute to global efforts for species and ecosystem conservation).
Phantom orchid is restricted in distribution in Canada to the extreme southwest corner of British Columbia, where it is found on southern Vancouver Island, Saltspring Island, and the lower Fraser Valley in the Coastal Western Hemlock and Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zones. Distribution extends south in the United States to California and east to Idaho. It is a species that is naturally rare in the landscape and it occurs in relatively undisturbed old growth, mature and occasionally older (50–60 years) second-growth coniferous and mixed forests. In Canada, it is only known at 22 populations.
Main threats to phantom orchid include residential and commercial development (housing and urban areas), recreational activities (human intrusion and disturbance), and invasive non-native plants. Other lower-impact threats include problematic native species (native species grazing), logging and wood harvesting, and livestock farming and ranching (livestock grazing).
The recovery (population and distribution) goal is to maintain the size and distribution of all extant populations of phantom orchid, including any new populations that may be identified.
The following are the recovery objectives:
1. Protect and restore habitat and features at phantom orchid populations, including locations where the plant is thought to be dormant.
2. Conduct targeted inventory at suitable areas to clarify distribution of the species and prevent the inadvertent loss of not-yet discovered populations.
3. Manage sites to maintain ecological requirements of the species and to minimize impacts on phantom orchid by addressing and mitigating key threats (e.g., habitat alteration, edge effects, invasive species, and recreation).
4. Monitor population trends and habitat status to collect additional ecological data, including information on population numbers and recruitment.
5. Address key knowledge gaps and gather additional ecological information to aid in species management.
Phantom Orchid Recovery Team. 2017. Recovery Plan for Phantom Orchid (Cephalanthera austiniae) in British Columbia. Province of British Columbia. BC Recovery Strategy (Species at Risk)
Topic: Recovery Planning
Scientific Name: Cephalanthera austiniae
English Name: Phantom Orchid
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