An amazing story ... millions of native orchids, including the grass pink, rose pogonia and hooded ladies' tresses, along with other rare plants, are flourishing on the site of an iron ore mine in the northern Adirondacks that closed in 1978.
Grete Bader, a graduate student at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) did research at the site and said the plants are growing on a 100-acre wetland that emerged naturally on iron mine tailings -- the waste left over from separating ore from rock. Bader says six types of native orchids are growing on the site, along with pink wintergreen or pink shinleaf, a threatened plant in New York state. "The fact that this site restored itself from bare mine tailings to a diverse wetland plant community over the past 60 years is incredible, and the populations of orchids and pink shinleaf notably enhance its conservation value," said Bader.
Professor Donald Leopold of ESF said the number of orchids at the site is "extraordinary," unlike anything he's seen in more than 40 years of research in orchid-rich habitats in the United States. "..I had thought that there were hundreds of thousands of individuals of these orchid species here, but Grete's more careful assessment suggests that there are actually a million or more of some species."
In New York state, there are about 60 distinct species of terrestrial orchids, all of them protected, and many of them quite rare. They have three-petal flowers and come in hues ranging from yellow to rich purple.
In addition to the orchids, the site of the former Benson Mines now has extensive mats of cranberries and acres of lowbush blueberries. Professor Leopold says it would be beneficial to add properties like Benson Mines to the Adirondack Forest Preserve., 2.6 million acres within Adirondack Park. "Everyone thinks about adding the beautiful, pristine land," he said. "but sometimes properties like this one can be more beneficial for the state to purchase. They have great value, both immediate and long term, for conservation and recreation purposes."