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Botanist Alison Colwell said the species’ minute, tennis-ball yellow flowers weren’t what first led her to it, but rather the smell of sweaty feet that the Yosemite bog-orchid emits to attract pollinators.
“I was out surveying clovers one afternoon, and I started smelling something. I was like, ‘Eew, what’s that?'” said Colwell, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey in El Portal. “It smelled like a horse corral on a hot afternoon.”
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Yosemite bog-orchid is known currently from only nine sites within Yosemite National Park, all on the granitic upland south of Yosemite Valley, between the main stem and the South Fork of the Merced River. As the orchid’s range is understood currently, it is the only orchid species endemic to the Sierra Nevada of California.”The extreme small size of several of the populations puts them at risk of extirpation,” said Dr. Niki Nicholas, Chief of Resources Management and Science at Yosemite. “Sensitive habitat as well as a delicate root system highlights conservation issues associated with this species.”
With an inconspicuous wand-like growth form and tiny flowers, the plant can be easy to miss in meadows densely crowded with a wide variety of plants, including other kinds of bog-orchids. Taxonomists use several technical features to help distinguish Yosemite bog-orchid from other bog-orchids, including what a discerning nose might call its bouquet. Yosemite bog-orchids have a strong musk component that, according to the authors, has been likened by various observers to a “corral of horses, asafetida, strong cheese, human feet, sweaty clothing, or simply disagreeable.” The Yosemite bog-orchid may use this scent to attract mosquitoes or flies for pollination purposes.
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