Scientific Name: Cephalanthera austiniae
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
Range: British Columbia
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2014
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Image of Phantom Orchid
The Phantom Orchid is an almost totally white plant that can grow up to 65 cm high. It consists of a leafless stem with white sheaths up to 10 cm long. At the top of the stem, the plant produces a cluster of up to 20 aromatic flowers that are white with a yellow throat. In some years, the flowering stalks within a single colony can vary from tall and robust to short and weak-looking. Thick fibrous roots branch from a short rhizome. Plants grow in colonies, scattered in humus (partially decomposed organic matter), and show a preference for areas with little groundcover and little competition.
Distribution and Population
Endemic to (found only in) the Pacific Northwest of North America, the Phantom Orchid occurs in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia. In Canada, it is found only in the extreme southwest of British Columbia, with populations on the Saanich Peninsula of Vancouver Island, Saltspring Island, and the lower Fraser Valley on the mainland. While suitable habitat exists throughout the Fraser Valley and additional locations may turn up in the future, the overall range of the species is unlikely to change. This plant has a very restricted distribution in Canada. The Phantom Orchid is known to have occurred at twelve sites in Canada, but it now occurs at only eight of these. There are only a few individuals at each site, for a combined grand total of approximately 100 individuals.
Most often the Phantom Orchid grows in the humus litter in coniferous forests with little or sparse ground cover, but at one site, it grows on limestone tailings from a quarry. It is often found at the base of mature Birch trees. The species prefers low mountains or hills, where it usually occurs on south- or west-facing slopes.
The Phantom Orchid lacks chlorophyll. It obtains its nourishment from decaying acid coniferous humus through an association with a group of fungi which in turn form associations with specific species of trees (often Birches) and shrubs. The orchid flowers sporadically. The conditions that trigger flowering are unknown, but grazing appears to have a beneficial effect, climatic conditions appear to be a factor, and the amount of light it receives is probably important. It can lie dormant for up to 17 years waiting for conditions to be right. Only three of the Canadian sites consistently have flowering plants. In favourable years, flowering stems emerge continuously throughout the flowering season which ranges from early May to late July. Even when a plant flowers, it does not always form seeds, further limiting reproductive capacity of the species.
This Orchid is limited by climatic conditions at the northern edge of its range, and appears to require some degree of disturbance to reduce competition. Habitat destruction or modification resulting from the development of subdivisions or other uses of the land, and the increase in competition resulting from the elimination of grazing are important threats to the Phantom Orchid.
Federal ProtectionThe Phantom Orchid is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
Two sites where the Orchid occurs have formal protection in provincial parks, a third is partly protected in an ecological reserve, and a fourth site has received Crown Land status with a view to further protection.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
Status of Recovery Planning
Recovery Strategies :
Name Recovery Strategy for the Phantom Orchid (Cephalanthera austiniae) in British Columbia
Status Preliminary draft received by leads
Phantom Orchid Recovery Team
Lisa Fox - Chair/Contact - Conservation organization (NGO)
Phone: 604-864-5530 Send Email
Kym Welstead - Chair/Contact - Government of BC
Phone: 604-582-5279 Fax: 604-930-7119 Send Email
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
5 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (1 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Document Posting Plans (1 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
Recovery Document Posting Plans
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