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BC Conservation Data Centre: Species Summary

Cephalanthera austiniae
phantom orchid

Scientific Name: Cephalanthera austiniae (Gray) Heller
Scientific Name Synonyms: Eburophyton austiniae
English Name: phantom orchid
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name - Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Classification Level: Species
Species Group: Vascular Plant
Species Code: CEPHAUS
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Plantae Anthophyta Monocotyledoneae Orchidales Orchidaceae
Conservation Status / Legal Designation
Global Status: G4 (Apr 1990)
Provincial Status: S2 (Apr 2019)
BC List: Red
Provincial FRPA list:   
Provincial Wildlife Act:
COSEWIC Status: Endangered (Nov 2014)
SARA Schedule: 1  -  Threatened (Jun 2003)
General Status Canada: 1 - At Risk (2010)
Ecology & Life History
General Description:
Technical Description:
Subspecies Comments: None.
Identification Comments: Cephalanthera austiniae is easily identified by its almost totally white appearance, flowers that have a yellow lip, and lack of leaves.
Similar Species: Although quite dissimilar in morphology, Cephalanthera austiniae is sometimes confused with Indian-pipe (Monotropa uniflora), another all-white saprophytic species. C. austiniae is easily distinguished by the presence of multiple flowers sporting a yellow lip. It may also be confused with pale-coloured forms of other orchids; however, it is also easily separated from them by the presence of the yellow lip.
Provincial Reproduction Comments: Very little literature is available on the reproduction of Cephalanthera austiniae. In other parts of its range, this species forms part of a three-way mutualism with a fungus and a tree partner. These partners are critical to the overall occurrence and health of the orchid; the health of its partners may influence its viability and reproduction. C. austiniae is a pollinator-limited species, and further study on pollinators is needed in our region in BC. Overall, capsule and seed production in our region is low. This may be because the species is at the northern end of its range, has low viability, or is pollinator restricted; however, this is only speculation. Hand pollination does result in capsule production, but seed viability in this case is unknown.
Provincial Ecology Comments: Based on preliminary analysis (Klinkenberg 2005), it appears that in B.C. there is strong correlation between the distribution of Cephalanthera and areas of limestone. This is consistent with ecological factors for other species of Cephalanthera in Europe.
(Type / Subtype / Dependence)
Forest / Conifer Forest - Mesic (average) / Facultative - frequent use
Forest / Mixed Forest (deciduous/coniferous mix) / Facultative - frequent use
Forest / Old Forest / Facultative - frequent use
Global Habitat Comments: Dense moist coniferous forests especially in the mountains.
Provincial Habitat Comments: In our region in BC, Cephalanthera austiniae occurs naturally in mature mixed woods, or woods with strong deciduous or coniferous components. In most locations, although not all, the orchids occur in sites with little to no ground cover. Occurrence also appears to be strongly correlated with limestone (Klinkenberg 2005). Residual populations persist in areas of human habitation, presumably in areas where no serious disturbance to the ground surface has occurred.
Provincial Phenology:
(1st half of month/
2nd half of month)
Provincial Phenology Comments: Cephalanthera austiniae is an early flowering orchid species. In our area in BC, first flowers appear in the first week of May. Flowering continues well into July, with new flowering stems continuously produced during that time; however, capsules are rarely reported.
Elevation (m) (min / max): Provincial:  0 / 360
Known Pests:
Pollen Vector:
Provincial Inventory
Inventory Priority:
Ownership of occurrences (Known locations): Mixed private/government
Inventory Need: Additional inventory work is needed for Cephalanthera austiniae in order to locate any previously overlooked populations and to assist with the recovery process.
Inventory Comments: Cephalanthera austiniae is both overlooked and regularly sought out by avid plant hunters. This paradox arises because plant hunters may search only in areas that have relatively easy access. More searching is needed in unsurveyed locations in which the species has a high probability of occurring, particularly in the lower Fraser Valley and on some Gulf Islands. In 2005, permanent plots were set up by the BC Conservation Corps, by hammering tall stakes into the ground 10 m beyond the plant of the furthest extent in each direction and forming a rectangle. These plots are intended to assess population trends, information management and recovery of the species.
Economic Attributes
Endemic: N
Global Range Comment: Known from British Columbia, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California. Olympic Mts. and Cascade Range.
Disjunct, more common elsewhere: N
Peripheral, major distribution elsewhere: Y
Authors / Contributors
Global Information Author:
Last Updated:
Provincial Information Author: B. Klinkenberg
Last Updated:
Last Literature Search:
References and Related Literature
B.C. Ministry of Environment. Recovery Planning in BC. B.C. Minist. Environ. Victoria, BC.
Douglas, G.W., D. Meidinger, and J. Penny. 2002. Rare Native Vascular Plants of British Columbia, 2nd ed. B.C. Conserv. Data Centre, Terrestrial Inf. Branch, Victoria. 358pp.
Douglas, G.W., D. Meidinger, and J. Pojar, eds. 2001b. Illustrated Flora of British Columbia, Vol. 7, Monocotyledons (Orchidaceae through Zosteraceae). B.C. Minist. Sustainable Resour. Manage., and B.C. Minist. For. Victoria, BC. 379pp.
Klinkenberg, B. and R. Klinkenberg. 1992. Status Report on Phantom Orchid, Cephalanthera austiniae, in Canada. Rep. submitted to the Comm. on the Status of Endangered Wildl. in Can. Ottawa. 29pp.
Klinkenberg, B., and R. Klinkenberg. 1999. Update COSEWIC Status Report on the Phantom Orchid, Cephalanthera austiniae, in Canada. Unpubl. rep. submitted to the Comm. on the Status of Endangered Wildl. in Can. Ottawa. 17pp.

Please visit the website Conservation Status Ranks for definitions of the data fields used in this summary report.

Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. Species Summary: Cephalanthera austiniae. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Mar 30, 2023).